We started at the crack of dawn — 11 a.m. — with one goal in mind, to find the perfect taco.
Before we start, let’s introduce ourselves. Danielle Prokop and Shayla Cunico are both New Mexican natives and editors for the Daily Lobo. Shayla hails from Las Cruces, and Danielle was grown in a test tube in Los Alamos. Both have been eating tacos for at least 21 years.
Although readers did not ask, we’re still delivering. This is the first instillation of a multi-part series where we give you our take on tacos until the ultimate champion appears.
Tacos come in all shapes and sizes. In order to provide you a recommendation we had to ask a fundamental question — what is a taco?
According to Diccionario de la Lengua Española which is the authority on the Spanish language, a taco is a dish of maize tortilla folded around food.
We’re judging tacos by some very scientific criteria. We crunched the numbers and the five factors that create the perfect taco are as follows:
Price - How cheap per taco, and are you getting any bang for your buck?
Tortilla Factor - Tortillas make or break a taco experience. We rate the tortillas based on taste, consistency and sturdiness.
Friendships have been ruined over the legitimacy of the crunchy shell. There was serious debate as to whether they would be counted in this competition. While both of us have a preference for soft corn or flour shells, it was decided that crunchy would be evaluated, as they are part of the New Mexican taco experience.
Filling Factor - Boring tacos have no place existing. Them’s the facts. Veggies, pork, fish, shrimp, beef — the options are endless, it just has to taste good.
Sexy Factor - Does the taco look nice? Does it have a texture that screams good stuff?
Speed - How fast does the taco appear in our grubby little hands?
All of our lobo scores are out of 10.
Our first stop on our taco journey began at Perico’s located on Yale Boulevard, just across the street from the University of New Mexico’s main campus. We ordered one shredded chicken taco, and one shredded beef taco to share. Although we both hold disdain for crunchy tacos, Perico’s did not completely disappoint. There are only four options for tacos: chicken, beef, fish and potatoes.
Shayla: The crunchy shell became saturated into a softer, oil-soaked bed of moist chicken, salsa, crunchy fallen lettuce, fresh tomatoes and cheddar cheese. The post-taco pool of oil on my plate, and the mixture of salsa and oil that ended up on my shirt, really reduced the sexy factor of this taco.
Danielle: I was impressed with the price and speed of Perico’s. For the price, the portions were a steal, and the lettuce and tomatoes were really ripe and crisp. The taco was enjoyable for the first half — the salty beef mixed with the fresh vegetables, and the crispy tortilla really held it together. However, by the end, I was dripping in grease, and the tortilla held less crunch and became the worst kind of chewy. Best as drunk food, but there are better tacos.
Favorite Thing: The salsa is amazing.
Our second stop was El Cotorro. It consisted of more than just chicken and beef, we decided to step out of our comfort zone. We ordered nopales (cactus pads), carne asada, shrimp, carnitas and al pastor. The prices ranged from $2.85 to $3.50 per taco, depending on fillings. The portions are incredibly small, about four bites per taco.
Shayla: El Cotorro has many different options for taco fillings, although their house made corn tortillas had to be my favorite part. The tacos were each stuffed to the brim with multiple elements to create their artisan tacos. The shrimp taco was my first choice, lying on top of a pumpkin seed chipotle salsa covered in fresh slices of avocado and arugula. However, this taco did not have as much of a punch as I was hoping for.
The nopales were breaded and fried to create these slivers of crunchy cactus pads, although with much potential, these tacos did disappoint. My favorite taco from El Cotorro was the carne asada. The juicy beef laid upon a yellow-corn homemade tortilla that had clearly been made in-house. The carne asada was decorated with with fresh lime, sour cream, and topped with salty, fried tortilla strips for added texture.
Danielle: I really felt it was more about the Art and the Zen than the taco at this artisan taco place. While I was really excited about the myriad of options, the tacos were either a hit or miss. Three of the five we had were honestly pretty good. Al Pastor “shepard style” is slow-cooked pork with pico de gallo and pineapple. The meat was seasoned to perfection, and had a sweet and spicy flavor. The carnitas were delicious and tender with pickled onions and cilantro. The carne asada was one to write home about. The smokey flavor was explosive, with a bite of chipotle, and delightful. The nopales themselves were very lightly battered and fried, and while good, the taco was a disappointment as it was overwhelmed by the green onions.
