We're pretty spoiled here in Southern California as we get to munch on amazing food from so many different cultures. Mexican food, in particular, can be found just as easily as a Starbucks can. You can enter any city and find a nice hole-in-the-wall taqueria, or taco truck. Trying to pick out the best taco spots can be pretty tough, though. I've been to some highly-praised shops that aren't bad, but aren't worth the hype.
If you're the type that settles for Chipotle and Taco Bell for your Mexican food fix, step out of your comfort zone and look for these signs, then you'll really know your search for bomb tacos is over:
If it looks like there's Mexicans in bunches, chances are there's something good about this taco spot. Through my experiences, growing up in a Mexican home and around Mexican people, I can tell you that we can be very particular about the Mexican food we eat. If you have a Mexican friend, you've probably heard this one at some point, "That's not Mexican food." So if you see a taqueria heavily populated by Mexicans, that's because they've made the decision that it's an acceptable, authentic, delicious spot. If there's anyone you should trust to like good Mexican food, it's Mexicans.
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Drinks in glass bottles are an absolute a must. Fountain drinks are OK, but for whatever reason, Coke tastes better out of a glass bottle than it does in your run-of-the-mill paper cup. The Mexicoke, as it's called, adds to the experience, along with the bottles of Jarritos, non-alcoholic Sangria Senorial and even Fanta.
If there aren't older Mexicans manning the ship at a taco shop, that's a big red flag. Call it a stereotype if you want, but I don't want some hipster kid who works part-time while he pays for school taking my order. I want the no-nonsense Mexican who's going to yell out my order to the other Mexican preparing the food.
Soccer on TV
No matter what day it is, or what time it is, there seems to always be soccer on TV when you go to a taco shop. Correction, if it's Saturday night, they'll definitely be showing the popular Spanish TV show, Sabado Gigante. About 90 percent of the time, I guess, there's some soccer being played on the tube.
They Cut the Meat in Front of You
The sound of meat being chopped on a board is borderline therapeutic. If you order your tacos and immediately see the person in the back throw the meat on the grill and start cutting it for you, you're gold. Your meat wasn't just sitting there like it does at Chipotle and that little extra love makes a difference with every bite.
When you're not drinking your Mexicoke, it's because you're sipping on that refreshing horchata, agua de Jamaica, agua de pepino, or some kind of house-made agua. I won't completely knock the horchata served from a machine because it's easier for some places, but when you see it in a barrel and is home-made, you've got a special drink coming your way.
It seems like some of the best taco shops are in the darkest, scariest looking neighborhoods. We joked around with this in the newsroom, but there is some truth to it. A lot of amazing taco shops will have vagrants walking the streets, or have beat up, cracked pavement. It just happens to be the environment -- don't let it keep you from a good taco.
The salsa can make or break a good taco. This one might be the most critical point of all. Even the best crafted taco, with generous amounts of meat and the perfect amount of onions can be ruined by crappy salsa. A good taqueria knows this: That's why they make their salsas in-house and make sure it's a solid recipe.
So look for these signs and you'll know you're going to have a good taco experience. OMG, I know you love Chipotle, but if you think that's Mexican food, you're really missing out.
Written by Isai Rocha of Foodbeast