Food & Drink

The Best Tacos in Every State

Published On 05/04/2018 Published On 05/04/2018
El Cortijo
El Cortijo | Jess Sipe PHotography
The Authentic Taco

Alabama

The Authentic Taco

Address and Info

Foley

The Flora-Bama bar has given the world a great many things. A church in a bar. A contest tossing fish across a state line. But perhaps its greatest contribution was this little taco truck that sat in front, serving up hot, fresh, authentic street tacos to slightly-tipsy patrons. Early in 2018 it found a permanent residence in Foley, where the family took over an old diner whose menu switches to tacos from 3-9:30pm. It’s the same straight-from-Michoacan classics as before, and tastes just as good in Foley as it did by the beach. -- Matt Meltzer

Alaska

Railway Cantina

Address and Info

Seward

Alaska’s actually pretty stocked with old-school taco joints, but for the Alaskanest Alaskan tacos this side of Tuesdays at the Palin house, it’s hard to beat this little hole in the wall in Seward, which serves up solid takes on pork, chicken, and steak, but really hits the high marks when it comes to its reindeer and halibut tacos. Those staples of the tundra are on the pricier side of things (everything in Alaska is more expensive... that’s why they pay you to live there), but once you have gamey hunks of Santa’s fleet or the freshest halibut you’ve ever had tucked into corn tortillas and hit with black beans, you’ll be glad you ventured off the taco grid. -- Andy Kryza

Arizona

The Mission

Address and Info

Scottsdale

It's always tough to pick the best taco in a state where you can actually see Mexico from some spots. But despite the abundance of family restaurants and hole-in-the-wall taquerias, The Mission in Scottsdale does things deliciously differently. It’s the only tacos we know of made with a josper oven to grill the meats, so the mesquite-and-pecan flavor makes even plain street tacos here some of the best you’ll ever have. But when chef Matt Carter does stuff like slow-braise his pork shoulder in a pineapple-habanero glaze it’s hard to order just the simple stuff. -- MM

Heights Taco & tamale co.

Arkansas

Heights Taco & Tamale Co.

Address and Info

Little Rock

Some new-wave taquerias strive to adhere to traditions. Heights, well, it’s seeking to establish its own. The joint’s Ark-Mex cuisine is the fusion food you never knew you needed, and it takes one bite of one of Heights’ signature spicy pickle-dried chicken tacos loaded with red pepper chow-chow to become a true believer. Fish tacos, too, get the Southern treatment, here made with fried catfish, while pulled pork and chorizo-loaded breakfast numbers are also showstoppers. They’re best enjoyed on the patio with a tiki drink or a marg, with some house-made vanilla soft serve as a chaser. -- AK

California

Nuestro Mexico

Address and Info

Bakersfield

OK, OK, OK. We see you, hole-in-the-wall taco joints in LA, and fish taco specialists in San Diego. We see the Korean bulgogi pork belly foie gras truffle tacos in SF, and the family-run hyper-authentic restaurants in hotspots like Modesto and Turlock. You’re all great. Tupac could come back from the dead and write "California Love 2," and it would be completely about tacos. You wanna try and pick the best Cali taco without getting a Tapatio-/stress-induced ulcer? Go for it. You’re lucky we didn’t just say screw it and go with Del Taco. So... JUST LET BAKERSFIELD HAVE THIS.

If there is one redeeming feature to the oil derrick-filled paradise that is Bakersfield, it’s Nuestro Mexico. I’ve spent half my life in California, traveled the entire state, and can’t say I’ve ever had a better taco than the smoky, grilled, meat stuffed ones here. This bright, colorful, family-run spot packs about three street-tacos worth of steak into a single carne asada taco, but it’s not just the quantity of meat that makes it so great. It’s marinated in a blend of Mexican spices that pairs perfectly with the fresh grilled flavor. You will never leave Nuestro hungry, and should you happen to find yourself in the Country Music Capital of the West Coast you’ll be blown away by how well they do tacos. Better, dare I say, than anyone in the taco-est state in the country. -- MM

Colorado

Taco del Gnar

Address and Info

Ridgway

The name here might be a slightly teeth-clenching pun on the snow regulars of this spot shred, but this mountain town taco outpost gets people to drive hours for a taste of their creative flavors. Though not traditional, stuff like the ahi tuna, pork belly, and tuna carpaccio tacos take items you’d usually find on fancy restaurant menus, puts them on a tortilla, and serves them up at fast-casual prices. That kind of creativity has made Taco del Gnar a hit both with shaggy, mountain-town ski bums who live to put interesting stuff in tacos and with the affluent tourists who frequent the nearby ski resorts. Though for that second group, the new location in Telluride will probably be more convenient. -- MM

