12 taco spots both twisted and traditional
Some taco and burrito joints in Madison play by...
$ < $10 $$ $11-$15
$$$ $16-$25 $$$$ $26+
(price indicates cost of taco entree)
BOM Best of Madison 2016 winner
Tacos and burritos have gained widespread appeal since they were first introduced to American palates in the 1920s. Though there may be disagreements regarding what is authentic versus nontraditional Mexican fare, Americans’ love for Mexican cuisine is a uniting force. Many taco and burrito joints in Madison play by traditional rules, combining seasoned meat with finely diced onion, cilantro and a squeeze of lime. Others reach for innovative and delicious twists on the familiar theme, batter-frying vegetables or spicing the ingredients up with Asian flavors, for example. Regardless, there are so many delicious choices that narrowing it down to your favorites may require wearing pants with an elastic waistband.
El Sabor de Puebla
1133 Williamson St., 422-5264
Even the most familiar carne asada or shredded chicken tacos are done right at this homey east-side joint, made with fresh and local ingredients grown by the owner’s brother and Farley Center farmer Juan Gonzalez. You might want to try the succulent lamb barbacoa taco–tender pieces of lamb melt in your mouth, melding with the flavors of cilantro and spicy onion. All tacos are served in the traditional manner, with only fresh cilantro and onion, and a squeeze of lime on corn tortillas. House-made green sauce adds a nice piquant bite, and a side of rice and beans makes it a hearty meal. $
Salvatore’s Tomato Pies
913 E. Johnson St., 238-6040
Though perhaps an unexpected mix, both the pizza and tacos at Salvatore’s Madison location are impeccably crafted. The tacos created by chef Patrick DePula are innovative and focused on seasonal, local products. On the regular menu you’ll find a flank steak taco with roasted poblanos and house salsa, as well as a vegetarian taco with roasted tomato, poblano, Brussels sprouts and onion, with swoon-worthy specials such as the marinated wagyu steak taco with pickled red cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, sesame green bean, ssamjang and cilantro. The menu changes seasonally and daily. Check the Facebook page for specials. $ BOM
310 S. Brearly St., 260-8586
The burrito meets Madison at Burrito Drive in Madison’s Williamson Street neighborhood. Favorites include the She-meh-neh burrito with grilled chicken accompanied by creamy sweet potato puree, bacon, rice and queso fresco, or the chorizo burrito with beans, rice, asadero cheese, roasted potatoes and grilled green onions. Get comfy in one of the booths, or get it to go or delivered. $
El Burrito Loco
Food truck, various locations
While the El Burrito Loco restaurant on North High Point Road closes for good as owners shift their attention to their Señor Peppers restaurant in Oregon, we’re thankful there’s still an El Burrito Loco food truck serving familiar burritos and tacos downtown. The cheese steak burrito features grilled steak rolled in a tortilla with onions, mushrooms and cheese sauce served with a side of Mexican rice and refried beans, while the vegetarian burro features the essentials–beans, rice, cheese, guacamole and sour cream. $-$$
1417 Northport Drive, 240-2008
A Mexican market with a small cafe, this hidden gem on Madison’s north side is worth a stop for a casual lunch or dinner. Enjoy carnitas (seasoned pork tenderloin) or steak tacos with a side of chips and house-made salsa, or a burrito filled with slow-cooked beef barbacoa, topped with lettuce, tomato, sour cream, cheese, onions, cilantro, beans and rice. Pick up some marinated meat from the butcher and other ingredients from the store while you are there to re-create the meal at home. $
El Grito Taqueria
Food truck, various locations
El Grito’s taco truck hit the streets mid-2015 and has been on a roll ever since, keeping it local while taking an innovative spin on traditional Mexican fare. Drawing on inspiration from their travels to Mexico and Los Angeles’ street food, El Grito offers 100 percent gluten-free tacos. Choices include the sweet potato and roasted carrot taco topped with caramelized onions and a pumpkin seed pesto, the brisket cecina taco topped with coriander pickled white onions, pickled jalapeños and cilantro and the slow-roasted pork shoulder taco with almond mole, tamarind sauce, crushed almonds and cilantro. Keep up to date with locations and offerings on El Grito’s Facebook page. This is one truck you don’t want to miss. $
744 Williamson St., 280-9378
Eldorado Grill offers a delicious and inspired spin on familiar Mexican fare, adding a little bit of Texas to your burritos and tacos. Try the machaca pork burrito with shredded achiote pork, tomatoes, onions, poblano peppers and Monterey Jack cheese, garnished with sour cream, pico de gallo and salsa verde. It comes with a side of red rice and black beans. Perhaps you and a friend will share that and a side of beef and chorizo street tacos, filled with flank steak and chorizo, topped with cilantro, pickled red onion and a cilantro-lime aioli and served with a dish of arbol chile salsa. You will not want to miss pairing this meal with a margarita–perhaps the eponymous Eldorado margarita, made with Sauza Blue Reposado tequila, fresh-squeezed lime juice and Patrón Citrónge. $$ BOM
