Tacos have become more Mexican, and also less, in recent years. The crispy shelled tacos filled with ground beef, shredded lettuce and shredded cheddar cheese of my youth – the only ones we knew – are anomaly in the city these days. Nearly all tacos today have soft tortillas, more often corn than flour, with chopped onions and cilantro along with wedges of lime to accompany most of the meat-filled versions, as is done in Mexico. There are also restaurants, some with a number of locations, serving creative takes, using the tortilla as a multi-cuisine canvas – not unlike a pizza crust – for tacos with tofu, Korean fried rice, lamb keema, Buffalo chicken, etc.
Whatever the style, the best feature items that are cooked to order rather than scooped from a steam tray and with recently made tortillas accompanied by flavorful salsas. One thing I’ve found over the years is that pastor can be a test of a taco purveyor. The pork meat in an al pastor taco is a often a little dry and not very flavorful. It helps to have a trompo, a vertical roasting spit, though I’ve had versions made without that are quite tasty.
Listed in order of preference below, and just for the afternoon- , nighttime-type tacos. Breakfast tacos are something different, of course, and have a separate list.
Urbe – Opened in the summer of 2021, this street food outpost from Hugo Ortega and team in Uptown Park is necessarily more ambitious, wide-ranging and accomplished than just about any taco purveyor around. Though this does not have the culinary fireworks you may encounter at one of Hugo Ortega’s other three local Mexican restaurants – Hugo’s, Caracol and Xochi – Urbe serves tacos with the greatest depth of flavor around, some of the prettiest ones, too. These are three to an order, almost all with corn tortillas, and it’s tough to go wrong among pastor from the trompo, beef barbacoa, carnitas and chicharron, brisket with mushroom and chilaca pepper, birria with consommé, and certainly the charred octopus. Uptown Park
100% Taquito – The fare here is the street food of Mexico City: tacos, quesadillas, tortas, sopes, molletes, banderillas, etc., though done in a slightly more upscale and air-conditioned fashion. And the tacos here are taquitos; an order consists of three small tacos filled with a choice of excellent ingredients: chicken; barbacoa de brisket, or regular brisket, tinga, spicy brisket cooked with chipotle peppers, and pastor. There’s a choice between fresh corn or flour tortillas. These seem to taste a tad better with the more authentically Mexican corn tortillas. All taquitos are garnished with just cilantro and onions, as you might expect. The complimentary salsas, red and green, are excellent. The pico de gallo, suitably vibrant and zesty, is also a very nice complement to the dishes. The best bets have been the spicy brisket and the pork served with pineapple cubes. Quesadillas here are prepared in the Mexican fashion, very similar to tacos, might even be a better bet. Greenway Plaza
Master Taco – Parked at Richmond and Woodhead since the spring of 2020, this noticeably friendly taco truck staffed by a family from the state of Guerrero serves up terrific small tacos on flavorful house-made corn or flour tortillas Monday through Friday for lunch and early dinner, where, for good reason, you will usually find at least someone waiting near the intersection for their food. Those taquitos are what to order here, $2 on double corn tortillas, $2.50 for flour, though a little more for lengua and tripa – and the tender and flavorful lengua might be worth it. Beef, pastor, chicken, chicharron en salsa verde, chorizo with nopales, and carnitas round out the fillings, all worth ordering. Sopes, gorditas, quesadillas, chicharones, and the daily plates are also worth a try. Montrose
Tacos A Go Go – What began as a small storefront next to the Continental Club on Main Street in Midtown in 2006, Tacos A Go Go is the best of the Tacos 2.0 spots, a fun, very user-friendly mini-chain that hews closely to Mexico and Texas for its tacos, and doing nearly everything quite well – the salsas might need some more flavor and heat, though. Most tacos are assembled in the Mexican fashion with diced onions, chopped cilantro but it depends on the filling. And these offer the largest array of those of any local taco joint, and without a steam table. For beef, there’s grilled, brisket, carne guisada, picadillo, and the now necessary birria with consommé. For the other proteins: chicken a few ways, fish, shrimp and even lamb barbacoa, which won statewide acclaim from Texas Monthly, as did the pollo guisado. Vegetarian, a couple vegan versions and one with the quite odd tater tots round out the options. Also, you can get one of its breakfast tacos at any time, very nicely. Midtown, Heights, Garden Oaks, Greenway Plaza, Downtown
