See what makes these Sacramento tacos so good
If tacos aren’t universally beloved, they come as close to it as any foodstuff. Mention, for instance, that you’re eating tacos for work research and you will get a lot of envious looks. I’m here to tell you that it is actually possible to eat too many tacos. My limit was 12 different types in two days. It can also be said that even if you’re overdoing it, tacos are still good.
This roundup does not claim to be a definitive guide to all the tacos in the Sacramento area. That would be impossible, even for a team of dedicated researchers, for taco availability is ever changing. I am but one woman who happens to like lengua and carnitas and birria quite a lot and had both Google and the privilege of taco tips from friends, fellow food writers and readers.
What this story does aim to do is introduce you to a geographically wide-ranging sampling of some of the region’s underappreciated and newer brick-and-mortar taco purveyors. (No shade here to Lalo’s, Taqueria Maya or even Jimboy’s – but they all get plenty of love.)
From West Sac to Folsom, from Northgate to Fruitridge, tacos might be the force that unifies our region. Here are eight contenders – and if I missed yours, I’d love to hear about it. I should be recovered and ready for more tacos in a few weeks.
Don Chuy Birria Estila Tijuana
Recently opened in a gas station (so handy for errands!) near Power Inn and Fruitridge, Don Chuy’s is on Instagram and on point, already attracting a loyal clientele for its specialized Tijuana-style cooking. I love a gas station taco in general but these are something special. The big draw is goat birria, for now only available on weekends thanks to a shortage of goat meat. The family has started a goat farm near Oroville to ensure supply. For now you can get the butter-soft, faintly gamy braised chiva on Saturdays and Sundays in crispy tacos dorados, oozing cheesy griddled mulitas, or on perfect soft tacos – plus “quesatacos” and quesadillas. On weekdays, the birria is made with beef and is also stellar. Salsas are strong, grilled serranos add heat, and there’s a bonus at all times: bubbling-hot consome (broth) with a generous helping of the tender meat. Grilled chicken is also sometimes available, and there’s nothing wrong with it, but it doesn’t stand out like the birria does. Go before their Insta blows up.
Location/info: 7900 Fruitridge Road, 916-267-1891.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday to Tuesday.
Taco rating: Four stars.
Taqueria Hecho in Mexico
This Sacramento outpost of a small Central Valley chain is a welcome addition to Stockton Boulevard. It shines most with pork, especially carnitas with a perfectly crisped edge, which are excellent on the small soft tacos, with just the right ratio of chopped onion and salsa. Lengua tacos are tender and savory. Chile verde, savory and warming, is also a winner. In non-taco dishes, don’t miss the rarely seen chamorro de puerco, a huge pork shank slathered with tangy chile rub and cooked to fall-off-the-bone perfection. Missing veggies? Load up at the salsa bar, where the salsas are so-so but the fresh radishes and wide selection of pickled veggies shine.
Location/info: 6036 Stockton Boulevard, 916-476-3683.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Taco rating: 3.5 stars
Limon è Sal Taqueria Bar
The ambiance is updated and sleek, with bright pillows and lots of gleaming wood, at this newer, sit-down spot with full table service in Folsom. But the food tastes traditional, with some fresh touches like winning dinner-sized salads with beautifully grilled chicken. The menu is expansive, with a big selection of quesadillas, kids’ meals and more in addition to the taco lineup. Tiny street tacos were mixed: chicken with green salsa was dry, but al pastor juicy and flavorful. A crispy taco with beefy asada was a hit and the full bar with strong margaritas a welcome addition. The Jorge’s Margarita, on the rocks in a very tall pilsner-style glass, is a refreshing treat.
