Fried Camarones from Mariscos Jalisco Truck (Los Angeles, CA)
The deep-fried crunchy pockets that come out of this brightly painted truck are a two-handed affair. After the initial crunch from the miraculously ungreasy shell, the whole thing gives way to a moist-crunchy-rich mass of fried shrimp topped with creamy slices of avocado and a bright, tomato-based salsa.
3040 E Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90023 (map); 323-528-6701
Carnitas from Tortilleria Y Tienda De Leon's (Portland, OR)
There's nothing particularly fancy or unique about the carnitas sold at the back of this slightly grimy, run-down grocery store. They're served on paper plates on fold-out picnic tables decorated with plastic flowers and come with a bare minimum of toppings: diced onions and cilantro, perhaps a splash of lime juice and a spoonful of salsa roja. What makes them special? They're some of the juiciest-on-the-inside, crispest-on-the-outside, outright porkiest carnitas we've had anywhere, all served on light and flaky freshly made corn tortillas.
16223 Northeast Glisan Street, Portland, OR (map); 503-255-4356
Huitlacoche from Aqui es Texcoco (Chula Vista, CA)
Located in a strip mall about halfway from San Diego to Tijuana, locals come for the stewed lamb's head tacos and broth, but you'd be remiss to pass up on the huitlacoche. The black, runny, moldy-looking corn fungus may not have much by way of looks, but there's a reason Mario Batali dubbed huitlacoche "Mexican truffles." Earthy, nutty, and deeply savory, it's a traditional Mexican treat rarely seen stateside and goes perfectly inside soft-in-the-middle, crispy-on-the-edges corn tortillas.
1043 Broadway # 108 Chula Vista, CA 91911 (map); 619-427-4045
Carnitas from Cinco Puntos (Los Angeles, CA)
The carnitas from this super cocina market (they also sell piñatas and dried chiles from giant bins) are juicy with crisp edges and a mouthful of porky flavor. They pile the meats on high but each thick, still warm and puffy tortilla—made lovingly by one of the ladies in the back—impressively stays intact. Make sure to get plenty of the bright nopales (cactus) on top to cut through the rich, fatty meat.
3300 E Cesar E Chavez Ave, Los Angeles CA 90063 (map); 323-261-4084
Barbacoa from Gerardo's Drive-in Grocery (Houston, TX)
Go on a Saturday or Sunday, when the house specialty is available—the pigs head taco, also known as barbacoa. The meat is cooked in a spicy chile broth in enormous metal vats out back, resulting in intensely meaty, concentrated flavor. It's scooped into a flaky flour tortilla hot from the griddle (or comal), with a hefty squeeze of lime, smattering of cilantro and onion and a drizzle of mouth-searing red jalapeño salsa to cut the richness.
609 Patton Street Houston, TX 77009 (map); 713-699-0820
Beef Fajita from Tacos La Flor (Austin, TX)
You'll find the corniest, tenderest, best-charred corn tortillas in Austin at this cheery blue truck. Lightly chewy with a miraculously crisp rim that reminds us of a tiny pizza crust, they're best topped with the fajita-style beef, tiny strips of well-seasoned skirt steak crisped up on a charcoal grill. Don't expect the grilled onions or peppers you'd find in Americanized versions of the dish. Here, it's all about the beef.
4901 South 1st Street, Austin TX 78745 (map); 512-417-4214
Suadero from El Guero (Dallas, TX)
This tiny roadside stand serves nothing but tacos, and their entire roster of meats is printed in large colorful letters on their bright yellow outer wall. Steak, al pastor, and lengua are all fantastic, but the best is their suadero—thin slices of fine-grained, well-marbled meat cut from the brisket griddled until crisp. It comes served it on a double-stacks of paper-thin corn tortillas that barely contain the beefy juices destined to trickle down your throat (or your shirt, if you're not careful).
4500 Bryan Street, Dallas TX 75204 (map); 214-823-1260
Migas from Tacos Veracruz (Austin, TX)
Tender, thick homemade corn tortillas are a worthy base for any of their tacos, but the migas are what to order here. Bits of crunched up fried corn tortilla are soaked in a jalapeño-laced avocado salsa until just barely softened then tossed with still-soft lightly scrambled, melted Jack-style cheese, and chopped tomato. Flavored crunchy tortilla wrapped in soft tortilla makes for a satisfyingly hearty breakfast.