Eight Row Flint – Primarily a bar, or bars now, these are also great stops for tacos even with no drinks in the plans. A fun and enticing small complement of choices is led by the richly flavorful beef cheek barbacoa with the beef sourced from the well-regarded 44 Farms. The East End location has a different lineup including an odd roasted pork belly with crispy octopus combination. The similarly odd but also still trendy Brussel sprouts are in the middle of tacos at both locations, which proudly make their own corn tortillas. Unfortunately, only one tortilla is provisioned per taco, making for a mess as it’s impossible to finish taco, at least a barbacoa taco, before it falls apart. A second and nearly necessary tortilla per taco is, annoyingly, an extra buck. Heights, East End
Papalo Taqueria – The star of Finn Hall on Main Street is a small stall dishing artisanal tacos at a measured clip. There’s just five choices, each interesting, suitably accompanied and wrapped in tortillas made in-house from stone-mill ground heirloom corn: pork shoulder in a roasted tomatillo salsa, an actually flavorful chicken taco – with marinated chicken thighs – brisket, pork belly, and even one with a confit carrot centerpiece. About $5 a taco. You might need three. Downtown
Tio Trompo – As its name suggests, the key attraction at this quaint taqueria just past Saint Thomas High School on nearly finished Shepherd is the output from the trompo that’s tough to miss behind the counter. That slowly roasted pork, which retains its moistness unlike at far too many taquerias in Houston, makes its way into tacos, tortas and something called the Taco Arabe. That large taco is a version of the shawarma that originated with Lebanese immigrants who brought the trompo to Mexico a century or so ago and a specialty of the city of Puebla southeast of Mexico City. Stick with the tacos featuring pork, which are much tastier than any of the beef and chicken ones. Washington Corridor
Fusion Taco – What began as a taco truck several years ago is a friendly and inviting counter-service spot outside the Heights and the other, a newly opened spot in a food court in Greenway Plaza. Fusion Taco does the wide-ranging fillings better than any of the other Tacos 2.0 joints found in the area. Smoked Brisket, Chicken Tikka Masala, Agedashi Tofu, Falafel, Chicken Fried Oyster and Seared Brussels Sprouts are few of the dozen-and-a-half taco options whose inspirations cover a fair amount of the globe, all of which are thoughtfully comprised with quality ingredients and attractively presented. These are some of the prettiest tacos in town. More importantly, most taste at least pretty good and usually better. One is the Lamb Keema featuring cooling pieces of cucumber slice and a greenish tahini for a refreshing ground lamb taco served in a nicely texturally contrasting fried corn tortilla shell. Unfortunately, the chicken in a couple of the tacos might a little on the dry side. For some reason, the near-liter-sized white plastic bottle of the unique San Luis brand hot sauce (mild) available to bring back to your table seems to make nearly all the tacos better, including making those two chicken tacos enjoyable. Heights
Polanquito – This quaint bistro across the small street from Tio Trompo provides a little taste of a prosperous Mexico City neighborhood and a variety of tasty and pretty tacos, some served solo, in pairs or trios featuring pork, beef and seafood. There’s a delicious conchinita pibil with habanero salsa, carnitas with pickled jalapeños, notable beer-battered fried fish or shrimp with chipotle mayonnaise and pickled red onions, grilled ribeye with panela cheese, beans, and guacamole, and a beef steak with a skirt of cheese, costra-style. All worth an order. Washington Corridor
La Vibra – Serving something a little different, and a little more expensive, this quaint, largely sterile space offers are a slightly refined version of Mexico City style tacos. Tacos are small and come in three styles, classico, which will be familiar, a volcán that’s atop a toasted corn tortilla, and the even more unique Costra – born a couple decades or so ago near a night club in Mexico’s capital – with a layer of crusty Gouda cheese at its bottom. Noticeably good quality ingredients and superb salsas in a quintet of styles, including tamarindo and mole ones, help complete the tacos, of which the trompo-sliced pastor and the battered and deep-fried, but surprisingly light, shrimp and fish fillings are among the best choices. Heights
