Tour de taco: Tahoe Magazine goes on the hunt for the region’s best tacos

Chimayó Tacos y Tortas has nearly 20 different types of creative fusion tacos on its rotating menu.

“This is my Everest.”

I say this to my husband, Charlie, as we stare at the two heaping tacos — they’re huge, verging on burritos — at T’s Mesquite Rotisserie in Incline Village.

Beans, rice, cheese, lettuce, sour cream and guacamole top the tender chicken and tri tip, both cooked to perfection in the restaurant’s famed rotisserie. On suggestion from manager Jamie Swing, the son of owners Chuck and Terri, we were diving into the fully-loaded vegetarian tacos with the addition of meat.

T’s is our fifth taco joint in two and half hours.

We’ve consumed 13 not-so-tiny tacos.

And right now I’m questioning why I thought it would be a good idea to visit eight Mexican restaurants around the lake in one day in search of the best tacos in Tahoe.

The “Tour de Taco,” as I so eloquently pitched it to my editor, was going to be a breeze. I have a huge appetite, I told him. Above all, I said, I know tacos.

Casa Baeza owner Cesar Santibañez credits the tacos’ intense flavors to the marinating process.

Tacos are an oddly personal subject. People (myself included) like to claim they are taco connoisseurs (taconnoisseurs, perhaps?). There are taco purists who only want meat topped with cilantro, onion and homemade salsa, while others like trying different cuisines translated into taco form. I have a foot in each camp.

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READ MORE IN TAHOE MAGAZINE: This story is included in the 2019 Summer edition of Tahoe Magazine, a specialty publication of the Sierra Nevada Media Group. The magazine is on newsstands now across Lake Tahoe, Truckee and Reno. Or, go here to read the digital version!

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We taco buffs love to tell others about our favorite local taquerias, and we will argue with you about why ours is better than yours.

So it’s no surprise that when I put a query out on Facebook about the best tacos in Tahoe, I got nearly 50 responses from the foodies in Tahoe Food Scene. From there, I narrowed it down to eight frequently mentioned taquerias.

Peppers Taqueria in Tahoe City has a rotating selection of veggie tacos that give meat a run for its money.

On a bluebird winter day, feeling proud of my life choices that led me to this career, we set out to try all eight of those taquerias in one swoop … and failed. In fact, it took us three days to eat at all of the taquerias, but only because the generous owners and chefs really wanted to make sure we got a taste of everything they had to offer. Our one-taco-per-restaurant rule quickly fell to the wayside.

I learned many things over the three-day Tahoe taco fest. I realized that I don’t have nearly the stomach capacity I once thought I did. I found out that it is possible to be the opposite of “hangry” and get in a fight with your spouse because he won’t help you eat the plate of tacos and you are so incredibly full, but you don’t want to be rude.

Juan Martinez and his mother Silvia pose for a photo at Lupita’s in Incline Village. Juan operates the restaurant with his wife Liz, while his mother and father Jorge operate the original location in Sparks.

And finally, I learned that there is a wide spectrum of tacos available throughout Truckee-Tahoe — more so than I ever expected —  and it is near impossible to pick just one place as “the best.” I was blown away by traditional street tacos, out-of-the-box flavor combinations I would never have thought to put together on a tortilla, and the way so many restaurants told their story through something as seemingly simple as a taco.

In short, I’m here to tell you that you, too, should attempt a (perhaps slightly less ambitious) “Tour de Taco” around Lake Tahoe. Because there are way too many delicious tacos around this lake to just keep going back to the same place every time.

THE BEST FISH TACOS

The mahi mahi fish taco, pictured topped with avocado, from Verde Mexican Rotisserie in South Lake Tahoe was the perfect combination of flavors and textures.

Verde Mexican Rotisserie is a bright and airy Mexican restaurant in South Lake Tahoe with an emphasis on fresh, local produce and antibiotic- and hormone-free meat. The mahi mahi fish tacos upheld their philosophy of combining quality ingredients with simple preparation. The fish is heavily spiced for a crispy crust, but tender inside, and when paired with a crunchy, tangy carrot and cabbage slaw and slice of avocado, it’s the perfect balance of flavors and textures inside a corn tortilla. Best enjoyed with a side of kombucha or coconut water.