Connecticut

El Camion

Address and Info

Woodbury

El Camion started as a humble taco truck parked off Connecticut's Route 64 in Woodbury back in 2011. Soon, word spread throughout the Constitution State about the taco truck serving simple, incredibly addictive takes on classic tacos (the marinated flank steak with tomatillo sauce being the major stand out, to this day). The Food Network and Travel Channel featured it on several shows, propelling it into the national taco-sphere (yes, that's a thing) and they were able to lay down permanent roots minutes from their original truck, literally cementing their reputation as the best of the best in Connecticut. For what it's worth, the truck is still parked outside their new location, and the tacos inside are still as good as they've ever been. Which is to say, incredibly good. -- Wil Fulton

Delaware

El Pique

Address and Info

Wilmington

It's fairly easy to overlook El Pique. It looks more like a run down dive bar than the best taqueria in the First State. Inside, you'll find only a few seats and usually just a few employees working the counter/kitchen, but also a list of available proteins that would make Chipotle cower in inadequacy: This is where El Pique truly makes it's el claim to taco dominance. You have taco meat stalwarts like chicken and chorizo alongside hard-to-find (at least in these parts) offerings like trompa (pork snout), tripa (tripe), buche (pork stomach), and cabeza (beef head). Wash down these meats with a glass of their trademark horchata and you've got yourself one of the best Mexican meals on the entire Eastern seaboard. See! Delaware can be exciting, too. -- WF

La Santa Taqueria

Florida

La Santa Taqueria

Address and Info

Miami

One universal truth of tacos is that anything served out of a truck at something called the Midtown Garden Center is going to be great. No exception in Miami, where Mexico City chef Omar Montero has brought tacos to Miami previously only available south of the border. The highlight here is the Villamelon Cecina with dried rib-eye, sausage, and chicharon, a staple at Mexican bullfights named after the bougie pseudo-fans who attend. But ask anyone who’s been to Mexico City and they’ll tell you the flavors in the al pastor and the asada are as close as you’ll find to the real thing stateside. Though La Santa is still in the process of finding a permanent home, the garden center truck and pop-ups throughout the city are worth seeking out. -- MM

Georgia

Hankook Taqueria

Address and Info

Atlanta

You might not expect to find some of the best Korean-style tacos in America in Georgia, but that's exactly what awaits you at Hankook Taqueria, a Korean Tex-Mex fusion of pure delicious imagination via Korean-American chef Tomas Lee, a mainstay of Atlanta's food scene since the mid-'90s. Hankook combines Korean meat and spices (think dae ji gogi pulled pork with spicy Korean bbq sauce, or crispy calamari with jalapeños and sweet chili sauce) in the traditional taco shell vehicle. It's almost like two of the best styles of food in the entire world collided to form one undeniable force of non-traditional culinary nature. Oh wait, that's exactly what happened. For Korean tacos, Georgia should definitely be on your mind. -- WF

Hawaii

Gill's Lanai

Address and Info

Kapaau

Sometimes things taste better because of where you eat them. Like how a croissant tastes better when you’re looking at the Eiffel Tower, or a PowerBar that usually tastes like chalk is suddenly gourmet at the top of a mountain. So it would be easy to say the fish tacos at this little roadside shack on the scenic drive to the Pololu Valley is simply delicious because of its location. But the fish and shrimp in their tacos is caught off the island daily, giving them a crispy, clean, citrusy flavor when doused with a bit of lime. The lobster tacos are a must-have as well, though the poke quesadilla is one of those quintessentially-Hawaiian things that just feels right when eaten on the sprawling patio with a warm island breeze. So while the location is paradise, the food is just as beautiful, and should you want tacos-to-go on your way back from the viewpoint they’ll be just as good at home. -- MM

The Funky Taco

Idaho

The Funky Taco

Address and Info

Boise

Boise didn’t get the distinction as the next Portland by sticking to traditions like “old-world recipes” or “restaurants in buildings.” OK, it did that. But it’s also become a haven for mutations on classics, and there’s no finer version of ultra-fusion food than Funky Taco. Born in an Airstream (now brick and mortar), the place puts a focus on farm-to-table ingredients, which it tosses into a housemate flour tortillas. Among the hits: a curry-spoked chicken tikka taco, panko-fried cauliflower, a daikon-loaded banh mi taco, and a combo bulgogi/cheesesteak. The king might just be the Macho, with coffee and ancho-braised brisket that pairs perfectly with live music and local pints. Don’t sleep on the beer cheese-covered chicken skin nachos, either. But do perhaps sleep after. This stuff packs a punch, especially after a couple beers. -- AK

Illinois

Taqueria El Milagro

Address and Info

Chicago

With Chicago being home to the largest Mexican population in the Midwest, it’s nearly impossible to pick just one taco that best represents the Lincoln State. While Carnitas Uruapan wins for its irresistibly tender pork, El Faro for the deceptive accuracy of its vegan al pastor, and La Internacional for helping to spawn the ever-popular Paco’s Tacos, we have to turn to El Milagro for overall quality. The cafeteria-style tortilleria + taqueria deals in all manner of tacos, but the one that takes the cake would have to be the taco de bistec. In line with Chicago’s meatpacking roots, this taco is the ultimate in carne cravings. The base, double corn tortillas are made fresh on the premises, followed with layers of beans, rice, and a thinly cut sirloin steak with garlic, salt, and pepper that’s topped with a cabbage curtido. For good measure, you’ll want to accompany that bistec with a taco de chili rellenos. -- Serena Maria Daniels