El Topo – Set deep in the heart of prosperous and well-groomed West U, this is a stop for tasty, nicely adorned and attractively presented tacos with a slick güeros ricos vibe. There should be one or more for most tastes: beef barbacoa featuring 44 Farms product, a trio of roasted mushrooms, barbecued chicken, roasted vegetables, pastor with pork belly but not trompo, and even a crispy ground beef version harkening back to youthful Tex-Mex memories of many nearby parents. Not much of a value, as the average-sized tacos run $6 to $8 a piece here. West U
Cantina Barba – Open after the bars close, when tacos can taste even better, this small drive-in is not far from I-45 on N. Main and not far from the Heights. Unusually and very welcome, barbacoa and breakfast tacos are served all the time, even combining for the Barbacoa Deluxe. There’s also carne asada, grilled chicken, al pastor, papas con rajas, and smoked pork in corn tortillas to satisfy most of those taco cravings. Near North Side
Tacos Doña Lena – A solid choice that is just a little nicer and much hipper than the typical Mexican-themed restaurant in Spring Branch that can be very busy on the weekends for its take on birria in several forms, including in between two corn tortillas, and its range of tacos. This offeres a large number of choices, many more than most. For the meats, from beef to pork to chicken to offal, there’s beef, bistek, barbacoa, chile negro con carne, pastor, pierna, chorizo, chicharron rojo, chicharron verde, along with tripa and lengua. For non-meat, nopalitos, calabacitas, and an odd soy pastor. The meats, especially the pastor can come out a bit dry, but this is one place where it’s safe to order the lengua. Corn is the default tortilla, but flour can be had for an additional $0.75. The typical chopped cilantro and onions can also be swapped for a Tacos Gringo version with lettuce, tomatoes and cheese in a flour tortilla, harkening back to an older Spring Branch. Spring Branch
Solecita – This “churreria y taqueria” in the heart of downtown is a slick, bright and friendly counter-service spot dishing well-made versions of tacos and tortas filled with a small number of more traditionally Mexican items: the recent-years popular birria, carnitas, chicken tinga, Campechanos – fajita beef, chorizo, topped with dried chicharron – poblanos and potatoes, and barbacoa, which is beef rather than lamb now. The tacos come first with corn tortillas but flour can also be had. Cool and breezy open-air seating is upstairs and there’s a patio out front that shares space with the churro cart, a welcome addition to the nighttime street scene. Those are also worth an order, if you’ve avoided that third taco.
La Chingada – With a subtitle of “Tacos & Tequila,” this friendly, small counter-service spot not far north of the Heights sells a fair amount of its fair-sized tacos from a wide-ranging menu on both house-made corn and flour tortillas. Near North Side
Laredo Taqueria – The lines running out the door of the original location on Washington of this air conditioned taco stand from about 7:30 AM to 1:30 PM and often beyond, are a testament to its popularity which derives in large part because of healthy-sized tacos on fresh flour tortillas that are nicely priced with a range of fillings from steam trays prefaced by a smear of refried beans unless you specify otherwise. Three is enough for most, and four for a really gluttonous meal. Never mind the occasional piece of cartilage or gristle, as these are never enough to ruin a taco. The locations on the near north side operated by other family members might be more consistent – or just less crowded – especially the one on Patton, but this location is far more convenient for most. Washington Corridor, Near North Side (3)
Brothers Taco House – A popular, value-oriented option with locally popular fillings dished from steam trays just outside of downtown. Don’t be dismayed if the queue extends outside, it moves quickly. EaDo
Gerardo’s – The barbacoa is the star at this Patton Street staple that’s been serving this north side neighborhood for nearly five decades. And now available on Friday in addition to the weekends. Near North Side
Tacos La Bala – Earnest, very casual, counter-service restaurants serving mostly a Mexican immigrant crowd, these offer tacos with the choice between corn and flour tortillas for nearly ten fillings including pork from the trompo, chicharon, fajita, barbacoa along with tripe and tongue. All of these can be fit into a quesadilla, gordita, tostada or sope for just a little more. Bellaire, Alief (3), North
TJ Birria’s y Mas – As the name indicates, this is a birria specialist, a slick and convenient one at that, and does tacos with that quite well. There’s also Mexico City-style tacos with pastor, beef fajita or chicken, five small ones to an order, attractively plated with double layer of corn tortillas, lime wedges, chopped cilantro and red onion. Heights, Stafford