Before the Europeans arrived in old world Mexico, the taco was supposedly alive and well. The people of the Valley of Mexico would line corn tortillas with little fish and indulge. Primitive sounding? Mayhaps. Missing the accessories like cheese and sour cream? Almost certainly. Probably still freaking delicious? Most likely. How could they not have been — they were tacos.
In searching for our next food tasting my attention kept being drawn to the modest Mexican morsel. Tacos are just one of those things that are tasty any time of day in any weather. They are fairly easy to share, have endless combinations of ingredients and bring a touch of spice into one’s life. Richmond has several places that rock tacos in all varieties. Food trucks and restaurants alike put their spin on a food with such modest beginnings. We can’t seem to get enough.
The requirements were seemingly very simple: bring five soft shell tacos with a ground beef filling. Any toppings added by the restaurant are 100% acceptable. After acquiring the goods, meet at Ardent Craft Ales so the tasting could begin. Grading of the tacos would be done with a review and a rank. The least favorite got a five and the best got a one. Simple and effective.
I’m sure you don’t want to hear all the nitty gritty details about the actual tasting. We basically divided up the tacos one restaurant at a time and scarfed. What’s most important is how our five restaurants fared. Those restaurants (in alphabetical order) were: Boka Tako, En Su Boca, Latino Village, Little Mexico and Taco Bell. Here is how they fared, from worst to best, and why.
5th Place: Taco Bell
Taco Bell actually scored a second place and a third place vote, but it then received four fifth place votes bringing it in dead last in the competition. Taco Bell tacos are consistent if nothing else. There is a reason they are a major chain. Don’t lie, you’ve eaten plenty of Taco Bell when you were drunk. Still, in the face of lots of wholesome local competition, this taco finished last (a surprise to no one). Almost every reviewer found the taco to be salty. Some found the meat itself to just be overall questionable. The level of cheese on the taco did get positive reviews though. One reviewer summed up the table conversation perfectly when they stated “Will eat again.” You win with fourth meal, you clever bastards. But sit patiently in last here. We got real tacos to get to.
4th Place: Latino Village
Latino Village is a personal favorite of mine, as you can read here, so for it to place in fourth was a bit of a shock. Granted, it was barely edged into fourth, but it finished there none the less. Latino Village, like Taco Bell, received no first place votes. The biggest thing that reviewers noted was how dry these tacos were. They could have used a dash of sour cream or a touch of salsa. Even a sprinkle of cheese would have helped. They just produced no natural moisture. Also, these tacos had steak instead of ground beef. While that counted against in most books, there was no denying the steak was delicious. These tacos were also heavy on the raw onion. For all of these reasons, Latino Village sits at the fourth place table.
3rd Place: Boka Tako
Sliding into third with just one first place vote is Boka Tako. I will venture to guess that Boka is probably the most recognizable name on this list to Richmonders. Their truck has been serving up tacos at almost every event I’ve gone to in town. I will start with the things people didn’t love about these tacos. For starters they were chicken, which breaks the rules of taco tasting. Not only were they chicken, but they were HUGE chunks of chicken. I’m personally still weighing out if that’s a negative or a positive, but they did make actually eating the taco difficult. These tacos were also a touch dry even thought they had sauce on them. I don’t know if it was the chicken or the tortilla that sucked out the moisture, but something did. On the flip side of the coin, these tacos had excellent crunch, which came from the cabbage on top. People also really seemed to like the sauce that was on top. It had great flavor. Unfortunately, the positives were not enough to move it out of the middle of the pack.
2nd Place: En Su Boca
Claiming the silver medal was En Su Boca with two first place votes and zero fifth place votes. I have indulged in many a burrito at En Su Boca (they are filling), but nary a taco. So, having them on this panel was a great way to see what they offered. Mostly all of the reviewers agreed that the sauce used on this taco was flavorful and leaned towards the sweet side. It helped balance out the savory flavor of the meat. There was also quite a bit of cilantro which a lot of the reviewers liked. I am one of those people who tastes cliantro and thinks soap so I could have done without. The beef itself also received several compliments for its tenderness and fresh taste. Still, there were negatives to be had. The watery-ness of the taco was noted by several reviewers. I’m guessing that came from the sauce the beef was cooked in. One reviewer had a great dislike for the actual tortilla itself. They felt it was rubbery and bland. As this was a one-off comment, I wonder if it was just the taco they tasted? Any who, for all these reasons En Su Boca walked away with the silver.
1st Place: Little Mexico
Running the board with nothing but first and second place votes was Little Mexico. It seems that every time we compare foods, there is some sort of surprise — see the vegan doughnut from The First Great Doughnut Tour — and in this case it was Little Mexico. An unassuming little Mexican restaurant stepped up to the plate and smacked the taco out of the park. The reviewers had pretty much nothing but positive things to say about these little handheld meat vessels. We will start out with the rave review of the day: “GOOD AS HELL!!!” I mean, boom, really… That was both love and enthusiasm, which is hard to beat. The toppings went over super well with the crowd here. The guacamole and sour cream added both moisture and zippy flavor to the tacos. They also helped hold the whole thing together. Again, people loved the cilantro (hard pass). There were a few murmurs of dissent though. One reviewer was not fond of the meat texture. They thought it grainy. Another found the taco soggy (probably due to all the amazing toppings). Regardless of these flaws, Little Mexico was able to finish this race strong. They find themselves the proud owners of the first Taco Tasting Trophy. Congrats!!
This was another successful culinary adventure, if I do say so myself. It seems that Richmond has a ton of hidden nuggets and consumable delights that we are more than willing to indulge in. All five places — okay, four places because, well, Taco Bell — put forth an excellent product. Sure, we found a thing or two we didn’t like but that was our job here. I submit that all of us walked away from this tasting happy and full knowing we would visit all of these places in the future. Until next time, may your shells be crunchy and your ground beef well seasoned.