Indiana

La Parada

Address and Info

Indianapolis

Indiana's best "comfort Mexican" -- that is, stuff that's not fusionized for over-foodie-fied -- is served in a nondescript neighborhood joint that ditches frills for a perfect combination of tortilla, lime, onion, and cilantro. You don't need more when you've got protein options that perfectly balance spice and delicate flavor, ranging from standards like shredded chicken and a perfectly tender tongue to goat stew, which is tough to find at most Southwestern taquerias, let alone in a little hole in the wall in Indy. They're great on a platter, but don't skip the excellent octopus ceviche tostadas and the impeccable elote. Or the micheladas, obviously. -- AK

Iowa

La Juanita

Address and Info

Storm Lake

Located in the northwest hinterlands of Iowa, Storm Lake's a tiny town hiding a big secret, which sounds an awful lot like the jacket of a particularly bland Stephen King novel. In the case of Storm Lake, the secret is tacos. The best tacos in Iowa, in fact, served from a little storefront off the Rockwellian main drag whose interior has been converted to some sort of approximation of Oaxaca. But with a taxidermied deer, because it's Idaho. Those tacos are a clinic in flavor cultivation, from crispy chicharrones and a bright orange chicken whose flavor matches its hue to incredible fried fish and crispy carnitas... plus pork stomach and tongue for true believers. Typically, we'd avoid things like octopus this far from the ocean, but here the coctel de camaron y pulpo (a shrimp and octopus cocktail) is a must. This is some of the best Mexican in the Midwest. Don't keep this one a secret. -- AK

Kansas

Bonito Michoacan

Address and Info

Kansas City

Lest you doubt the ultra-fresh claims of Bonito Michoacan, it's located in a carniceria and fruteria, so you can rest assured that everything here is made in house. That includes straightforward, densely flavored barbacoa, crispy yet tender carnitas, and soft beef cheek that melts like butter under a pile of cilantro and onions, but becomes its own beast when hit with sauces from the stocked salsa bar, where the fruits and veggies from the store become masterpieces of flavor. Even better, those tacos are only a buck on Monday. Even better still? The place is also a bakery, meaning you can take your tres leches home with you to consume once your stomach has settled. -- AK

Kentucky

Speedy Tacos

Address and Info

Somerset/Science Hill

Though the name refers to the expedited service you'll receive inside, chances are you'll want to linger in the humble walls of Speedy Tacos as long as there's room left in your gut. One of Kentucky's Mexican mainstays, Speedy's is a no frills, family-owned taqueria that promises one thing, and one thing only: delicious, cheap, and lovingly crafted Mexican food. The tacos here are based off owners Noe and Gude Ramirez's grandmother's recipe, and they certainly taste like they were prepared in an abuela's kitchen somewhere south of the border. And while they hit all the classics (carnitas, chorizo, pollo) adventurous souls will want to try the lengua (tongue) or the cabeza (beef head) for a true taste of Mexico via Kentucky. -- WF

The Rum House

Louisiana

The Rum House

Address and Info

New Orleans

For the days when shopping on Magazine Street has left you dreadfully hangry, there’s The Rum House to curb your stomach (and verbal) growls. The space is bare-bones at best, but don’t let that prevent you from making a taco stop. Here, tacos are done up with a Caribbean flair, yet tinged with an unmistakably New Orleans accent. Sample a couple of the Caribbean-inspired ones like the delightful jerk pork topped with grilled pineapple salsa or Creole rib flush with tomato barbecue sauce, then lean toward the local cuisine for cornmeal-dusted fried oysters or blackened mahi-mahi swiped with cilantro pesto. -- Amy Schulman

Maine

Home Kitchen Cafe

Address and Info

Rockland

Out of all the spots in this list, Home Kitchen Cafe is arguably the least "taco-centric" of the bunch. In fact, it's not really a "Mexican" restaurant as much as a hodgepodge of homestyle cuisine with Maine flavors baked in. But, its inclusion is fully warranted by a simple two word phrase loaded with delicious connentatios: "lobster taco." You're in Maine, after all -- America's epicenter of world-class lobster. And by our estimation, Home Kitchen Cafe has the best lobster tacos in the state. By natural extension, that means the best in the entire United States. And that's all you need to know. Just. Go. -- WF

