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Meat, cilantro and onion served on a tortilla. A taco is a taco, right? Just as different cities take their own spin on pizza crust thickness, hot dog toppings or barbecue sauce, there are some pretty interesting regional styles of tacos, too. Each city’s taco style is influenced by the availability of ingredients, the cultural history of the dish and fabric of the city itself. 

To unpack the distinct qualities of tacos across the United States, we spoke to the nation’s top taco experts. From taco bloggers and journalists to taco cookbook authors and celebrity chefs, a whole gamut of taco aficionados tell us how the dish is represented in each of their cities. What’s your regional taco style? Take a look at what the taco experts say, city by city.

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Los Angeles: The authentic-as-it-gets taco(s)

Local expert: Bill Esparza, renowned taco scholar, food writer for L.A. Magazine, and author of Street Gourmet LA.

No American city comes close to matching the depth of the culture and regional diversity of tacos of Los Angeles.

There’s no such thing as a “standard” Los Angeles taco because cuisines from so many regions of Mexico are represented across the city — you can find food from about half of Mexico’s states, Esparza says. Each region has their own taco style, then iterations on those styles.

“You can get just about every type of taco imaginable,” Esparza says. To demonstrate the depth of tacos in Los Angeles, Esparza even wrote a taco encyclopedia — a tacopedia — that covers 47 varieties.

Drawing from the availability of fresh California ingredients, the largest and longest-standing population of Mexican immigrants and the city’s shear proximity to the birthplace of the dish, LA serves up the most authentic Mexican tacos outside of Mexico.

For example, some of Los Angeles’ al pastor tacos are cooked by pedigreed chefs who experienced working at top al pastor restaurants in Mexico City. “I would say tacos here are 85% of what they are in Mexico City,” Esparza says.

New York: The boundary-pushing taco

Local experts: Chef Alex Stupak, owner of Empellón and author of upcoming cookbook Tacos: Recipes and Provocations and Lesley Téllez, food writer and culinary guide behind The Mija Chronicles.

With a fast-paced restaurant scene that’s constantly reinventing itself, New York’s tacos are characterized by the line-blurring nature of the city’s blended cultures. Whereas other cities may stick to more traditional styles, New York celebrates new ideas. Even if something sounds a little crazy, New Yorkers are willing to try it.

“New York has a willingness to experiment with the cuisine and taste it at many price points,” says Stupak. “In California and Texas, and Chicago, you have very very large and well-ingrained Mexican communities,” says Stupak. “That ingrained culture — that’s the missing ingredient in New York City.”

Kimchi tacos. Tuna wonton tacos. Lobster tacos. Stupak has even provocatively prepared a French dish and plated it on a tortilla to challenge people’s perception of the taco. For al pastor tacos, his restaurant is the place to go. “We wentto Mexico City, ate every al pastor we could find and concocted our own way of making it.” The pork shoulder is roasted on a spit and the tortillas are made in house.  

But what if you want an good old-fashioned homestyle taco — like one you might get in Mexico City? Lesley Téllez has searched far and wide for that hometown taste, but has found that New York isn’t quite there yet. When ordering tacos from a taqueria in New York, Téllez has observed that the construction is the same, but the quality of ingredients affects the end result. She finds that the salsa isn’t as fresh, the tortillas are store-bought, and the seasoning doesn’t have the same punch. She’s also noticed that tacos in New York often come laden with extra ingredients like gratuitous crema, cheese, lettuce or guacamole.

Téllez hasn’t yet been able to find tacos exactly how she gets them at home, butshe has a solution: She makes them at home herself.

Related: You’ve got to try these 7 Austin food trucks.

Dallas: The brisket taco

Local expert: José R. Ralat, founder of the Taco Trail and food editor of Cowboys & Indians.

Dallas is known for soft tortillas stuffed with juicy, tender beef that’s been braised overnight. Born at Mia’s Tex-Mex Restaurant, the brisket taco is dressed poblano strips, sauteed onions and Monterey Jack cheese.

But that’s not all Dallas has to offer.

“Dallas is often thought of as Tex-Mex country or gas station taco country, but that’s no longer true,” says Ralat. “Within minutes, anyone can sample tacos done in the style of Sinaloa, Monterrey, Sonora, Oaxaca, Mexico City, Zacatecas, Jalisco and, of course, Tex-Mex.”

With a large immigrant population from Monterrey, Mexico, Dallas has many restaurants where the meat is carved off of a spinning trompo spit. “These tacos are similar to Mexico City’s tacos al pastor, with pork slowly roasted,” says Ralat. “But instead of a chile-achiote-citrus marinade, tacos de trompo get a paprika-heavy seasoning.

