This story was originally published in November 2020 and has been updated.
It’s hard to go wrong when you’re in the region that’s the birthplace of most of our state’s great tacos, but we tried to whittle down some choices for you. You don’t want to miss the original breakfast tacos, tacos estilo Matamoros, and real barbacoa. The Rio Grande Valley Taco Trail is a long road. Eat up.
Ana Liz Taqueria
This taco shop, located in a shopping center, displays its molino—or corn grinder—in the open. It shows the pride owner Ana Pulido has in traditional Mexican preparations. But she’s not afraid to put her own twist on things. Instead of offering chips, she serves tostadas made from nixtamalized corn tortillas with a swoon-inducing fragrance. The chile relleno taco doesn’t resemble a typical chile relleno taco at all. The filling is deconstructed, with a flat jalapeño topped with queso blanco and chopped fajita and served on a sunset-yellow corn tortilla. Also worth ordering are the cheesy costra, served on a fresh flour tortilla; and the volcan, a tostado bearing griddled cheese, meat, and whole beans. facebook.com/analiztaqueria, 215 N. Conway Avenue, Mission, 956-591-0655.
Bigo’s Bar & Grill
The U.S. location for the Matamoros-based restaurant chain Bigo’s has the look of a Tex-Mex place. It’s vibrantly colored with papel picado and folk murals, including plenty of Día de los Muertos imagery. But its food is puro border Mexican. The star is the taco estilo Matamoros platter: small, slick corn tortillas topped with chopped beef, a heavy dose of queso fresco, and a plump wedge of avocado. bigos.com.mx, 464 Paredes Line Road, Brownsville, 956-986-0786.
Open since 1934 in Rio Grande City, Caro’s Restaurant has long been lauded for its perfect puffy taco (see “Puffy” in the Tacopedia). And perfect it is. There is no sign of grease from the deep fryer. Instead, there is a lightweight, inflated pocket of crunch packed with ground beef, lettuce, and tomato. caros-mexican.edan.io, 607 W. Second, Rio Grande City, 956-487-2255.
El Fogón Tacos & Beer
In beef-loving Brownsville, El Fogón surprises guests with seafood options such as blackened octopus, Sinaloa-style cheesy shrimp tacos called tacos gobernador, and tacos al pastor, straight from the vertical trompo. There’s even a trompo stacked with sirloin, glistening hickory-hued. Beef trompo is a rarity in Texas, but the sliced sirloin, juicy with charred edges, makes for a happy surprise. fogontacos.com, 3341 Pablo Kisel Boulevard, Brownsville, 956-280-5487.
Don’t let the empty downtown McAllen storefront fool you—El Pocito is open. In fact, it’s been open for 110 years. Walk to the alley behind the business’s official address, and you’ll find a beautifully worn facade with screen doors leading to small rooms packed with kitchen equipment and people. To the right, flour and nixtamalized corn tortillas and gorditas are cooked to order on the flattop. To the left, the molino grinds nixtamalized corn into masa. Bags of kernels and family and religious mementos clutter the remaining space. It’s perfect, as is the food. 203 S. 17th St., McAllen, 956-322-2262.
El Sancho BBQ
Pitmaster and owner Daniel Sanchez left his tech job in 2016 and dived headfirst into barbecue with a border emphasis. That means mesquite wood for smoking, fresh tortillas, barbacoa, zingy salsa, and a Tejano home-cooking influence. In 2018, he opened his trailer behind the Jitterz Coffee Roasters, and the lines have been forming ever since. The barbacoa—piled high on flaky flour tortillas and topped with avocado wedges—is the first protein to sell out. So get there early if you have your heart set on it. The fatty brisket is sliced thick and is well-balanced with the bitterness from the mesquite smoke. Order the sixteen-ounce pozole with smoked carnitas to go. instagram.com/elsanchobbq, 1625 N. Conway Avenue, Mission.