Clavel

Maryland

Clavel

Address and Info

Baltimore

You’ll have to elbow your way past hordes of people waiting to get into Clavel, the slim mezcaleria spinning handmade tacos for Baltimore’s hip Remington crowd. The open kitchen, armed with its mighty comal, is a cacophony of pots, pans, and blistering flames, but the chefs systematically spin out platters of handmade corn tacos. These thin, blistered disks come plopped with an array of cheeky toppings like corn fungus and chicharrones, but there are a host of other, more traditional ones: hunks of salsa verde carnitas, fried fish tacos and slaw, and threads of pulled pork with a hint of orange. Drench each taco with any of the salsas perched in pots on the tables, then wash everything down with a flight of specialty mezcals. -- AS

Massachusetts

Taqueria El Amigo

Address and Info

Waltham

Slightly outside the Boston metropolitan area lies a nondescript white building where the windows are lined with Christmas lights and the best tacos in Massachusetts are served. At Waltham's Taqueria El Amigo -- which loosely (and aptly) translated to "your friendly taqueria" -- the accommodating staff will assist you in crafting the customizable taco of your dreams with only the freshest meats, produce, and sauces. It's ridiculously cheap. The atmosphere is warm, friendly, and decidedly free of any sense of pretension (and Massholes, usually). And, obviously, the tacos themselves -- particularly the al pastor and cabeza -- are worth making the drive from the city. This is your friendly neighborhood taqueria. And it's waiting to make your acquaintance. -- WF

Michigan

Los Altos

Address and Info

Detroit

A good chunk of the Great Lakes State's Mexican diaspora hails from the highlands of Jalisco, and thus when you’re cruising down Detroit’s Vernor Highway -- home to Michigan’s largest Mexican population -- you’re bound to come across a number of Jalisciense eateries that specialize in birria. The Mexican state’s official dish, birria is a spicy meat stew, usually prepared with goat (chivo en espanol).  While everyone has their favorite spot for birria, we’ll argue that the tacos de birria from Los Altos is among the strongest contenders. Los Altos is the big sister to Taqueria Lupita’s, which is widely credited with introducing Detroiters to the traditional taqueria. But whereas Lupita’s is favored by the grab-and-go lunch crowd, Los Altos is the spot where you can stretch your legs a bit, sip on a margarita or cerveza, and chow down on a plate of exquisitely marinated tacos de birria. -- SMD

Minnesota

Taqueria Los Ocampo

Address and Info

Minneapolis and St. Paul

In a (Twin) city where even the baseball stadium has a shockingly diverse panel of International cuisine, you have to expect their premier tacos to be pretty damn impressive. Since 2003, Taqueria Los Ocampo has been providing both Minneapolis and St. Paul with some of the best tacos in the entire country. While the joint features a nearly infinite level of customization, there is one clear standout in their taco roster. The carnitas tacos at Los Ocampo are crisped to savory perfection, with a lean, juicy texture that sits beneath a pile of finely chopped greens and fiery green salsa. It's what you want. And it will certainly keep you warm during those harsh Minny winters. And maybe make you sweat a little during those brief (but beautiful!) Minnesota summers, too. -- WF

Mississippi

Taco Sombrero

Address and Info

Gulfport

With hurricanes, economic ups and downs, and recent revitalization, Gulfport has seen a lot in the past 40 years. But one constant has been Taco Sombrero, opened in 1979 and a venerable Mexican institution along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The family-run restaurant has been making everything from chips to tamales to the five salsas that line its bar from scratch every day, becoming so popular they opened a second location in Biloxi. Nothing too fancy here, but if you want a whole meal in a single taco go for the Macho, where a flour tortilla wraps around a crispy corn shell with a layer of refried beans, meat, lettuce, cheese, sour cream, and tomatoes. Simple, yet surprisingly fantastic. Much like Gulfport itself. -- MM

Mission Joint Taco

Missouri

Mission Taco Joint

Address and Info

St. Louis & Kansas City

Adding the word "Mission" before the word "taco" immediately raises the bar on what you're expecting from a Mexican-American restaurant, so let's get this out of the way: No, the tacos at this STL chainlet aren't anything like what you'll find in San Francisco. And you shouldn't care, because these imaginative, chefly concoctions are absolutely incredible. Carnitas takes the form of pork belly, and the crispy, fatty chunks make guest appearances in the fantastic beef brisket birria tacos as well as the BBQ duck, which gets an ancho glaze and a kick from jalapeño strips. Shrimp tacos go the fried route, here amped up with a batter made from 4 Hands Incarnation IPA, while house-made chorizo gets paired up with grilled pineapple and avocado. The creations are as delicious as they unexpected. It may never get the same status as the Mission, but if Mission Taco Joint is any indication, a St. Louis-style taco is good cause to get excited, too. -- AK

