The humble taco has been elevated higher than you ever thought possible. Here are five to try right now.
Carson Kitchen’s gyro tacos are Mexico by way of the Mediterranean.
1. Belly of the Ball At Julian Serrano (Aria, 702-590-8520), it starts with pork belly. Although Serrano’s energetic tapas bar has Iberian classics like patatas bravas and the menu offers lots of imported jamón, the only taco is Spain-meets-Mexico in a single bite. Marinated with brown sugar and salt, then roasted for hours, Spanishstyle pork belly is served on a house-made flour tortilla and topped with guacamole, pico de gallo, and sweet-and-spicy sauce, with caramelized pineapple providing the exclamation point.
2. Shrimp Star When chef Patricio Sandoval was developing his menu for the Chicago import Mercadito (Red Rock, 702-979-3609), he knew he had to have a full range of tacos, but the first one he tackled was shrimp. “The inspiration comes from my father’s restaurant in Acapulco,” Sandoval says. “That’s where I grew up eating shrimp and garlic.” Today the shrimp taco is a best seller, the seafood marinated with chipotle, then cooked in a mojo sauce and finished with chipotle purée, lemon juice, and just a little butter. He tops it with a cool slice of avocado and says the taco still brings him back to Acapulco every time he eats one.
3. Gyro Hero At Carson Kitchen (124 S. Sixth St., 702-473-9523), the tacos are equally transporting, although to a different part of the world entirely. Since Kerry Simon’s gastropub opened last summer, Downtowners have been flocking here for refined comfort foods with a few surprises. Take the resident taco: Swaddled in grilled-to-order flatbread from the local carb king Bon Breads, Carson’s gyro tacos are straight from the Mediterranean, filled with ground and spiced lamb, tzatziki, cucumber, tomato, and a bit of feta cheese.
4. Steak Your Claim Fusion is the focus at Komex Express (633 N. Decatur Blvd., 702-646-1612; 4155 S. Buffalo Dr. #103, 702-778-5566), the beloved restaurant where Lynda and Sonny Yi make Korean-Mexican mash-ups so good you’ll wonder how these flavors ever lived apart. For their bulgogi tacos, corn tortillas cradle secret-sauce-marinated steak, a peppery, caramelized anchor complemented by cabbage slaw and pico de gallo. “There’s a whole new flavor to it,” says Lynda. “That’s why it took off.”
5. Gardein and Fun Hussong’s Cantina (Mandalay Place, 702-632-6450) is known for Mexican cooking straight out of Ensenada, but the restaurant recently remade its Baja fish taco with a new clientele in mind: vegans. Nestled in a corn tortilla, a Gardein Golden Fishless Filet is layered with cabbage slaw, tomatillo-avocado salsa, chipotle vegan sour cream, mango pico de gallo, and a slice of avocado, for a fish taco experience so complete, you won’t even miss the fish. It’s a classic taste of Mexico reinvented for today’s diners—not just elevated, but innovative.