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Socorro and San Elizario, two small communities southeast of El Paso, have an underrated and growing taco scene. Here, along the four-hundred-year-old El Camino Real de la Tierra Adentro—a trade route that connected Mexico City, El Paso, and Santa Fe—you can find a flabbergasting number of taquerias, trailers, and Tex-Mex restaurants. There’s more to discover than food too, as the area seems to be quietly undergoing a cultural renaissance. In my research for the daylong trek, friends tipped me off to art galleries to visit. One of them is Casa Ortiz, which opened in January inside an adobe home from the late 1700s. They also recommended the nearby Three Missions Brewery. Named after the trio of religious settlements in the area, the brewery is housed in a structure that evokes the whitewashed adobe colonial missions along the El Camino Real. The brewery’s churro stout was a tempting lure, but I was on the hunt for tacos—and notable tacos I indeed found.

Barbacoa El Ganado

Beef barbacoa is a borderland favorite. It’s found in abundance across the area, including at this colorful little place in Socorro. Barbacoa El Ganado makes for an easy entry to those new to the beef head meat preparation. The mild beef is served inside soft corn tortillas; I spiked the tacos with tingly salsa roja. The wide variety of burritos is good too. At Barbacoa El Ganado, they’re filled with the homey stews and slow-cooked dishes typical of the El Paso region, including deshebrada a la mexicana (shredded beef with pico de gallo), pork cooked down in green or red sauces, chiles rellenos, and, of course, barbacoa. I opted for the pork in green salsa, noted simply as “verde” on the menu banner. Prepared with soft blocks of potatoes, the meat was awash in salsa so spicy it made me cough a little. It’s all held in place by a swipe of refried beans on a dusty flour tortilla., 10271 N. Loop Drive, Socorro, 915-529-2199

Beef barbacoa tacos at Barbacoa El Ganado
Beef barbacoa tacos at Barbacoa El Ganado. Photograph by José R. Ralat

Barbacoa El Original

This corrugated metal–sided trailer operates as a drive-through in the Mission Hand Wash and Auto Detailing parking lot. The line of vehicles, mostly pickups, queueing up for food extends to the street. As you pull up, an employee takes your order of barbacoa (by the kilo or in tacos, sandwiches, or combos) and passes it to the taquero in the truck. Next you pull up to a guy in front of several drink coolers. If you ordered a combo, he hands you a drink. In my case, it was a can of local favorite Coke knockoff, Lariat. Your barbacoa is brought to you. That’s when you pay in cash (solo efectivo). Spring for the soda, whose flavor cuts through the fatty barbacoa. Pouring the accompanying salsa de chile de árbol on top of your meal only accentuates the experience., 11400 Socorro Road, Socorro, 915-260-7533 

Barbacoa La Casita

Rolando Leos’s tiny, cash-only spot in San Elizario is inside a former house. You won’t have to get out of your car, though, since a runner will take your order and then deliver it while you wait comfortably in your ride. The line snakes around the corner but moves quickly. The filling of these barbacoa tacos is greasier than I usually like, but the fattiness is offset by a beefiness that intensifies with every bite. Barbacoa La Casita, sometimes abbreviated to “Bbcoa La Casita,” is also something of a junkyard. A couple of jalopies are rusting on the property, and there’s also a segment of an old wood wagon’s axle and wheel spokes. Perhaps it’s there to remind visitors of the area’s ties to Mexico’s colonial past and cross-cultural history. You can check out the heaps any day of the week, but La Casita is open only Saturday and Sunday., 300 Camino de La Rosa Road, San Elizario, 915-740-4246.

Birria Don Chuco Estilo 915

A few steps away from Barbacoa El Original in the adjacent Dollar Tree lot, Birria Don Chuco Estilo 915 had been open only four days when I visited in early July. It wasn’t on my itinerary, but I was glad I made a spontaneous stop. Fueled by social media, the birria de res trend is still going strong; this new (and cash-only) rig from taquero Jorge Rodriguez is further proof that the trend shows no sign of slowing down. I’ve tasted a lot of mediocre birria, but Rodriguez’s is different. It offers a punch of flavor and spice found only in the best beef birria. The dish is guajillo-forward, with a crisp but sturdy tortilla, and it’s a relief from the bland options available at most taquerias, trucks, and restaurants. Give the birria tacos a little time to cool down, lest you burn the tips of your fingers., 11420 Socorro Road, Socorro, 915-328-6183

La Flauta Taqueria

This low-slung, adobe-colored restaurant is another cash-only joint. There are booths outside, but far West Texas summers are not ideal for outdoor dining. Inside, either order at the cash register to the left of the entrance or take a seat and wait for a server. The barbacoa here is available as beef or borrego (lamb). Opt for the latter. It’s lean, sweet, and not gamy. Make sure to add heavy doses of salsa roja. The combination will leave you wanting to sing in celebration, as will the namesake dish. The platter of four flautas is adorned with lettuce, tomato, crema, liberal sprinkles of queso fresco, and avocado wedges. It’s fantastically crunchy and messy. Check out the makeshift, plastic-wrapped photographic shrine to local hero Pancho Villa and other Latino icons, including Frida Kahlo, in the small rear dining room. 11508 Socorro Road, Socorro, 915-588-5688

Quesadillas Estilo Villa Ahumada No. 2

This small, no-fuss restaurant is named after a Mexican town about two hours south of El Paso. The community of Villa Ahumada is renowned for its cheese and quesadillas, and you can sample a great take on them here. There are numerous filling options for the signature dish, among them a fine deshebrada, but nothing beats the sencilla (“simple”) quesadilla, which contains only cheese. The milky, soft, and warm asadero clings to the interior of the large folded flour tortilla, making it difficult to part it at the edges. It’s a delight and a perfect example of how quality, not quantity, is sufficient to achieve Mexican culinary greatness. Best of all was the Chihuahuan regional specialty salsa de suero. Served in a small bowl, it’s a sweet and mouthwatering green salsa prepared with the whey collected in the asadero-making process. 131 Horizon Boulevard, Suite 5, Socorro, 915-790-0456

Quesadillas Estilo Villa Ahumada No. 2
Quesadillas Estilo Villa Ahumada No. 2 in Sorroco. Photograph by José R. Ralat
Quesadillas at Estilo Villa Ahumada No. 2
Quesadillas paired with salsa de suero. Photograph by José R. Ralat
Left: Quesadillas Estilo Villa Ahumada No. 2 in Sorroco. Photograph by José R. Ralat
Top: Quesadillas paired with salsa de suero. Photograph by José R. Ralat

Sofia’s Restaurant

This family-oriented eatery is decorated with varnished wood to give the interior a Mexican rancho feel; the cozy vibe extends to the table service, which is fast and casual. At Sofia’s, the go-to order is the picadillo taco: juicy ground beef topped with lettuce, tomato, and grated Muenster cheese. The choice of cheese might surprise you, but it shouldn’t. Muenster is commonly used as a taco topping in the El Paso region, especially in crispy tacos. 11800 Glorietta Road, San Elizario, 915-851-1832