Montana

El Rodeo

Address and Info

Bozeman

Rodeos aren't at all uncommon in Montana. Great Mexican food, on the other hand, definitely is... unless you happen to live in Bozeman, in which case you should be going to El Rodeo as often as possible. Housed in a converted bus -- almost always a good sign when it comes to authentic Mexican fare -- the tacos here are pretty straightforward, but don't let the limited menu of carnitas, shredded beef, carne asada, and chicken fool you. Each simple, old-school taco is crafted with slow-cooked love, managing to mingle explosive flavors into tiny, three-bite wonders. And while you're definitely here for those tacos, consider getting them as a side dish to accompany a killer pollo asado, here served as a crispy-skinned, impossibly tender half bird that surprises with each bite. -- AK

Nebraska

La Choza

Address and Info

Omaha

La Choza pulls influence from Mexico and El Salvador, with a menu offering everything from soft pupusas teeming with chicharron to plump, sweet empanadas overflowing with banana. But the move here is tacos, and lots of them; the main attraction is the al pastor, marinated with hunks of pineapple then grilled alongside more pineapple, creating a lusciously caramelized mess. The grill gets even more action in the pepper-flecked shrimp taco, studded with ribbons of grilled peppers and tomatoes. -- AS

Nevada

Bajamar

Address and Info

Las Vegas

Yes. We are not only claiming that Nevada's best tacos are located in the heart of the crushingly commercialized Las Vegas strip, but that the best tacos in this decidedly desert state are actually fish tacos. Here we are, free of any sense of fear and loathing, decrying that Bajamar's battered rockfish tacos -- alongside their steady and wholly competent sauteed shrimp tacos sidekick -- are definitely the best lineup of tacos in the Silver State. And we challenge any high rollers to pull out a trump card (taco) that can best this full (taco) house.  -- WF

Taco Beyondo, LLC

New Hampshire

Taco Beyondo

Address and Info

Hillsborough

Taco Beyondo's title is a weird amalgamation of Spanglish that apparently means beyond tacos. But when you are in Hillsborough's best taco joint -- and more importantly, New Hampshire's best taco joint -- you don't want to venture too far from their eponymous dish. Don't let the restaurant's humble appearance fool you: Taco Beyondo features some surprisingly sophisticated options, from the veggie-friendly seasoned black bean to seared lime-marinated fish to the unexpectedly bougie (and also veggie-friendly) marinated grilled baby portabella. Maybe the name references their apparent willingness to go beyond what we would expect from a small-town taqueria? We'll buy it. -- WF

New Jersey

Taqueria Pancho Villa

Address and Info

Dover

If you are the kind of person who thinks the best tacos in the world are exclusively served in no-frills, non-descript buildings that look more like an orthodontist's waiting room with tables than a world-class restaurant: congratulations, you're right! Also, Jersey's Taqueria Pancho Villa is directly up your taco-loving alley. Dover, one of the Garden State's premier outlets for quality Latin food, is flush with excellent tacos. But no single location consistently nails the concept like Pancho Villa. For a singular example of their prowess, look no further than the titular taco, the Pancho Villa: a grease-tastic (in the best possible way) medley of onions, expertly trimmed steak, and peppers. If you are looking to break out of your Westernized comfort zone, Pancho Villa also features tacos stuffed with tongue, tripe, and goat meat. All of which are worthy of your time and taco budget. You don't need to cross the Hudson into Gotham to snag quality tacos. And Pancho Villa is the prime example why. -- WF

New Mexico

La Herradura

Address and Info

Artesia

Out of almost every entry on this list, you have to expect New Mexico to hold some of the best tacos outside of… well, old Mexico. So obviously, an embarrassing amount of consideration was put into this pick. But now, we can say it: If you ever make it out the Southwestern corner of the state, to the remote town of Artesia, you'll find the best tacos in New Mexico -- and perhaps the entire country -- at La Herradura, a ridiculously unassuming taqueria located in an industrial building, with only a lone, worn flag strapped to the metal siding of the building to advertise its existence. Inside, you'll find an "authentic" slice of taco-centric heaven. The portions are heaping. The prices are almost embarrassingly cheap. And their world-class tacos -- from the red sauce-soaked beef asada to their shredded beef desheredada -- are served fresh, hot, and with a delicious plate of rice and beans as a worthy sidekick. This is the Platonic ideal of what a taco joint in the Southwest should be. And that is incredibly high praise. -- WF

La Morada

New York

La Morada

Address and Info

The Bronx

The choice for the best "anything" in New York is inherently difficult, as the Big City is a culinary landmark and cultural melting pot, flush with options and quality in every nearly every arena -- food or otherwise (and the rest of the State isn't too shabby, either). With apologies to the genius of Enrique Olvera and his transcendent Coca Cola-infused duck tacos at Cosme, we simply must point any aspiring taco enthusiast to the South Bronx if they truly want a taste of the "best." The Oaxacan mainstay La Morada -- despite being unassuming on the outside -- isn't exactly a hidden gem, as its spot has been blown up repeatedly by two local rags called The New York Times and The New Yorker, with the latter even calling it (in classic New Yorker style) "a crucible for the resistance" in the face of the area's ongoing gentrification. Neighborhood politics aside, the tacos here are truly transcendent -- in particular, their legendary bistec asado, which blends Oaxacan and Tex-Mex styles in perfect unison. Consider each visit a pledge to help a local stalwart business stay alive... along with some of the best tacos in the America, too. -- WF

