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I don't like tacos, said no one ever. Eat your way through this list of the 25 best that our city has to offer.

Carnitas

One of your first sights upon entering Carnitas Don Lucho is the counter. Yes, there’s an unseen kitchen in this space, but at the counter where you place your order, you will marvel at the glistening pork carnitas, the butt cooking right there, hunks of which are lopped off and sold by the pound. The tender confit-like meat is akin to manna folded inside large, fresh corn tortillas. Drizzle fresh lime and Lucho’s smoky pasilla chile salsa (one of up to six sauces) over the meat. The taco doesn’t need much more to enhance the flavor. Open Friday-Sunday, from 6 a.m. Fri (4 a.m. Sat-Sun) until they sell out – and they will sell out.
565 W. Lincoln Ave., 414-643-1744

Brunch

Think of a corn tortilla as the sun, then add eggs. The morning is already off to a good start. Café Corazón offers an exemplary weekend taco packed with tasty ingredients: carne mechada (Venezuelan pulled beef), sweet cooked plantains, scrambled eggs and cheese. You just need to wait for Saturday!
3129 N. Bremen St.; 2394 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

Cafe Corazon

Cafe Corazon; photo by Chris Kessler

Bistec With Pintos

One late spring weekend, as the days were getting longer, the Gonzalez family debuted their delicacies made inside a shiny 1950s trailer, calling their business Mazorca Tacos. Their tasty bistec has three things going for it – the Wisconsin beer marinade, tender pinto bean topping and delicately delicious corn tortilla made right there. Served with a zesty tomatillo salsa? Natch.
209 S. First St. (First and Pittsburgh); 414-550-7644

Birria (Marinated Beef)

Think “stew meat.” Mazorca Tacos’ beef marinated in Spanish adobo sauce subtly imparts garlic, vinegar and paprika without overpowering the deliciousness of the housemade corn tortilla.
209 S. First St. (First and Pittsburgh); 414-550-7644

Dr Pepper Pork Shoulder

Not your average taco filling. But Gypsy Taco isn’t your average maker. The truck – I guess you could call it more of a trailer – lives on the Boone & Crockett patio and services that bar’s barrel-aged cocktail-drinking crowd. The Gypsy himself, Mitchell Ciohon, uses his fine-dining background to infuse his offbeat tacos with some razzle-dazzle, so expect drizzly schmears and garnishes of things like whipped goat cheese, toasted pumpkin seeds and arugula salad. His juicy-decadent shredded pork (the soda braising liquid leaves a mildly sweet finish) topped with cabbage, jalapeño, sliced radish, homemade pickles and a jigger of aioli – holy flavor burst! Add the extra creaminess of queso for $1. That’s what the Gypsy calls “Stallis-style.”
2151 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

Breakfast

A tiptop taco need not come from a Mexican restaurant. What sets the bar for a breakfast taco is flavor and heft, both of which Mad Rooster’s trio has: scrambled eggs mixed with chicken chorizo, onion, mild poblano pepper, tomato and avocado. Raise the heat level with a few dabs of salsa ranchera.
4401 W. Greenfield Ave.; 414-231-9120

Spicy-sweet Chorizo

How do we love chorizo? Let us count the ways. First and foremost, not too sweet, like we’re eating a spicebread. The crumbled, deep-red chorizo gets a quick griddle-fry, activating the smoky flavor and giving it a nicely charred/mashed texture that makes a firm pocket inside the warm, griddle-fried corn tortillas at charming little El Tsunami Taqueria Y Mariscos.
2001 W. Lincoln Ave.; 414-255-7759)

Birria (Goat)

Harder to find as a taco filling but worth the search. The goat served at El Cabrito – whose name translates to “little goat” – is marinated and slow-roasted (leg, oftentimes), which lends a succulent texture and flavor similar to lamb. Keen palates will detect cinnamon, cumin, even lemon peel. Like other meats, it needs only cilantro and onion on top, but don’t be shy with the chunky red salsa! And corn tortillas are best.
1100 S. 11th St., 414-385-9000