644 Odana Road, 826-0178
La Mestiza offers good Mexican food in a warm and colorful environment. Priding themselves on authentic dishes, the team members serve a handful of tacos daily, plus a slow-cooked pork carnitas taco on Saturdays. The pastor taco–featuring tender, sweet and savory pieces of pork–is served with sauteed onions, while the vegetarian nopalito taco is substantial with refried beans, pickled cactus pads, onions and cilantro. The fish taco is delicious, a mildly seasoned and flaky tilapia filet, topped with avocado slices. Don’t miss the guacamole and house-fried chips. $
Tex Tubb’s Taco Palace
2009 Atwood Ave., 242-1800
Tex Tubb’s has long set the standard for innovative tacos and burritos and adds new menu items regularly. The Wilmar burrito, stuffed with fried avocados, mushrooms, black beans, rice and feta cheese, should be on your bucket list. It comes with a side of slaw, pico de gallo and sour cream. Order it “wet,” doused with chile meat sauce or cheese sauce, or better yet, fry it up first, then douse. The taco options are exciting, if not overwhelming, but the fried cauliflower taco is not to be missed–yes, even for meatheads. The pineapple coconut chicken taco is also a sure bet, with chunks of grilled chicken breast layered with fresh spinach, basil cream sauce and fresh pineapple coconut salsa. $
El Poblano Mexican Restaurant
3737 Milwaukee St., 206-2642
El Poblano opened in the former Popeye’s near Woodman’s east, and the current owners have transformed it into an incredible Mexican food joint, with a hint of Texas. The blackened tilapia tacos are simply perfection, an ample hunk of fish seasoned with a hint of heat, a chipotle crema providing a fluid backdrop to the crunch of the lightly pickled slaw and onions, and a creamy avocado wedge. Vegetarians and nonvegetarians alike will love the fried zucchini tacos with generous wedges of the summer squash, batter-fried and served with pico de gallo, avocado and a crunch of shredded lettuce. Burritos offer a nice balance of meat, beans, lettuce, sour cream and pico de gallo. Grab a slice of house-made tres leches cake or flan for dessert. $
600 W. Verona Ave., Verona, 848-3298
When a restaurant is an extension of a farm, as in the case of Jordandal Cookhouse, you can be assured that the tacos are as fresh as they come, and locally sourced is an understatement. Try the pork tacos, with seasoned Jordandal Farms pork, pickled onions and peppers, cabbage and orange parsley crema. The grilled fish tacos combine baked wild-caught cod, bacon, pickled onions and peppers, cabbage, orange parsley crema and cilantro. Both are served on corn tortillas. $-$$
Vintage Brewing Company
674 S. Whitney Way, 204-2739
We all know that beer and tacos are the perfect companions. Vintage Brewing Company features two solid taco options that can be paired with their own beer. Try the Korea-Mex tacos, fusing Mexican and Korean cuisine. Three BBQ short rib tacos are served with pickled veggies, fresh cilantro, sliced avocado and fried rice. Pair with Jinja Ninja, a light beer with ginger notes. The fish tacos boast cod fried in a Vintage beer batter, encased by soft flour tortillas and topped with spicy coleslaw, salsa and Hoodoo hot sauce. They’re served with black beans and rice. Pair them with one of Vintage’s hoppy beers–Better Off Red. $$
Bored of Tacos?
Any time is taco time in my book, but sometimes it’s fun to switch it up. Arepas, fluffy round cakes of ground corn that hail from Colombia and Venezuela, are a mouthwatering alternative. The arepa has its roots in the indigenous cuisine of that area, but has become a global emblem of Venezuelan cuisine. And with good reason. Sliced and stuffed with a variety of savory fillings, the arepa makes an inviting and filling meal.
On East Washington Avenue, La Taguara, Madison’s only Venezuelan restaurant, arepas are a popular menu item. The round of dough is soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. Think grilled corn bread, but less crumbly. The arepas are loaded with your filling of choice–remember to grab a few napkins! Also try the pabellon arepa, a perfect trifecta of black beans, seasoned shredded beef and fried ripe plantains. Vegetarians will enjoy a combo of finely minced and mildly seasoned eggplant sauteed and paired with mild white cheese. The guacasaca sauce, a mixture of garlic, vinegar, cilantro, avocado, oil and other herbs and spices, is an essential, addictive and tangy compliment to the meal. The lunch deal is a great way to enjoy the arepas. They come one per order (and one is more filling than it looks!) with a side of soup or salad.