North Carolina

White Duck Taco Shop

Address and Info

Asheville

Asia and Mexico converge at this eclectic taco spot, home of the famed Bangkok shrimp tacos: Two corn tortillas are topped with lightly fried shrimp and sweet cucumbers, then polished off with a chili-aioli-sesame glaze. But the Asian-inspired tacos don’t stop there -- choose from other favorites like Korean beef bulgogi, banh mi tofu, and Thai peanut chicken, or stick to the avant-garde favorites (think strips of tender duck drenched in spice-tinged mole or the lamb gyro, flanked with feta crumbles and tzatziki). Once you’ve selected your tacos, you’d be remiss not to order at least one side of mint-flecked watermelon -- everyone else definitely is.  -- AS

North Dakota

Vinyl Taco

Address and Info

Grand Forks/Fargo

The record-shop-themed interior of Vinyl Taco isn’t exactly what one expects in the middle of Grand Forks, North Dakota. But this little slice of modern hip in the northern prairies serves up tacos that could stand up to anything from a bigger city. The menu is long on Mexican street fare, and if you like the traditional stuff the chili chipotle barbacoa is the way to go. But Vinyl’s made its mark with more-creative tacos. Try the smoked sweet and sour pork belly with tobacco onions, or the crispy chicken and mango with fresh spinach, cheese, and a sweet onion vinaigrette. -- MM

Ohio

Condado

Address and Info

Columbus

Typically, "build your own taco night" is shorthand for "Mom had a few too many spritzers last night, so deal with it." At Columbus favorite Condado, though, every night is build your own taco night, and Mom's probably hitting on a Buckeye freshman on the patio, because the place doubles as a kick-ass tequila and mezcal bar. Filling options for those tacos are fantastic, mind you, with an incendiary ghost pepper steak ready to set tongues aflame, housemade chorizo for mellower palates, BBQ pulled jackfruit and Thai chili tofu for the flesh-averse. And if you're feeling lazy (or a little too mezcal-ed) to build your own they have a fantastic roster of prescribed tacos that come in seven different tortillas. Maybe go with those. You should probably be making sure your mom's OK. -- AK

Big Truck Tacos

Oklahoma

Big Truck Tacos

Address and Info

Oklahoma City

In 2009, when Big Truck opened, owners Chris Lower and Kathryn Mathis took it upon themselves to expose their hometown of OKC to the low-key magic of Mexican street food via their ubiquitous "Big Truck" and one tiny brick-and-mortar. Since then, Big Truck has gained legendary status in both the taco and food truck world, even winning a "people's choice" food truck contest on the Food Network's website. And for good reason. For starters, their now iconic breakfast tacos -- including the creative "Sam I Am," featuring egg, guacamole, and ham (get it?) -- get people lining first thing in the AM. For dinner, they have an equally inventive roster, including the tofu-based Smo-Fu Picadillo and the clandestine Fifth Amendment, a mystery offering featuring rotating ingredients that aren't revealed till the next day on Big Truck's social media accounts. Needless to say, this place has fun. And so does anyone and everyone that eats there. -- WF

Oregon

Luis's Taqueria

Address and Info

Woodburn

Since 1993, this Michoacan-style restaurant has stood tall among the myriad, nondescript Mexican eateries in Woodburn thanks in part to its chavindeca -- tortillas pressed together with mozzarella cheese and peat, then topped with veggies and sour cream -- and its crazy good tortas and tacos. The restaurant, which is loaded with enough pinatas to supply a year's worth of quinceaneras, makes everything in its tacos fresh on site, from the gloriously pliable tortilla to the proteins, including carnitas whose crisp edges drip with juice, tender cabeza, and al pastor that raises the bar on savory and sweet for all challengers to come. There have been long lines ever since Obama did a surprise drop in a while ago, but don't worry. They don't do taco salad, so presidential visits are unlikely for the foreseeable future. -- AK

Pennsylvania

Tako

Address and Info

Pittsburgh

First off, their name isn't a spellcheck butchering or a campy stab at sticking out: it's a reference to the Japanese word for octopus, and emblematic of their flagship taco, a grilled octopus tentacle with a harissa aioli sauce. Right away, you know this Three Rivers joint by Pittsburgh chef/restatuer/Yinzer legend Richard DeShantz is not your average taco stand -- it's a high-end restaurant. But in this case, we can slice through the apparent airs and respect what Tako is doing in the space. They complement classics like carnitas and al pastor with new-school amalgamations like the aforementioned octopus and duck tacos featuring foie gras, hoisin sauce, pickled peppers, and mint. This is not your abuelo's taco joint. But in this case, that's definitely OK. -- WF