El Cabrito

El Cabrito; photo by Chris Kessler

Beef Lengua

In Mexico, lengua (tongue, see “Taco Lexicon” in “Taco Guide”) a traditional taco filling. Its fairly subdued flavor makes toppings like onion, fresh herbs, lime juice and a good salsa essential. If it’s braised slowly, the method used in taquerias, the meat should be easily chopped and melt-in-your-mouth tender. Buena Vista
(see “A Day in the Life of a Taco Truck”) nails its braise. Although not quite traditional, there’s no shame (just pure deliciousness) in ordering your tacos “loaded” (i.e., with lettuce, tomato and avocado). Opt for a little heat with some green jalapeño salsa to top them off. Ay, caramba!
6000 W. Burnham St. and 3447 W. Forest Home Ave., plus a couple of taco trucks

Zayra and Raul Hernandez, bringing taco gratification to the masses

Zayra and Raul Hernandez, bringing taco gratification to the masses; Photo by Paul Oemig

Soy Chorizo

It’s not just for plant eaters. When the tofu’s texture is firm and meaty and chili-seasoned (and colored, with annatto oil), similarly to pork chorizo, meat lovers will sprint on board. Café Corazón uses a really tasty, dare-I-say-healthy product that makes its tacos pop. The sharpness of the radish to the creaminess of the queso also help.
3129 N. Bremen St. and 2394 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

Duck Breast

If you’re looking for something that’s a little bit higher up on the epicurean scale, this one’s for you. Maple-glazed, seared and thick-sliced duck breast is the bomb on its own. Layer it inside a warm, sturdy flour tortilla with queso, lettuce and the delicious chipotle salsa and the stars really align. One pro tip: Order the pureed black beans and scoop them into your taco! Head to Poco Loco Cantina in Brown Deer for this masterpiece
4134 W. River Lane; 414-355-9550

Chunky Chicken

There’s an art, or perhaps etiquette, to eating tacos (nobody tells you that until the filling is falling out of your tortilla down onto your sandaled foot!). The well seasoned, griddled chicken is so generously piled on by the cooking masters at Taco Loco that you need to double-hand the taco, in a so steamy corn envelope, and lean over your plate, letting the juices dribble down your hands. But wonderful? Si!
inside the El Rey markets

El Comedor taco

El Comedor taco; photo by Chris Kessler

Al Pastor

Traffic moves at an antelope’s pace on National Avenue, so it’s easy to unknowingly whiz by El Comedor. (Advice: Keep your eyes peeled for a corner building with a bright-red threshold, then head inside and place your order immediately for crispy, succulent shreds of pork (a.k.a., al pastor). The meat is sweetened with tiny chunks of pineapple. Ask for cilantro and onion on top, and be liberal with the fresh lime! Look for El Comedor taco truck on South 13th and Hayes.
1039 W. National Ave.

Whitefish

Diced and griddle-fried alongside the meats, pescado (fish) tacos are made daily at El Tsunami Taqueria Y Mariscos. The mild, lightly seasoned whitefish is cooked until the coating is a couple shades darker than the crisped corn tortillas. This is where I make a marriage of the three salsas – two red (smoky, sweet, packed with diced veggies), one a bright, lovely fresh fish pico de gallo, with tomatoes, green pepper and onion. This is how a basic fish taco flies to the moon.
2001 W. Lincoln Ave.; 414-255-7759

Al Pastor With Green Salsa

Juicy, tangy pineapple may be a surprising discovery nestled in with spit-roasted al pastor (pork). Another is to cover the succulent pork with a tart green tomatillo salsa, which, combined with some fresh lime, makes a spectacular taco. El Rey Plaza corners the market on the quantity of filling. And more filling means more flavor.

El Rey Market

El Rey Market; Photo by Chris Kessler

Roasted Cauliflower

Swap that boring vegetarian bean-and-cheese filling with this brilliant one. The mixture of lightly browned cauliflower with caramelized carrots, crunchy walnuts and cabbage in a warm flour tortilla sings. Fresh lime and tomato salsa come along for the tasty ride. At Antigua Latin Inspired Kitchen.
5823 W. Burnham St.

Chicken Tinga

Chipotle peppers are as integral to a tinga sauce as are the tomatoes, onions and garlic. El Comedor‘s achieves the right balance of “tingle” on the tongue, but it’s not the “uproar” that this Spanish word translates to. For extra mmm, give it some love with the red salsa squeeze bottle.
1039 W. National Ave.

