Oklahomans love tacos more than their children.
You could try and argue the point, but based on the booming business at Mexican restaurants across our fair state and the lack of raises for teachers educating our collective spawn, the evidence has spoken.
Kids, it’s not that mommy and daddy don’t love you. It’s just that they love barbacoa tacos more. That’s not a bad place to be, honestly. Coming in second to barbacoa is the natural state of being for almost everything in the known universe.
While we all know exactly where to find kids, it’s not always so simple to find great, authentic Mexican tacos.
And if you said, “The southside!” just now, you’re kind of right. But also there’s a whole lot of southside to cover in your quest for excellent meats wrapped in tortillas.
So I’ve convened a Blue Ribbon Select Committee on Finding Excellent Tacos On Oklahoma City’s Southside in order to help.
Today’s guest expert: Charlie Alvarado.
Born in Mexico, but raised in the U.S. of A., Charlie has a wealth of knowledge about the intersection of American and Mexican cuisines. As a longtime southside resident, he’s done his fair share of exploring Oklahoma City’s taquerias. So I forced him to hang out with me for an afternoon while I ate a boatload of tacos.
FIRST STOP: Taqueria Durango
3401 SW 29th St., Oklahoma City
Mon-Thurs 7 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri-Sat 7 a.m.-12 a.m., Sun 7 a.m.-11 p.m.
There’s nothing wrong with a taco truck, but for a more extensive menu it might behoove you to try one of SW 29th Street’s many brick-and-mortar taquerias.
I love Taqueria Durango’s vibe. I love the proudly displayed scorpions on the sign and the menus — apparently the state of Durango is famous for scorpions and they’re really leaning into what most of us would consider a SERIOUS pest problem — and the bustling take-out business in the restaurant’s lobby.
But what I really love are the tacos. Lovely, tender little tacos of delicate corn tortillas topped with meat, onions and cilantro for $1.30 a piece.
And while they’re not the cheapest tacos around, they’re one of the best values in town. Taqueria El Dolar food trucks sell their tiny tacos for $1 each, but these are a little larger and a whole lot tastier.
Charlie got the housemade chorizo taco, which he proclaimed his favorite, while I enjoyed a classic carne asada (steak) taco and a taqueria specialty — deshebrada.
Deshebrada is shredded beef in a spicy green sauce and it’s scientifically calibrated to make you happy. The shredded beef is tender, but it’s true purpose is holding onto the green chile sauce as you raise the taco to your mouth.
The asada taco is one of my favorites anywhere because it truly tasted like steak. It was as if each tiny piece of meat was put on a tiny charcoal grill and lovingly flipped by a tiny backyard grilling enthusiast. If we weren’t bound for other restaurants, I would have ordered five more and just eaten myself into a meaty coma.
SECOND STOP: La Esquina
2400 SW 29th St., Oklahoma City
Mon-Sat 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
“This isn’t exactly a taqueria,” Charlie said as we pulled up to La Esquina, and he was right.
It is, as the name implies, a corner store. There are convenience foods, candies and drinks in coolers, there are fresh Mexican pastries in a case and there’s a counter at which you can order tacos, tortas, burritos and gorditas. But Charlie stepped up and ordered us barbacoa by the pound.
How many ounces of that incredibly tender barbacoa beef do you think comes on an average taco? It’s not much. So when he ordered a half pound of barbacoa for a little over $7, it was a revelation.
Out came the beef and with it a pile of soft, almost flaky tortillas and some chopped onions and cilantro. So we sat and made our own tacos and we felt like kings. Or I did. Charlie is a really nice guy, but we didn’t really get into our “feelings” that day.
This is a common stop for Charlie — a place he can grab an easy take-home dinner for his wife and kids — and I understand why.
If you love barbacoa (you do), then La Esquina has to be on your list.
FINAL STOP: Taco Vaca
2221 S. Central Ave., Oklahoma City
Mon-Wed, Fri 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
Sat-Sun 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
Much like the pig at George’s Happy Hog, Taco Vaca displays a cow who seems pretty chill with the fact he’s about to be eaten.
I got the crispy tacos at Taco Vaca because I like crispy tacos. They were filled with ground beef, because I love ground beef. The crispy picadillo tacos, however, could not be further from what venerable institutions like T. Bell and T. Bueno serve.
Picadillo is ground beef cooked slowly with spices, coming together almost like chili. Then Taco Vaca’s kitchen carefully folds the tortilla and gently pan fries the tacos until the edges crisp up and the rest of the taco retains a slightly chewy texture.
The end result absolutely blew me away. The tacos were gorgeous and tasty, needing no help from salsa or hot sauce. Add on a helping of rice and beans and a cold bottle of Coke and you’ve got a recipe for a happy Greg.
It’s a well-loved spot for menudo, which I won’t review, because I do not like menudo. But if that’s a thing you’re into, they have it and people who like that kind of stuff like to get it at Taco Vaca.
That’s the first leg of the New OKC Taco Tour, but there’s more to come. Let me know your favorite taquerias and they might make it in upcoming installments.