Tallulah's Taqueria

Rhode Island

Tallulah's Taqueria

Address and Info

Providence

Wander by Tallulah’s on a warm summer night and you’re bound to see the small red-brick spot bustling with action: people carrying silver trays weighed down with a bounty of tacos spill out into the patio, squeezing lime juice onto towering tortillas. Here, you’ll choose from an array of tacos, including a seriously good breakfast taco studded with chorizo, eggs, potatoes, rice, beans, and queso. Everything -- braised pork belly and shoulder carnitas, crumbles of chorizo, strips of lengua, chipotle-braised potato --is plunked atop corn-flecked tortillas along with a dollop of guac, onions, cilantro, salsa, radish, and the aforementioned sliver of lime. If you’re still ravenous post-tacos, Tallulah’s also makes bang-up burritos, tortas, and quesadillas to throw into the mix. -- AS

South Carolina

Taco Boy

Address and Info

Charleston

Unfortunately, Taco Boy is not the newest superhero to come out of Marvel's considerably bloated roster of stars. Fortunately, it's something better: a lively, irreverent taqueria/cocktail bar which runs under the official tagline, "Skip Siesta, Let's Fiesta." The times at Taco Boy are decidedly fun, but, more importantly, the tacos that the eponymous boy serves do not slouch, either. Despite the gooftastic branding, Taco Boy has sophisticated takes on tacos like kimchi beef, Southwest seared tuna, fried cauliflower, and tempura shrimp. Don't judge a book by its cover -- and don't judge a taco joint by its silly mascot. Taco Boy is fun. It's quality. And it's easily one of the best taco joints in the American south. -- WF

South Dakota

Cheyenne Crossing's Stage Stop Cafe

Address and Info

Lead

Take note: Cheyenne Crossing is not a taco shop in the traditional sense. In fact, they only offer one taco, and it's void of tortillas. So why would we recommend this out-of-the-way haunt of bikers and road trippers tucked in a canyon in the picturesque Black Hills? Because its fry bread taco is one for the ages. A staple of roadside trailers and reservation eateries, the so-called Indian taco is one of SoDak's must-eat foods. At this little cafe, a massive, crispy pillow of fry bread is loaded with seasoned beef, cheese, olives, onions, lettuce, and cheese, creating a crazy decadent, jaw-dropping meal the size of a plate. Even if it was located in a sewer, it'd be worth a visit. Luckily, it's located in the heart of one of the most picturesque and overlooked parts of the country. -- AK

Tennessee

Mas Tacos, Por Favor

Address and Info

Nashville

The aptly named Mas Tacos, Por Favor translates directly to "more tacos, please," which is exactly the conclusion you'll come to when you dine at Nashville's -- and the Volunteer State's -- premier taqueria. Mas Tacos is another case of a wildly popular food truck turned bona fide brick-and-mortar, and despite it's incredibly humble outward appearance (you might only recognize it by the giant, red-lettered "DELIcious") it's garnered a reputation for having some of the best, no-frills tacos in the entire country -- with even the esteemed Guy Fieri (literally) putting his stamp spiky haired of approval on the joint. In a way, the tacos aren't anything "special," unless you think incredibly well done, cheap-as-heck traditional tacos like chorizo and barbacoa -- mixed with some untraditional takes like skillet-cooked chicken and fried avocado -- aren't special. But actually, if you do think that, you probably shouldn't be reading this list in the first place. -- WF

Vera's Backyard Bar-B-Que

Texas

Vera's Backyard Bar-B-Que

Address and Info

Brownsville

As with California, we could have picked literally anything for Texas and people would be pissed. But that should only be a testament to how plentiful the Lone Star State's taco selection is -- and inherently, how utterly amazing our eventual pick for Texas must be. We've previously ranked Vera's Backyard Bar-B-Que as one of the best overall Mexican restaurants in the entire country, and their tacos are a prime reason why. They are one of the last operations selling real-deal, traditional Rio Grande Valley barbacoa in the entire nation, where whole cattle heads are painstakingly smoked over mesquite to create one of the most unique tastes in all of BBQ-dom. Obviously, this entry is not playing it safe, and neither should you if you ever get the privilege to hit up Vera's in the flesh. Their ubiquitous meat can be ordered as cachete (beef cheek), lengua (tongue), or even -- brace yourself -- ojos (eyeballs). All of the above -- especially the eyeballs -- are usually sold out by noon. Vera's manages to do the impossible: It seamlessly combines two regional specialties in a familiar format, and persuades people (read: American people) to willingly consume eyeballs. This is why we picked it. Please, try to argue. -- WF

