Let’s talk tacos. Not the ones with hard yellow tortilla “shells” and “Mexican” five-cheese blend (which fun fact: it doesn’t have any kind of Mexican cheese in it—thanks, Kraft). Let’s talk buttery soft and chewy corn tortillas, some kind of meat (preferably stewing since the crack of dawn), onions and cilantro at the bare minimum.
Yes, there are high-end versions of this popular Mexican food with birria fillings from happy cows or carnitas from serene pigs that were probably sous vide on the Peninsula. There are even delicious vegan options now. But arguably the best street tacos in the county have to begin and end in South County, following Highway 101. Along this route there are taquerias that are often one-person shows, taking orders, pressing out tortillas and creating a delightful tap-tap-tap as metal spatulas bounce off of a grill. Taquerias that welcome families and day-trippers alike, queuing in ill formed lines to get in their fill. It’s not just optics. It’s a damn good argument to take a tour to visit a few, like we did. Here are few reasons to pull over:
Taqueria Hidalgo 23477 Grant St., Chualar. 679-2384
Good luck finding an empty table—diners are opportunistic with any empty chair and few tables, adding it to their own on busy days. At this popular taco stop, tortillas are crisped lightly in oil and double layered. Try the chicharron tacos which are simmered in a bright orange sauce that provides a graceful kick after a couple of bites. Another suggestion is the tripas, which at first glance could be mistaken for carne asada because of how crispy they come out. They stand out for their earthy yet steaky flavor, hidden in a crispy exterior.
El Antojito 35 4th St. Gonzales. 290-5090
Sometimes a one-woman show, tortillas here can be made by hand with well-loved wooden tortilla press, but if it’s busy you can expect an ordinary albeit still passable tortilla. You need to try the al pastor here. It’s comes dripping in it’s own pool of deep burgundy juice—citrusy, but not spicy. This is a four napkin situation.
Taqueria El Famoso 146 S Alta St., Gonzales. 675-0175
Is it a taqueria or a diner? It’s both so expect a fusion of flavors here. The best representation of this combo is their octopus tacos. The octopus is tender and not too chewy and kissed on the grill with pico de gallo. The “fusion” comes from a heavy dose of Old Bay seasoning, bringing out a delightful and welcome celery note.
Taqueria Pacheco 325 Front St., Soledad. 678-1808
Nestled inside La Placita Mercado, Pacheco is everything a taqueria should be. Lines running out the door, diners huddled over vinyl covered tables, a healthy clatter of conversation broken with occasional expediter yelling orders. The taco not to miss here is their buche. Surprise—it’s pig stomach, never to be confused with pork belly. It doesn’t read like the most appetizing thing until you taste it: like perfectly rendered carnitas with only a touch of gameyness, sitting on a sturdy but springy handmade corn tortilla. And if you don’t like heat, don’t worry—you won’t know it’s spicy until your cheeks feel warm.
Taqueria Las Fuentes 331 El Camino Real, Greenfield. 674-5509
This taqueria is not looking to wow diners with decor. The menu is just as straightforward. All tacos come on lightly grilled handmade tortillas, made more charming with their craggy and irregular shape (Check out the mountain of masa in plain sight). The carne asada is solid and no nonsense—crispy, salty, beefy.
Taqueria Y Neveria El Sol 25 El Camino Real, Greenfield. 674-1721
At this point, the tell tale signs of a good taqueria is if you can smell what’s cooking and if there’s a crowd. Y Neveria El Sol checks off both boxes. Their tortillas here are fluffy, yet substantial. It pairs well with bold filings like tripa. There is no hiding behind texture with their tripas—it taste like what it is—but stewed in some magical spicy brew. Of course, their bottled salsa is a welcome friend when things get too funky.
Tacos La Potranca De Jalisco 201 Broadway St., King City. 385-7500
This cool King City spot has both outdoor and indoor dining spots in a ’50s-esque setting. It’s the first spot on this map that served their tacos with escabeche (pickled vegetables). The taco to de rigeur here is the pollo. It’s grilled to juicy charcoaly(ish) perfection and carries a good hit of black pepper and lime.
Lorena’s Taqueria 132 Broadway St., King City. 386-9060
Lorena’s welcomes customers inside with a billowing waft of birria and chile verde. Unsurprisingly, the birria and chile verde are what to get here. The puerco en chile verde is outstanding with soft pieces of pork coated in bright green tomatillo sauce made richer by the pork’s own fat. Then there’s the beef which was a shreddy pile of robust meaty flavor, flecked with the white seeds of a chili base. It wasn’t spicy, the beef being the most present flavor above all.