Chicago: The hot-off-the-tortilla-press taco

Local expert: Titus Ruscitti, Chicago’s self-proclaimed taco expert and man behind The Chicago Taco Tour.

Chicago’s nickname as the second city comes into play to describe its taco culture. With the largest Hispanic population second only to Los Angeles, the city has an expansive offering of tacos. “From mom and pop supermercados on the corner to hipster hangouts, we got it all,” Ruscitti says.

“Chicago has a large immigrant population from Michoacan, so carnitas, which were born in that state, are well-represented,” says José R. Ralat.

Chicago’s largest claim to taco fame? Fresh tortillas. With the most tortillerias in the world, a fresh, warm tortilla is never far away — even for Chicagoans cooking at home, who can buy local and freshly made tortillas at most grocery stores.

Since a great taco starts with a great tortilla, Chicago hasaccess to one of the most important building blocks to serving high-quality tacos.

Austin: The breakfast taco

Local experts: Melanie Haupt, Austin food blogger and freelance writer and co-author of Historic Austin Restaurants:: Capital Cuisine through the Generations and Armando Rayo, creator of author of upcoming book The Tacos of Texas.

Austin is known for their breakfast tacos topped with with eggs, bacon, and cheese. Other ingredients that make a delicious Austin-style breakfast taco? Sausage, brisket, or migas. Or perhaps all of those things at once, with potatoes.

“If you go outside Texas and look for breakfast tacos, you’re probably not going to find exactly what you’re looking for,” Haupt says. “Or you won’t find them at all. Breakfast tacos are a major food group in Austin. It’s a huge part of our culture as a city.”

You can also find a variety of traditional styles straight out of the Mexican and Tex-Mex tradition such as barbacoa, al pastor, machacado, tripas and lengua served on corn tortillas. Restaurants serving gourmet fusion tacos have also started popping up. Haupt calls them “stunt” tacos. These might have fried egg and escabeche, a chicken finger, or octopus in a crispy tortilla shell.

“Because tacos are such a big deal here in Austin,” she says “you see a lot of people playing with the form and testing the boundaries of what you can wrap in a flour or corn tortilla and call a taco.

Related: These are the country’s best margaritas.

San Antonio: The puffy taco

San Antonio is known for their Tex-Mex style puffy tortillas. Fresh masa balls are pressed in a tortilla press, then deep fried. After just under a minute in hot oil, they’re puffy on the outside, and soft and airy on the inside.

You won’t find tortillas prepared like this in Mexico, but that doesn’t make this style any less authentic. Armando Rayo describes the taco culture in Texas as part Mexican, part American, 100% Texan.

“There are Latino families that have been in Texas before Texas was Texas,” points out  Armando Rayo. “You will get those cultures infused in the food, from the flour tortillas to the Tex-Mex that we grew up with in the Lonestar State.”

The most important requirement for a dish to qualify as a taco? “Therestill needs to be a tortilla,” says Rayo. “It’s not a taco if there is no tortilla. Do not be fooled by the taco bowls or lettuce wraps!”

Miami: The razzle dazzle taco

Local experts: Carina Ost, food writer for Miami New Times and Jen Karetnick, dining critic for Modern Luxury Miami and cookbook author of Mango.

With so many Latin American influences, in Miami you’ll find tacos that are a hybrid of many cultures. That could be a fried chicken, duck confit or even a fungus mushroom taco. There’s always something surprising tucked inside.

“Unless you’re at a traditional Mexican taqueria, expect some Magic City razzle dazzle,” says Karetnick. “We can’t let anything go without our own little touches, which range from playing around with the crema to replacing the lettuce with kale.”

Ost says Miami tacos are characterized by trying new flavors and having a bit of fun. “It’s more showy. Let’s dress it up, and let’s go crazy. You lose a little bit of the political correctness you might find in the Bay Area.”

Join us in chowing down on a taco or two. No matter where you’re from or how you take your tacos, we celebrate all taco styles — though you might get the stink eye if you eat a sour cream-slathered ground beef taco in a hard shell.

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Tagged: California, Florida, Midwest, New York

Note: Orbitz compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

Betsy Mikel

Betsy Mikel

Betsy is a freelance copywriter who enjoys collecting passport stamps, and has a lifelong obsession with French language and culture. When she's not biking all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria, you can find Betsy on Twitter at @betsym.

One thought on “What’s your city’s regional taco style? Find out here”

  1. I have had tacos in most of these places but still feel the tacos in New Mexico: Santa Fe or Albuquerque are really a lot better!!

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