El Santuario Tacos & Cocktails
Owner Hector Burnias wanted to expand locals’ palates when the Brownsville native opened El Santuario Tacos & Cocktails in Olmito. He succeeds with chocolate-infused corn tortillas filled with ice cream, alligator on a blue corn tortilla, a pastrami taco with a pickled mustard seed salsa, and octopus and chorizo on a chile-corn tortilla. There ain’t nada like El Santuario in the Rio Grande Valley. elsantuariotacos.com, 7077 N. Expressway 77, Olmito, 956-280-5525.
Serving as a hotel restaurant, this decades-old South Texas diner has seen generations of customers ordering large Brownsville-style breakfast tacos (locally referred to as tortillas de harina) and breakfast platters. While El Torito looks a little worse for the wear, it offers familiar service and filling, comforting food. 715 N. Expressway 77, Brownsville, 956-541-4426.
Las 7 Salsas Restaurante
This small Mexican diner serves tortillas de harina, whose name translates as “flour tortillas” but which are more accurately referred to as breakfast tacos. But these are Brownsville breakfast tacos. The large, nearly translucent, and flaky but chewy flour tortillas spill over the oval-shaped plates. The carne guisada is heavy with blocks of beef the size of an infant’s fist, served alongside wedges of sliced carrots and chopped potatoes in a silky sauce blanket. Any one of the namesake seven salsas—yes, there are seven—will add a bit of fire to the comforting taste of the taco. facebook.com/wwwlas7salsasantojitos, 3424 Southmost Boulevard, Brownsville, 956-407-8426.
Ms. G’s Tacos N’ More
For more than forty years, this taco spot has been filling bellies and hearts with Texas breakfast tacos. Favorites include machacado con huevo and chorizo with eggs (see “Guisados” in the Tacopedia). Each filling is folded into small, cushion-soft flour tortillas and rolled in aluminum foil. They’re little gifts available only for takeout via Ms. G’s Tacos N’ More’s front counter or the drive-through. msgstacosnmore.com, 2263 Pecan Boulevard, McAllen, 956-668-8226.
This Valley taqueria grew from a humble six-table eatery in 2010 to a colorfully painted complex that includes the original house of the owners and a lot of outdoor dining space. While we recommend you try the crispy sandwiches—the Nuevo Progreso–style lonches—make sure to order one of Nana’s Big Tacos, which feature a large, flaky flour tortilla spotted with an archipelago of dark spots from its time on the flattop and topped with mozzarella and a filling of your choice (go for the beef). It’s a gloriously salty and chewy amalgamation. nanastaqueria.com, 1802 S. International Boulevard, Weslaco.
Salomé on Main
Co-owners Jennifer and Larry Delgado, with Larry serving as chef, have manifested a modern restaurant that Texas Monthly’s restaurant critic described as having a “menu that’s unlike any other in the region.” The mole tasting alone is a journey in expertly executed craftsmanship. The tacos come in deceptively traditional options with modern flourishes: lengua, suadero, and duck are served on nixtamalized corn tortillas with squiggles of salsa via contemporary plating as fine as you’ll see in the biggest dining-destination cities. Spring for the side order of nixtmal tortillas, which come in several varieties, including discs infused with earthy achiote and nutty huitlacoche. delgadocollective.com, 1409 N. Main, McAllen, 956-267-1150.
Co-owner Norma Almanza is a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan, and her restaurant is a shrine to America’s team. It’s also a knockout Mexican diner dishing out breakfast tacos (see “Breakfast” in the Tacopedia) that need to be cut in half to be consumed. Opt for the machacado con huevo or the barbacoa, or ask for the off-menu Miriam. We’re not going to spoil the fun. It’s difficult to go wrong here. 1843 Southmost Boulevard, Brownsville, 956-542-9220.
