433 Daniels Street, Raleigh; 3305 Village Market Place, Morrisville; 18restaurantgroup.com/cantina-18-raleigh; 18restaurantgroup.com/cantina-18-morrisville
Chef Jason Smith mingles Southern sensibilities with Southwestern cuisine, and, as with his other restaurants, North Carolina ingredients and flair take center stage with tacos filled with blackened catfish or BBQ duck confit. There are excellent vegetarian options, too, such as crispy buffalo cauliflower.
106 South Wilmington Street, Raleigh, centroraleigh.com
There’s a lot to love on Angela Salamanca’s Mexican menu. We especially dig the spicy pescado tacos, which, with battered, fried catch of the day topped with spicy cilantro mayo and pico de gallo, have been known to comfort even the most homesick California transplants.
El Restaurante Ixtapa
162 Exchange Park Lane, Hillsborough, ixtapa.homestead.com/homepage.html
This family-run establishment throws a wrench in today’s omnipresent “fast casual” vibe with handmade tortillas and a focus on scratch-made. The fish tacos have been known to slay Tex-Mex and So-Cal cravings, with crispy white fish, crunchy purple cabbage, and corn slaw. While waiting on entrées to arrive, munch on freshly fried tortilla chips and guacamole and sip coconut water from a straw placed inside a freshly cut coconut.
Gonza Tacos y Tequila
Multiple locations, gonzatacosytequila.com
Gonza’s menu focuses on modern Mexican dishes and tasty tacos. Try the chicken tinga, shrimp, or chili-braised short rib, then wash ’em down with a round of margaritas.
La Superior Carniceria
3325 North Roxboro Street, Durham
La Superior is foremost a grocery store, but its taqueria makes some of the best and most authentic tacos in Durham, if not the entire state. With corn tortillas made fresh in-house, the tacos are just a buck-fifty each for options like chorizo, tinga, and carnitas. For two bucks, you can get a braised lamb taco.
2842 North Roxboro Street, Durham
In a bright yellow building just down Roxboro from La Superior sits Super Taqueria, a taco joint that is no less authentic or delicious and also offers a salsa bar for you to experiment with (and burn your tongue on). There are lots of meat options, but vegetarians should opt for the bean burrito.
Tacos El Niño
102 South Merritt Mill Road, Chapel Hill
With tacos that rival the best Austin or Los Angeles has to offer, Tacos El Niño is a white box truck that sits in a dusty parking lot at the end of West Franklin. The steak tacos—chunks of marinated meat mingling with chopped white onions and fresh cilantro—are simple, cheap, and require no superfluous seasoning.
Taqueria El Toro
3601 Junction Boulevard, Raleigh, taqueriaeltororaleigh.com
In a strip mall next to a Mexican grocery store, Taqueria El Toro features a dizzying menu of tacos. Seek out favorites such as al pastor (marinated pork), lengua (braised beef tongue), or hongos (mushrooms). Dress up your tacos at the salsa bar, where you’ll find the spicy roja and traditional toppings such as fresh lime, chopped cilantro, and diced onions. It also opens at 8:00 a.m.Tacos for every meal!
Taqueria La Vaquita
2700 Chapel Hill Road, Durham, lavaquitadurham.com
You’ll locate this casual taqueria by the cow that stands atop its roof. You’ll keep coming back for the cheap, authentic, delicious al pastor tacos.
3642 Shannon Road Durham, Durham, tonalirestaurant.com
Former Four Square sous chef Andre Macias is making some of the tastiest tacos in Durham out by the post office on Shannon Road. Tonali’s affordable cuisine is more Mesoamerican than strictly Mexican, given its Mayan and Aztec influences. We’re hooked on the flounder tacos with tangy Mexican slaw, sweet mango salpicon, and earthy chipotle aioli. (Note: Tonali closed in April 2019, after this magazine went to press.)
2018 Best of the Triangle Readers’ Pick, Best Taqueria in the Triangle: Taqueria La Vaquita.
Finalists: Nanataco (now Nuvotaco), Gringo A Go Go, Taqueria El Toro.