Raleigh, N.C. — Ahead of the American holiday Cinco de Mayo, the quest to find the best tacos in Raleigh became a two-week, tortilla crunching fiesta. With a little help from the Twitterverse, we compiled a list of 12 restaurants and set out to see which hacienda had the perfect blend of tortilla, meat and vegetables (and the occasional cheese).
Seeing as though there are an infinite number of taco variations, some ground rules were set: there would be no preference as to corn or flour tortillas, tacos would be ordered as-is with no additions or subtractions, at least one steak/beef variation had to be tried for consistency. Omissions included taco trucks and Taco Bell, unfortunately.
Gonza Tacos & Tequila is not the most centrally located restaurant, but what it lacks in accessibility, it makes up for in excellence. Hands down the best of the bunch, Gonza tacos have lightly golden, quasi-soft flour tortillas that are excellent in size and thickness. But inside, the simple combination of the pico de gallo and cheese in moderate, addictive proportions accent the spiced meats perfectly. The avocado wedge in each taco is a perfect touch. If you find yourself wondering on Lead Mine Road, stop in. If you have a driver, try some of the dozens of tequilas. Gonza gets bonus points for atmosphere, too.
Chubby’s Tacos was the overwhelming favorite when the fan suggestions came pouring in and understandably so. Ordering anything other than tacos off the menu would just be silly and with the variety, staying to just one type in your order would be equally as loco. Great flavors, excellent salsa options and well portioned. Chubby’s gets bonus points for accessibility, and flavor. (There are also other locations in Durham and North Raleigh.)
La Rancherita is unassuming on the outside – a flat-walled restaurant with simple lettering tossed beside the Best Buy in the parking lot around the corner of the mall. Inside the place is transformative and you actually feel closer to Mexico than Belk. Oh, and the tacos are delicioso. The steak tacos with grilled onions and guacamole make for a great combination of flavor, texture and consistency. Not 100 percent traditional, but pretty close. The sprinkle of cheese could be a little more, but all-in-all, a cannot-go-wrong spot to take a break from the mall shopping.
Flying Burrito lacks the word taco in their name but doesn’t lack tacos on their menu. With dozens of options from all varieties to suit all taste buds and heat levels, it is another establishment where you can close your eyes, point to an option and you will love the result. The beef is pulled, giving it a more modern twist. Also on the modern side, some of the chicken tacos come with a fried chicken strip instead of the more traditional cuts. Interesting take and very good.
Armadillo Grill makes the cut in large part to its variety and uniqueness. Traditional? No. Excellent concept? Yes. The build-to-suit approach is almost foolproof, so long as you are willing to add 10 cents here and 30 cents there. The modern take on a chili taco is interesting; the beef is delicious. If location is a factor, downtown gives it bonus points. Tacos served individually wrapped seems redundant, but then again, they don’t go cold when the downtown temptations of social fodder takes over dinner.
This isn’t Little League and not everybody can make the cut, but just because your favorite spot isn’t on the list doesn’t mean it isn’t good. A margarita or Corona can go a long way to making any meal amazing. Buen provecho y salud!