Tacos de Marcelo
Guisados, the unwieldy and—dare we say—unimaginably sweeping array of stews, braises, and other home-style dishes, are the original breakfast tacos. At Tacos de Marcelo in the Southmost taco district, our favorite is the rajas con queso. A cooked-down assembly of sliced and roasted poblanos in the creamiest, cheesiest base has a hint of space; inhale the corn fragrance from handmade tortillas. facebook.com/TacosDeMarcelo, 3305 E. Twenty-sixth, Brownsville, 956-546-0021.
Tacos Al Vapor Monterrey
A modest shopping center taqueria that specializes in northern Mexican–style steamed tacos (see “Al Vapor” in the Tacopedia), Tacos Al Vapor Monterrey in Brownsville does things right with fillings including soft, comforting beans and cheese, veggie-studded picadillo, and threads of pulled stewed beef deshebrada. The tortilla envelopes are sticky and hot after a dose of chile-laden oil. Open the individual taco and cram it with the garnishes plated on the side: cabbage, tomato, squirts of lime, and prickly salsas. 74 S. Price Road, Suite 3, Brownsville, 956-542-1111.
Tacos El Compadre
This one-room taco shack is plastered with images of its menu, including snappy tacos dorados, fried tacos served in an order of six. The potato-packed logs, obscured by a mess of cabbage and a deluge of tomato sauce, are well worth the effort. 3915 Southmost Boulevard, Brownsville, 956-542-5727.
This red trailer toward the south end of Southmost Boulevard is decorated with the lead mascot of a popular Japanese pocket monster and slings exquisite tacos estilo Matamoros (see “Tacos Estilo Matamoros” in the Tacopedia). Our favorite is the hacked-to-chewy-bits bistec. Fold the tacos for a taste of cheese, avocado, and beef in each bite. 5727 Southmost Boulevard, Brownsville, 956-579-7983.
Taqueria El Ultimo Taco
Owner Rolando Curiel likes to say, “If you don’t know Ultimo Taco, you don’t know Brownsville.” He’s referring not to his place but to El Último Taco: Los Originales, in the sister city of Matamoros (see “Tacos Estilo Matamoros” in the Tacopedia). Curiel pays his respect with El Ultimo Taco’s signature mini tacos, featuring curls of tender shaved ribeye cap with slivers of soft avocado and a blizzard of queso. A stop at the nearly 22-year-old taqueria is required when visiting Brownsville. For those hankering for buzzy birria de res tacos, El Ultimo has you covered too. 938 N. Expressway, Brownsville, 956-554-7663.
What makes Taqueria Sheko’s so special is the tiniest of tortillas. They’re dipped in liquid lard before being thrown on the flattop and topped with bistec, avocado, cilantro, onion, and the local requisite: queso fresco. They’re mini tacos and sell for less than a buck each. Order a bunch and pig out. 985 W. Ruben M. Torres Sr. Boulevard, Brownsville, 956-708-6662.
Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que
The sole licensed practitioner in Texas of pit-cooked cow head barbacoa (see “Barbacoa/Barbecue” in the Tacopedia) operates out of a small, freestanding business with a separate pit house. It’s been doing so for 65 years. For most of that time, it’s been overseen by Armando Vera, a tall, mustachioed Valley native whose dry sense of humor conceals a soft side. He’s a master of the all-but-dead craft of smoking cow heads over mesquite coals, sometimes for as long as twelve hours. What’s pulled from the brick-lined pit is available in several cuts. Perhaps the most common for newcomers to the destination eatery is mixta (mixed leftovers), followed by the surtida (a little bit of everything). There is also lengua (cow tongue), the paladar (palate), standard cachete (beef cheek), and the highly prized “Mexican caviar,” as Vera calls it, of ojo (cow’s eye). It’s a delicacy that is seldom available. When it is, ojo is the first to sell out. Whatever you order—and it won’t likely be the ojo—will be subtly smoky, fatty, and worth the helluva drive it might take to the far southeastern edge of the state. 2404 Southmost Boulevard, Brownsville, 956-546-4159.