It wasn’t until my early twenties, when I spent several weeks in Hermosillo, Mexico, that I realized that we, as Americans, had completely dropped the ball on recreating the quintessential food item of Mexico. It was eye opening — the fresh corn tortillas, char-grilled meats, pickled radishes and charred peppers, the endless amounts of bold flavors. It was something I had never experienced before.
Now, I’d be lying if I were to say I’ve never set foot near a Taco Bell since then. I think we can all agree it happens to the best of us. You know, that time you asked your Uber driver to make a run for the border to get a chicken Chalupa fix or that time you went through the drive-thru and acted like you were on the phone placing an order for all your friends when really you just didn’t want it to look like you were ordering six tacos, a Crunch Wrap Supreme, two 7-layer burritos, and a Nacho Bell Grande all for yourself. Nope. Never happened.
It’s no longer convenient for me to make the trip to Mexico every other week, but I’ve found solace knowing there are some legit, authentic tacos right here in the Lowcountry. With the help of Paul Cheney, in 2013 Stephanie Barna hit some of the hot taco joints around town
, but four years later, it was time for us to revive our list by seeing how many taco joints we could hit on a Friday afternoon.
For the sake of this venture, we focused on an area known for its diverse culture, and more importantly, for having a plethora of taquerias: North Charleston.
So, what do you do if you have six hours to kill with seven of your closest friends? The answer is obvious: hit the streets of North Charleston in an attempt to eat over 100 tacos. Here’s our route:
Pollo Loko Peruvian
5335 Dorchester Road, Unit 3
If you’re in need of some masa, Pollo Loko (a.k.a Pollo Tropical) is located right next door to one of our go-to Mexican markets. It’s also known for the char-grilled chicken, alone, but when it comes to tacos ($2.50), you want the lengua (beef tongue). Unlike other versions we’ve had, the lengua here gets cooked on the grill, giving it an extra char and crispiness. I’d argue it’s the best lengua taco in the area. You be the judge.
Mi Pequeño Hidalgo
6565 Dorchester Road, Suites 204-205
The first thing you’ll notice at Mi Pequeño Hidalgo is the bright orange salsa. It hits the table before you have time to look at the menu and it’s a beautiful sight — and a tasty one at that. For tacos ($2), they’ve got all the standards like pollo (chicken), lengua, and carnitas (shredded pork), but the standout is the longaniza. The vibrant sausage has subtle bite with a lingering sweetness. It’s a winner for sure.
2704 Ashley Phosphate Road
It’s not a taco crawl without a stop at a taco truck. Taqueria Espres sits alongside a gas station on busy Ashley Phosphate Road and it’s gained a loyal following by locals. With only a couple picnic tables outside, most taco hunters place their order and get on their way. The service is faster than Taco Bell, but the quality is beyond comparison. And at a $1.25 each, you’ll likely not find a better deal around town. We recommend the cabeza (beef cheeks) — tender as can be.
2625 Ashley Phosphate Road
If you want to brush up on your Spanish, Los Parados is for you. Sit back and watch CNN in Español. Now, do yourself a favor and forget everything you know about tripa (intestines). Generally, they tend to have a distinct mineral flavor that can be gritty if not cleaned properly. But at Los Parados, they’re fried crispy, served hot, and pop in your mouth like a pork cracklin’ — superb. This is the taco ($1.50) you want. Follow up each bite with a picked cucumber and you’re set.
7089 Rivers Avenue
The fact that Tiki Taco has both hot dogs and tacos on the menu is what got us in the door. The fact that they allowed us to combine a taco with a hot dog to create the taco dog is what will bring us back. But, really, the differentiator here is the taco cecina (thinly sliced, salted, dried beef; $1.75). It’s a jerky loving, taco craving dream come true.
6275 Rivers Avenue Suite A
La Nortena has long been one of our favorite Mexican joints and it still is. It helps that they serve some of the best tacos around. We’ve gotta go with the Al Pastor here, with bits of sweet pineapple highlighting the tender chunks of marinated pork. Pair it with a house margarita and you’ve got a match made in heaven.
Taqueria La Jarocha
1354 Remount Road
This little orange truck sets up shop on Remount Road next to a nice little farmers market. Get there early, as the options are slim pickings late in the day. At $2 each, these tacos tiptoed over the border and got topped with tomatoes and shredded Chihuahua cheese.
1754 Remount Road
Lunch and Dinner (Tues. thru Sat. 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.)
The award for best presentation goes to Las Lupitas. Served with charred Serrano peppers, strips of cactus, limes, and a spring onion on the side, the taco plate is a thing of beauty. This brick and mortar sits in an old ice cream shop and sports a massive menu. Try the barbacoa — it’s contender for sure ($2).
Neither of my parents are fans of tacos, so I really can’t blame them for the eight years of my life in which I thought that every taco was served in a either a hard yellow corn or soft white flour shell filled with greasy ground beef, shredded iceberg lettuce, and bright orange shredded cheese. If I was lucky, there would be a big dollop of sour cream on one side and some fire sauce dripping out of the corners. But, hey, maybe my parents were misinformed as well. They did take me to Chi-Chis once.