1704 East Cesar Chavez, Austin TX 78702 (map) 512-963-1428
Al Pastor from Los Guachos (Columbus, OH)
Served all night and into the wee hours of the morning in the parking lot of a Spanish night club, Los Guachos serves all the options of a typical taco truck—lengua, carne asada, carnitas—but the majority of the long line is there waiting for one thing: the spit-roasted al pastor taco. Strips of chile-marinated pork, almost bacon-like in consistency, are stacked in layers on a spit, then slow-roasted in front of a gas flame. The cooks stack fresh pineapple above the meat while it cooks, so the sweet juices drip down over the edges where they caramelize into crispy, sweet charred spots. The spitmaster slices the meat to order, catching the savory strips on a waiting warm corn tortilla. Diced onion and a sprinkle of cilantro seal the deal.
5221 Godown Road, Columbus OH 43235 (map); 614-538-0211
Chorizo from La Mexicana Supermercado (Detroit, MI)
Don't be turned off by their run-down outward appearance. Clean windows, proper signage, and working air-conditioning are all luxuries you won't miss once you taste the tacos served from the deli counter of this Mexican supermarket. Crumbled vinegary chorizo sausage gets charred on a hot griddle until just shy of burnt then gets over-stuffed into flaky puffy yellow corn tortillas from nearby Tortilleria el Milagro, the best packaged tortillas we've had anywhere.
7934 West Vernor Highway Detroit, MI 48209 (map); 313-841-3024
Birria from Birrieria Zaragoza (Chicago, IL)
The tortillas at Birrieria Zaragoza are special enough on their own: pressed by hand into wonderfully irregular shapes and served stacked up alongside an array of freshly prepared condiments, but its their eponymous filling that kicks these tacos into the best-of territory. Goat shank that's first steamed for up to five hours then marinated in an ancho-based red mole before being roasted until the fat renders and the meat crisps up on the exterior. You can order them by the individual taco (a great pit stop if you have a Midway layover), but the best way is to grab some friends and order a whole plate of the birria to fold into tortillas yourselves.
4852 South Pulaski Road, Chicago, IL 60632 (map); 773-523-3700
Tacos Arabes from Cemitas Puebla (Chicago, IL)
Odds are good that you're here for a cemita, one of their namesake sandwiches stuffed to the brim with avocado, smoky chipotle peppers, fresh Oaxacan cheese, and your choice of meaty filling (we recommend the milanesa). But the tacos arabes, a schwarma-like filling of chili-rubbed pork and onion slow-roasted on a vertical spit until wonderfully charred, sliced thin, then wrapped in a thick flour tortilla, is another big reason to come.
Chorizo and Papas from La Verdad (Boston, MA)
Located in the shadows of Fenway Park, the tequila bar at this sit-down restaurant can be packed with game-goers come Sox season. Dodge the crowds, the waiters and the wait, and instead head straight for the take-out window. Any taco you order comes atop a mini made-from-scratch tortilla. But the taco that knocks it out of the park is the Chorizo and Papas: Plump bits of ground pork sausage seasoned with a slew of warming spices like cinnamon, allspice and ground chile are served over tender potatoes that act like a sponge to soak up the sauce and grease. On top, thin slices of pickled red onion and a tart salsa verde.
Lengua from Don Nacho (Pawtucket, RI)
You won't find much by way of creature comforts in Don Nacho's parking lot location, but you couldn't ask for better beef tongue; braised until meltingly tender then crisped up on a hot comal, it's got the deep beef flavor of a perfect steak, but with the tender-crisp contrast that only great tongue will get you.
234 Barton Street, Pawtucket RI 02860 (map); 401-688-2932
Chorizo from Tacos Matamoros (Brooklyn, NY)
Of all the taquerias and taco trucks in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, Tacos Matamoros is our faovirte. Little bits of warmly spiced sausage crisp up on the griddle in this sit-down Mexican eatery. Whatever fat was in there melts into a warm, spicy, buttery-rich spread by the time it hits the tortilla. It's rich, but a squeeze of lime and a spoonful of bright salsa verde perfectly cuts the intensity.
45-08 5th Ave. Sunset Park, Brooklyn NY (map); 718-871-7627
Carnitas from La Vaquita (Durham, NC)
You can't miss this spot from the road: a giant cow beckons you from its rooftop. Their soft corn tortillas are homemade with a moistness matched only by their carnitas, which are crisp, fatty, and deeply porky. Order a couple from the takeout window, spoon on some of their fiery red salsa, and pull up a bench at one of the communal picnic tables out front where locals and travelers take a welcome break in the shade.