Favorite Thing: A really good, unique take on a carne asada taco.
Sexy: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Last Call
Our third stop is every UNM student’s favorite late-night drunken taco stand, The Last Call. They recently started serving lunch to the same college students that are looking for the most bang for their buck.
Shayla: The Last Call serves a veggie taco that consists of sauteed mexican squash, black beans, sauteed onions, dusted with cilantro, lime and cotija cheese. The flavors blend seamlessly together to create a close-to-homemade stew of spicy tender veggies, swimming in the juices of the vegetables and melted cotija cheese.
Danielle: I deeply care about my carne asada tacos. There’s thin-cut and thick-cut schools of thought, and at The Last Call, it’s thick-cut meat. The meat is put on a grill, sizzled until beads of moisture appear (it’s called sweating), seasoned, flipped and then sweated again. The taco is topped with pico de gallo, cilantro and cotija cheese. The lime and fresh onions give a crisp bite, and the spicy heat slowly makes its way from the back of your throat to your lips. The tortilla was a little more flimsy than I would have liked, but it got the job done. While I wouldn’t recommend making your mom come here and sit curbside, this taco joint knocks it out of the park.
Favorite part: The hours.
Sexy: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
El Sabor de Juarez
El Sabor de Juarez is a hole-in-the-wall taco stop located off of Gibson Boulevard, and you definitely can miss it, as we did — twice. Its cozy interior consists of bright yellow walls plastered with Mexican decorations and hand-painted scenes of coastal and forest landscapes.
Shayla: I normally go for veggie tacos and steer clear of anything carne asada-esque, but today I was feeling open to new things. I scanned the menu looking for a taco that I would like to try. I came across desebrada tacos. After a quick google search, I learned that this once-foreign protein was actually tender, shredded beef. The desebrada was secured in a crunchy taco shell covered in guacamole, onions, jalapenos and shredded cheese. Less greasy than Perico’s, this taco packed a flavorful punch, making my mouth water, as I still remember the flavors while writing this review.
Danielle: I’d like to say that I’m not a fan of crunchy tacos. I think the world would be better off without the U-shaped abominations. However, these tacos, they changed me. I also got the desebrada tacos, and while perhaps not the sexiest taco I’d ever seen, the first bite was magical. It hit all the right notes, and while the filling was not spicy, the salsa was. I would not recommend this little restaurant if you have somewhere to be, but it was nice to take it slow.
Favorite part: Desebrada tacos... always desebrada tacos.
Shayla: Eight tacos in, I was too full to consume any more, so I had to phone a friend — Kyle Land, editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo and resident veggie freak.
Kyle: I opted for a fish taco, because there were no meatless options. The unseasoned fish taco lives on by its saving grace — the perfect salsa. It had the perfect amount of heat… none. The corn tortilla ripped open leaving a bed of lettuce, tomatoes, salsa and cheese in the styrofoam bowl that made for a second meal, more of a taco salad.
Danielle: I was a fan of the pan-fried fish, but that’s just my personal favorite. These tacos were huge and I thought the price was really good. The tortilla was a disappointment, but the overall flavor was solid. I’d definitely eat here again, but better tacos await.
Favorite Part: Los jugos frescos.
Shayla: Eight tacos
Danielle: 10 tacos
Kyle: One taco
Lobo Taco Totals
The Last Call: 44
El Sabor de Juarez: 26
Taqueria Mexico: 20
Well, 19 tacos, five places and four hours later, the winner of this round is The Last Call.
Next time, our bracket will pit five more local taco places against one another. Look out for our next round: Taqueria King, Taco Hut, the Taco Bus, Sanchez Tacos and Taco Loco. May the best taco win — remember, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.
Shayla Cunico is the culture editor and music writer for the Daily Lobo. The opinions in this column are her own. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ShaylaCunico.
Danielle Prokop is the multimedia editor for the Daily Lobo. The opinions in this column are her own. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @ProkopDani.