An Insider’s Guide to Milwaukee’s Taco Accoutrements

An Insider’s Guide to Milwaukee’s Taco Accoutrements

Salsas, exhilarating drinks and a taco lexicon.

The Top 25 Tacos in Milwaukee

Click for our list of the city’s finest tortilla-wrapped offerings

Best tacos in Milwaukee
Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki/PLATE

Saucy Things

If meat is at the top of the taco hierarchy, then salsa follows close behind. Salsas are generally red (tomato) or green (tomatillo or avocado, for a thin, but creamy sauce) and range from chunky to pureed. Some prominent examples and where to find them:

Chunky Red Tomato
Not as saucy as purees, which often make the taco too wet. Incorporates onion, cilantro and sometimes bell peppers and avocado. Try: Guanajuato (also known as GTO), El Tsunami Taqueria Y Mariscos, El Comedor

Verde (Green)
Often served in a squeeze bottle, a green salsa typically has a tomatillo base, with chilis and sometimes pureed avocado. Can be spicy-hot. Try: Al Pastor, Carnitas Don Lucho.

Other Sauces and Condiments
Some restaurants make a wonderful, smoky, dark-red salsa from chipotle or pasilla peppers. Try: Carnitas Don Lucho. Rare, delicious finds are fresh pico de gallo (salsa fresca) with chopped tomato, onion, jalapeño and even radish (served at Guanajuato) and a ceviche, fish cured in lime juice (served at El Tsunami Y Mariscos).

Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki/PLATE

A Spin on Tortillas

Once a week, many local joints put their spin on the tortilla “sandwich.” Three bests:

Cloud Red (4488 N. Oakland Ave.): Buy a taco (pork, shrimp or tofu) and get a free basket of warm, freshly fried tortilla chips and a first-rate, chunky homemade pico de gallo. (Monday and Tuesday)

Branded and The Yard (Iron Horse Hotel, 500 W. Florida): Served on small, divine hand-rolled corn tortillas. Options might be pollo with queso fresco and pico de gallo, carnitas with salsa rojo, and Baja fish with spicy slaw. (Tuesday, 4-7 p.m.)

Hinterland, 222 E. Erie St.: Warm, lightly crispy flour tortillas are the base for fried aleppo pepper-seasoned cod, house-made seitan or adobo pork. Look for the “Gringo” – ground brisket, lettuce, tomato and cheese sauce. (Tuesday)

Merriment Social (240 E. Pittsburgh Ave): Housemade corn tortillas meet everything from rich al pastor to crispy nopales (cactus). (Sunday)

Your Taco Lexicon

We define some key terms and explain why some places double up their corn tortillas:

Al pastor (or “shepherd-style”): pork, seasoned with adobo and often cooked on a spit (the influence of Lebanese immigrants to Mexico), which lends a marvelous crispy, charred texture.

Birria: A spicy adobo stew from Jalisco, made with goat or beef. Makes a saucy, mucho-flavorful taco filling.

Carnitas: Lard- or oil-braised pork; the shredded or chunky meat should be tender and juicy. A knockout with refried beans.

Chicharron: A crispy mix of fried pork belly and rinds (skins). Fat is flavor, and taco with chicharron is tasty.

Lengua: Beef tongue, seasoned with garlic and bay leaf. Firm, can be chewy if not cooked slowly, good with lots of onion, cilantro and green salsa.

Double tortillas: Corn tortillas are delicate and not as sturdy as flour. The second tortilla is there for reinforcement, enabling you to eat the taco with your hands.

Liquid Refreshment

Delicioso! Fizzy, fruity and thirst-quenching. We rounded up our favorite south-of-the-border nonalcoholic drinks.

A muy sweet rice milk drink spiced with cinnamon. You’ll often see a jug of rice steeping in water at Mexican restaurants. Go get it: El Cabrito, Café Corazón, Buena Vista, Mazorca Tacos

Agua Fresca
Fresh-squeezed juices like hibiscus, orange or pineapple. Go get it: Al Pastor Restaurant, Chilango Express, El Comedor

Neon-colored, cane sugar-sweetened sodas in flavors like strawberry, Jamaica (hibiscus) and tamarind. Go get it: Most Mexican restaurants, El Rey markets, Cermak, Sendik’s

Other bottled beverages: Sangria Senorial (a teetotaler’s punch), Mexican Coke (a slightly less-sweet version of the American staple), Sidral Mundet (apple-flavored soda) and Topo Chico mineral water. Look for them at area Mexican restaurants, El Rey markets, Cermak

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

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Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.