Salmon

A taco filled with salmon, you say. Salmon? Rich, phenomenally juicy fish. Well, no arguments there. The key to this fish taco’s success is the tender, plump pieces of mild fillet (nobody wants a fishy salmon), the light touch of the grill and textural contrast of the toppings. Café Corazón adds onion, crunchy red cabbage, thin-sliced radish, cilantro and queso. The thick flour tortilla keeps the moisture intact.
3129 N. Bremen St.; 2394 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

Cafe Corazon tacos

Cafe Corazon tacos; photo by Chris Kessler

Chorizo Sausage

Carnitas isn’t the only super-delicious item on Don Lucho‘s menu. Take note of the people carrying bags out the door. They aren’t toting leftovers. It’s the fixin’s for the tacos they plan to make at home. Take Lucho’s links of chorizo. Unlike the sweet, strongly seasoned crumbled sausage that dominates Mexican menus, this meat is savory and mild, the sausage thick-sliced, not crumbled. Add a layer of creamy verde goodness with a glob of avocado green salsa (a bit like pourable guacamole).
565 W. Lincoln Ave.; 414-643-1744

Saucy Pastor

Some of the best tacos on this list come from a space – Chilango Express – that’s adjacent to a gas station. Fancy settings are no indicator of quality food. Peek around the counter and you might see a woman mixing together masa harina, salt and warm water to make corn tortilla dough. The freshness of that base ingredient (which yields a fluffy, light tortilla) combined with big meaty chunks of pastor is taco ecstasy. Come early on weekends for the lamb, a dynamite taco filling.
6821 W. Lincoln Ave.; 414-541-8201

Seared Ahi Tuna

A welcome Asian interpretation that melds warm, supple sliced medium-rare tuna with nori, arugula, sesame seeds, radish and Gypsy Taco’s trademark artful application of aioli in a terrific white corn tortilla from the South Side’s Tortilleria El Sol. This is where Gypsy’s “unapologetically unauthentic” tagline really rings true – and why these tacos are in the $4-$6 range (versus the typical $1.50-$2).
2151 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

Bistec

Sit at a table pushed up against the old wooden bar at Guadalajara. It’s old Milwaukee (the building dates to 1890) meets the modern wave of immigration. The steak is lean, on the juicy side, and with the spread of toppings, the tacos looks like little queso-capped mountain peaks. Don’t forget the house pico de gallo! This boffo fresh salsa of cabbage, radish and bell peppers offers that all-important crunch.
901 S. 10th St.; 414-647-2266

Guadalajara tacos

Guadalajara tacos; photo by Chris Kessler

Chunky Steak

La Casa de Alberto avoids the “all signs point to dry beef” predicament that seems to plague griddled steak. This is tender, flavorful meat buried under your choice of toppings. And if you order the chunky guac (you should), pile it on thick!
624 W. National Ave.; 414-643-5715

Highland House tacos

Highland House tacos; photo by Chris Kessler

Spicy Whitefish

Friday cannot come soon enough: That’s the anticipation set by a great fish fry. The same goes for this (not deep-fried but) swoon-worthy fish taco. Quiote Restaurant’s Cristobal Martinez seasons his catfish with, among other things, ancho chile powder, pan-fries it, serves it wrapped in two tortillas (one flour, one corn) and dolls it up with chipotle mayo, a pico de gallo of tomato, jalapeño, cilantro and onion, and finishes it with plenty of queso.
5814 W. Blue Mound Rd.; 414-698-2708

Pork Belly With Chicharron

File this on the shelf of specialty, off-roads tacos – Highland House’s crispy bits of pork inside warm white-corn tortillas. Because marbled pork belly and pork skins (chicharron) are exactly that. Loaded with onion, avocado, cilantro and crumbly cotija cheese. Be daring and pour a little of their addictive ranch dipping sauce on top.
12741 N. Port Washington Rd., Mequon


Your Guide to Milwaukee’s Tacos
Guadalajara tacos


‘Taco Town’ appears in the August 2017 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning July 31, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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