This year—for the first time since 2019—I felt a sense of normalcy in my travel itinerary. Traversing the state to eat at taquerias and other Tex-Mex joints and talk to chefs and purveyors is a big part of my job. In 2022, I spent 170 days on the road and ate at 450 restaurants, stalls, and food trucks. I still wore a mask in airports, on planes, and in businesses when required, but my work travel wasn’t as nerve-wracking as it had been. I was even able to return to Mexico—twice in two weeks. Through my sojourns, I learned a lot, I bought my weight in reference books, and, of course, I ate some stunning dishes near and far. I’ve recounted the best ones for you in the hopes it’ll encourage you to travel—safely, of course—to try something new.
Alambres Hot Dog
Taco 16th Street, Odessa
Mexicans perfect every dish they get their hands on, including the hot dog. At Taco 16th Street—an Odessa-based chain with a San Antonio satellite—the bacon-wrapped franks can be customized with any of the taco fillings. I asked for a dog in a toasted bun topped with steak alambres, a kebab-inspired mix of beef, peppers, cheese, and tomatoes. I scarfed down the whole dang thing.
Barbacoa de Borrego
Vaqueros Texas Bar-B-Q, Grapevine
Beef barbacoa reigns supreme in Texas, so I never pass up an opportunity for barbacoa de borrego (lamb). At the BBQ World’s Fair at this year’s Texas Monthly BBQ Fest, after signing copies of my book (it is a great holiday gift, by the way), I was able to snag a smoked barbacoa de borrego taco from Vaqueros Texas Bar-B-Q. The taco was gamey, juicy, and wrapped in a fragrant nixtamalized blue corn tortilla from Molino Olōyō.
Big Red and Barbacoa Tacos
Stixs and Stone, San Antonio
Infusing corn tortillas with additional ingredients such as nopales and beets is a centuries-long tradition in Mexico. Leo Davila takes the practice to a new level by folding in San Antonio’s favorite soft drink. The result is Stixs and Stone’s signature dish: ruby-hued nixtamalized corn tortillas packed with applewood-smoked, guajillo-marinated beef-cheek barbacoa. Each taco also gets a dose of pecan pesto and a sprinkling of pickled watermelon rinds.
Birria El Jalisciense, Los Angeles
While in LA this year, a friend took me on a birria tour—and I’m not referring to the trendy, cheese-smothered beef tacos. What I relished was an array of goat and lamb birria, served as stews or roasted (tatemada). The weekend pop-up Birria El Jalisciense served an excellent cut of birria de chivo (goat) tatemada. The marinade created a slightly crisp crust that protected the meat from drying out while cooking. The operation is featured in the Los Angeles episode of the newest season of Taco Chronicles.
Cabrito al Pastor
El Asador del Cabrito y Carnes Asada, Monterrey, Mexico
The butterflied milk-fed kid-goat dish typical of Monterrey and its state of Nuevo León is cooked slowly on an angled spit over mesquite coals. It’s an ancient, open-fire technique and the result is fantastic. The sweet, slightly gamey meat prepared and served at 77-year-old El Asadero del Cabrito y Carnes Asada in Monterrey’s Centro is among the best I’ve ever had.
Elemi, El Paso
The curls of fried pork rinds crackle as they arrive at your table at Elemi. The snaps and pops continue to punctuate the air as you submerge the pieces into the bowl of peppy salsa macha. It makes for a perfect start to a meal at one of the best restaurants in Texas.
Alebrije Bakery, San Antonio
Sometimes when we eat a dish that’s steeped in nostalgia, we end up disappointed. Not so at Alebrije Bakery, where the pan dulce delivers customers a childlike sense of joy while actually tasting delightful. The colorful conchas have a fun tactile experience as well. Squish one between your fingers and it immediately pops back into place with no crumbling from the shell-shaped cap.
La Colonial Tortilla Factory, El Paso
Mention this 50-year-old institution to an El Pasoan and they’ll launch into an excited monologue about the tortilleria’s crispy taco. Freshly fried shells made from corn nixtamalized in-house are layered with shredded beef, chopped lettuce, cheese, and juicy blocks of tomatoes. It’s the must-order dish, even if burritos take up most of the menu’s real estate at La Colonial.
Duck Carnitas Taco
Taqueria Chingón, Chicago
When you name your taco joint “badass,” it better live up to its name. Taqueria Chingón definitely does, as do its dishes, from the house corn tortillas to the trompo. Of the trio of tacos I ordered during a June visit, my favorite was one piled high with slick and delicious duck carnitas.
Ricas Enchiladas Potosinas Martha, San Luis Potosí, Mexico
I visited San Luis Potosí this year to gain a better understanding of enchiladas potosinas, the area’s signature chile-dipped, cheese-filled folded enchiladas. My favorites of the trip were at Ricas Enchiladas Potosinas Martha in the Mercado República. The enchiladas were simple: saltierra cheese (a creamier, saltier type of queso fresco) in tortillas covered in guajillo-based salsa, quickly griddled on a flattop. I ate six in one go.
This might be the single best dish I ate all year, and it just so happened to be at the Texas Monthly BBQ Fest World’s Fair. Espaghetti verde (green spaghetti) is a homestyle dish that pitmaster-owner Chuck Charnichart enjoyed growing up in Brownsville. It’s served at holidays, birthdays, baptisms, and similar occasions. For her version, Charnichart uses fire-roasted poblanos, sour cream, milk, raw jalapeños, cilantro, and chicken bouillon for extra flavor. She blends the ingredients into a sauce and adds it to a buttered pan, twirling in the pasta until every noodle is covered in the mixture. When her Barbs-B-Q finally opens in Lockhart, it will be a regular menu item. Until then, it’s only available at pop-ups, including at Goldee’s Barbecue, where Charnichart currently works.