Utah

Chunga's

Address and Info

Salt Lake City

Tacos, like many things in life, are often best when done simply. Nowhere is this more obvious than this no-frills spot on the grittier west side of SLC, where Cancun-style Mexican food comes out of a scratch kitchen onto a warm (or occasionally snowy) outdoor patio. The al pastor tacos are the highlights of the menu, a juicy, spicy-sweet taco that’s as close to el Distrito Federal as you’re getting in Utah. To wash it down you’ve got both real Mexican Coke and Jarritos soda on hand. Or if calories went out the window the minute you decided on tacos for dinner, go for the mango or pineapple milkshakes. -- MM

Jess Sipe Photography

Vermont

El Cortijo

Address and Info

Burlington

Beet tacos not on the top of your taco to-do list? That’s only because you probably haven’t been  to this converted old diner that’s taking stuff from farms around the city and putting them in tortillas with inventive combinations of ingredients. Yes, they’ve got the classics like carne asada and carnitas. But this is Vermont! You’re coming here for their advents in vegetarianism! Try the lentejas tacos with lentils, roasted squash, maple sunflower seeds, and chipotle lime yogurt. Or the camote with sweet potatoes, braised kale, guajillo salsa, and pepitas. The vegetables are all fresh and seasonal, so the menu might change if you’re not a regular. But it’s the most Vermont take on tacos you’ll ever find, and every bit as crave-worthy as meatier alternatives. -- MM

Virginia

Pico Taqueria

Address and Info

Chincoteague Island

The best taco joint in the great state of Virginia has one major caveat that we must cover before going any further: It's only open when the weather is warm (roughly, spring to fall). Despite being closed during the entirety of cold-fall and winter, what Pico Taqueria does in its brief but bright run is better than all the other year-round taco operations in the Old Dominion State. The space is completely outside (well, except the kitchen) -- which explains the "no cold weather" mandate, and really is nothing special, aesthetically. It's a shack. But they serve an array of expertly made, classic taco hits (think seared shrimp, or blackened chicken) alongside an eclectic selection of modern fusion takes like fried oysters with Thai basil, or crispy cauliflower with Parmesan cheese and garlic aioli. It's new school. It's old school. And it definitely makes waiting for summer a little bit harder for Virginia residents. -- WF

Cody Permemter/Thrillist

Washington

Tacos Chukis

Address and Info

Seattle

This spot that started out as a tiny upstairs taco hole in Capitol Hill opened a second location in the heart of Amazon country in South Lake Union, then a third in Beacon Hill, but hasn’t lost a smidge of its original edge. The tacos from Tijuana native Roberto Salmeron were inspired by what he found back home, tiny tortillas packed with juicy, smoky meat and topped with salsas that make the tacos nearly addictive. At $2.20 a pop, a plate of four leaves you full for under 10 bucks, on food that’s as good as you’d find in restaurants five times the price. The lines might be long, but it's always worth the wait. Be prepared to make two trips if you’re tempted by what you see everyone else eating.

West Virginia

Maria's Taqueria

Address and Info

Shepherdstown

The tiny college town of Shepherdstown is a hidden gem of its own, a little bastion of college culture set on the shores of the Potomac River. Along the city’s main drag of German Street sits the city’s only Mexican restaurant, a hip-feeling spot reminiscent of the hole-in-the-wall taco joints you’d find in larger college towns. The menu is simple, with thick-shelled tacos filled with spicy meats you can literally smell from down the street. The go-to here is the fish tacos, however, surprisingly fresh and flavorful for a landlocked state and yet another of many pleasant surprises in Shepherdstown.

Wisconsin

Taco Moto

Address and Info

Milwaukee

Taco Moto's been through quite a journey since pulling up stakes in Door County and plopping down next to Bay View's Boone & Crockett, including a name change when the original moniker, Gypsy Taco, came under fire for being unintentionally offensive. But all along the way chef Mitchell Ciohon has remained unflappable in his commitment to experimental tacos, and he's got the Dr. Pepper-marinated tacos to prove it. The chef's whims here dictate the rotating menu. One day you might find oysters and ahi. On St. Pat's, it's likely to be corned beef. Maybe there will be root vegetables. But no matter what, you'll find something unexpected and amazing between those two tortillas. Just go with it. -- AK

Wyoming

San Juan Restaurant

Address and Info

Jackson

The city of Jackson is chock-full of high-end, chef-driven fine dining that makes for the perfect après-ski indulgence. San Juan is... not that. And the city's all the better for it. The family-owned spot recently underwent a renovation and a name change (it's no longer Sanchez), but it remains a minimalist affair that kicks snow in the face of Jackson's bougie reputation. Go with the tacos suizo, which add a bit of rosemary to traditional pork, or the fantastic grilled shrimp tacos, which come in a pair topped with guac and jalapeños. Tacos al pastor are made with the unexpected choice of both pork or beef. What's more, you can get a set of three tacos for a scant $10, which is pretty much the price of water at half the fancy spots in town. Some say Jackson's kind of just LA in the mountains. San Juan kinda supports that notion, but more in the "delicious Mexican food" way than the "private jet and Botox" way. -- AK