THE BEST VEGGIE TACOS

The homemade salsa at Peppers Taqueria is crafted from habanero, anaheim, pasilla and banana peppers.

Peppers Taqueria in Tahoe City doesn’t believe that meat always needs to be the star of the show. The taqueria cooks and seasons cauliflower like ground beef and jackfruit like carnitas for its vegetarian tacos, which are served in a corn tortilla with rice, beans and mix of queso fresco and Monterey jack. Though my Tour de Taco partner refused to dig into the cauliflower taco purely based on principle — he is opposed to its steady usurpation of carbs — I found it to be a delicious meat alternative, especially with the housemade salsa blended from habanero, anaheim, pasilla and banana peppers.

THE MOST CREATIVE TACOS

The Tapatio Thailander taco from Chimayó Tacos and Tortas featured coconut curry and jalapeño chicken drizzled in sriracha on a naan “tortilla.”

Chimayó Tacos and Tortas in South Lake Tahoe sees tacos as a vehicle for culinary creativity. In one sitting we ate tacos with barbecue brisket, jalapeño slaw and cotija; fried soft shell crab and remoulade; coconut curry and jalapeño chicken with a healthy dose of sriracha on a naan “tortilla”; and Cuban flank steak with garlic aioli and queso fresco. It was a feast for all the senses. With a seasonal rotating menu, there is always something new to check out.

THE JUICIEST TACOS

Casa Baeza in Truckee won us over with its succulent meat and the flavor combination that came with adding grilled and raw onion.

Casa Baeza has been serving up tacos in Truckee for over 30 years. Now-owner Cesar Santibañez started washing dishes at the restaurant seven years ago, and today you can find him bustling around the restaurant helping customers. All of the tacos we ate at Casa Baeza were incredibly moist, but none more so than the pastor taco, which is marinated in fresh-squeezed orange juice and other spices for a day. Topped with grilled and raw onion, cilantro and a dollop of homemade salsa, I can understand why patrons order these by the trayful on Taco Tuesday.

THE HEARTIEST TACOS

Loaded with slow-cooked rotisserie meat, rice, beans, cheese, lettuce, sour cream and guacamole, T’s vegetarian taco plus meat is absolutely delicious.

T’s Mesquite Rotisserie in Incline Village has been tantalizing customers with slow-turning, juicy meat from behind the counter for 28 years. The trip-tip and chicken are marinated in soy sauce, lime juice, white wine, garlic and other spices before hitting the spit for several hours of spinning in the rotisserie. While the restaurant’s regular tacos are topped only with cilantro and onion, adding meat to the fixings on the vegetarian taco is a must-try.

THE BEST FRIED TACOS

The secret to the Taco Presidente at Lupita’s is the homemade tortilla, light fried until crunchy.

Lupita’s Mexican Restaurant in Incline Village blends cuisine from the Central Mexican State of Michoacan and the Pacific coastal seafood of Nayarit. The restaurant’s most popular taco, Taco Presidente, is served with your choice of meat in a lightly-fried homemade tortilla with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, crema, avocado and cilantro. The homemade tortilla is fried just until crunchy, creating the perfect vehicle for the bright and flavorful ingredients inside. It was difficult to stop at just one.

THE BEST STREET TACOS (North Shore)

La Mexicana in Kings Beach may be small, but it pumps out delicious street tacos for a steady stream of customers coming to shop at their Mexican grocery, bakery and meat market.

La Mexicana in Kings Beach may have a small footprint, but it’s made good use of the space it has. In addition to housing a small taqueria pumping out traditional street tacos, it’s also a Mexican grocery, bakery and meat market. Jesus Rodriguez opened La Mexicana 24 years ago and continues to feed a steady stream of customers flavorful tacos in a no-frills restaurant. Topped simply with cilantro and onion, the chorizo, pastor, carne asada and carnitas tacos were delicious. If you have room, don’t miss out on the housemade flan!

THE BEST STREET TACOS (South Shore)

Taqueria Jalisco in South Lake Tahoe has been serving up tacos on the South Shore for 24 years, too. The family-run taqueria prepares fresh homemade salsas and authentic tacos — from carnitas and pollo to birria (spicy meat stew) and lengua (beef tongue) — in its counter-service restaurant. It’s simple, delicious and quick.

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