Miguelonches, San Antonio
This snazzy taco truck pulls into the parking lot of an auto mechanic garage after 8 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday. It doles out straightforward mini-tacos, large tortas, and agua frescas. However, the first dish anyone should order at Miguelonches is the frijoles especial, a gussied-up cup of frijoles charros, with pinto beans cooked with bacon, weenies, onions, and a swirl of cheese.
Frijoles con Veneno
El Gran Principal, Montemorelos, Nuevo León, Mexico
Refried beans are a staple of Mexican and Tex-Mex tables. But frijoles con veneno (venomous beans) are a northeastern Mexican specialty that adds the reduced sauce of cooked pork en adobo as a garnish. My favorite frijoles con veneno are served at El Gran Principal, a palatial roadside steakhouse in Montemorelos in the Mexican state of Nuevo León. They are rich, smooth, and slightly spicy, and arrived with crisped flour tortillas for scooping up the frijoles.
Nena Postreria, Dallas
If you’ve perused a snack aisle in Texas, you’ve no doubt glanced at a package of gansitos. The Mexican snack is a chocolate-covered cake filled with strawberry jelly and cream. Packaged gansitos can be face-scrunchingly sweet, but the ones made fresh by Diana Zamora at Nena Postreria balance every element for a sugary delight.
Gordita de Harina de Picadillo
Gorditas Mi Torreón, San Antonio
Gorditas are usually made with corn and are either grilled or fried. At three-year-old Gorditas Mi Torreón in San Antonio, some of the eponymous treats are made with flour and grilled over an open fire. The best one is the gordita de harina packed with potato-studded ground beef. The sweetness and char of the flour tortilla with the luscious picadillo left my mouth watering.
El Pocito, McAllen
At 111 years old, this downtown McAllen icon might be the oldest continuously operating Mexican food establishment in the state. (Tell me if I’m wrong.) Its name translates to “little hole,” and El Pocito is very much a hole in the wall. The kitchen, molino, and cashier crowd the same room, so make your selection quickly, and make it the gordita de picadillo. Its ground-beef filling spills over the opening. If you prefer veggies, the gorditas de nopal are a wonderful option. Eat quickly on the trunk of your car before making plans to return.
Laos Sausage Breakfast Taco
Macheen, Los Angeles
Breakfast tacos are rare in Los Angeles, so I was surprised when Macheen, a taqueria at Smorgasburg LA, was selling creative renditions of our beloved morning nosh. The finest featured crispy-cased Laos sausage, which had a touch of sweetness that played well with fluffy scrambled eggs and salsa in chewy, fresh flour tortillas.
Licon Dairy Cheese Plate
El Charlatan, Socorro
Positioned along the Old Mission Trail, this El Paso-area restaurant blends Japanese and Mexican cuisines and techniques to an exhilarating end. One particular dish leans into its border roots: a plate of several queso asaderos from Licon Dairy, just down the road from El Charlatan. The appetizer is a delight of rich flavors and textures.
La Norteñita, Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, Mexico
The capital of the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas is home to many specialties familiar to Texas, and some unfamiliar, including the migada, a large gordita sliced completely open. At La Norteñita, you can get chicharron en salsa verde, stewed and shredded chicken, mole, and more inside a corn tortilla.
Palomas de Cabrito
Don Artemio, Fort Worth
The nopales frito appetizer was enough to place this Saltillo, Mexico, import to Fort Worth on the midterm taco report. But there is so much more to love about Don Artemio. One is the platter of palomas de cabrito, house-made flour tortillas filled with shredded kid goat. The tortillas are small but pillowy, and the goat is not gamey. And I am all smiles after munching down on a plate of the northern Mexican tacos.
Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Breakfast Burrito
Taco Loco, Hamilton
While the flour tortillas come from a bag and the fillings could be purchased from any store, this burrito at Taco Loco—paired with kind service—is greater than the sum of its parts. It enveloped me in a homey feeling I didn’t want to end.
Tacos de Chile Ancho Rellenos
Taqueria Los Palomos, Mexico City
The melee of hacked-to-bits chiles anchos stuffed with thin cuts of bistek and queso blanco isn’t much of a looker, but the fruity and salty notes of this plate of tacos keep the lines long at Los Palomos.
Tacos de Fideo
Los Legendarios, Monterrey
Los Legendarios is one of the typical steakhouses found in the northern Mexican metropolis of Monterrey. A feast there includes an intimidating amount of excellent beef, but it’s the serving of tacos de fideo (vermicelli noodles) that are unforgettable. They are soft, nostalgic, and a reminder that almost everything belongs in a tortilla.
Tacos al Pastor
El Pastor Es Mi Señor, San Antonio
In my review of this Mexico City-style taqueria in San Antonio, I make the bold claim that it is home to perhaps the best tacos al pastor in the state. I stand by the statement. Fully flavored with a secret adobo, and sliced paper-thin directly into corn tortillas, the meat is the platonic idea of al pastor—in Texas or Mexico.
Wild Mushroom Fideo Soup
Esquina Comun, Mexico City
Esquina Comun is, I think, the best restaurant in Mexico City. I can’t tell you where it is, though. The location is kept secret until the day before your reservation. What I can tell you is that during my visit at the end of the summer rainy season, I was wowed by a wild mushroom broth swimming with fideo, foraged mushrooms, and curled slivers of cheese. The course, served in a smooth wood bowl, fooled my taste buds. I swore there was a meaty richness to the flavor, but the soup was entirely vegetarian.
And a favorite drink…
Primera Base Rice Lager
Yeccan, Mexico City
After a day of taqueria hopping in Mexico City, a pint of crisp Mexican rice lager at Yeccan Restaurante/Cervecería brewpub in the hip Roma Norte neighborhood resets the palate.