Location/info: 6693 Folsom-Auburn Road, Folsom. 650-740-2563, limonesalrestaurant.com.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
Taco rating: 2.5 stars
Taqueria El Balcon
The area around Manzanita and Madison used to be a culinary desert, but it’s improving and El Balcon, big and brand-new, is a great stop if you’re in the area. Soft tacos were generously topped, especially with spicy salsa: bright green on the lengua, earthy roasted red salsa on carnitas. Crispy tacos – fried in-house, as with with all the crispy tacos in this roundup – were likewise very generously stuffed, with lots of crunchy lettuce and savory meat. There’s an expansive menu of other choices, including tangy chile verde, slightly tough carne asada plates and much more, and a friendly vibe, making El Balcon a solid contender.
Location/info: 5800 Madison Ave., Sacramento, 916-514-0119.
Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.
Taco rating: Three stars.
Several readers have written to tell me of their love for Cantina Azteca, a casual offshoot of family-owned Carmichael staple Rey Azteca. It’s a funky little place, with loyal regulars thanks to a standard American breakfast menu (think jelly packs on the table) mashed up with a taqueria and juice bar. There’s a full bar, cushy booths and eclectic sports on the TVs; I saw women’s curling. Some of the taco options are unusual mashups, too: tacos alambres are soft tacos with cheese, steak, smoky bacon and sweet peppers. The tacos judos have soft flour tortillas, fresh lettuce and tomatoes, and a hefty portion of the braised style of carnitas, redolent of orange and bay leaf. I liked them best spiked with the extra-hot salsa from the very worthy salsa bar. Don’t miss the inventive fresh juices; I loved the Fruit Spin with strawberry, pineapple, orange and mint. This place is a bit of an odd duck among taquerias, but it has an idiosyncratic charm that made me understand those readers’ loyalty.
Location/info: 6400 Fair Oaks Boulevard, Carmichael; 916-993-8411; reyaztecabreakfast.com.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Taco rating: 2.5 stars
Cocina Dona Chuyita
No relation to Don Chuy, this unassuming place was named for the owner’s grandmother and has been dishing up excellent tacos dorados and street tacos for a few years. It’s hiding in plain sight on Jefferson in West Sacramento. A word on crispy tacos, or tacos dorados: I’ve heard the occasional sneer at crispy tacos as inauthentic (a vexed concept in any case), and soft tacos get more love these days. But “golden,” or tacos dorado, are a legit and delicious style, so don’t let Big Soft Taco or a fear of supermarket-style extruded crunchy shells scare you off from ordering tacos dorado. At Cocina Dona Chuyita, the barbacoa was particularly strong. Spicy chorizo soft tacos were also winners. The chips and salsa bar were a touch disappointing, as was a handmade huarache topped with carne asada but missing other toppings. That said, this is my new go-to taco stop in West Sac.
Location/info: 1035 Drever St., West Sacramento, 916-572-0066, cocinadonachuyitaca.com.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
Taco rating: Three stars.
Dona Mari Cocinita
All right, I admit this one nudges the boundaries of what I said we’d cover here. But it’s worth breaking the rules a little! Dona Mari Cocinita is not a restaurant, strictly speaking, but a larger-than-usual food stand, just south of Christian Brothers High School on Martin Luther King Boulevard. Like Don Chuy, it’s very new and Instagram friendly, and it’s drawing throngs during its limited hours. Go early because the wait can be punishing. On a recent rainy Friday, however, I rolled up as they opened and waited happily for tacos under their tents – all the more happily because the cook offered tastes of the rich birria and carne asada while I waited. Menu items here change often, but never shy away from fat and flavor, as with a huge, righteously messy pambazo bursting with chorizo con papas. Tacos are more restrained, but still loaded with meat, including a standout al pastor. Don’t pass up the silky homemade horchata. Note that they’re open until midnight and I can’t imagine a better close to a possibly boozy night than one of their just-greasy-enough mulitas edged with crunchy fried cheese.
Location/info: 4549 Martin Luther King Junior Blvd., 916-504-6696,.
Hours: 5 p.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday, 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.
Taco rating: 3.5 stars
El Bramido Mexican Restaurant and Bar
Unpretentious and excellent, this busy North Sacramento place has a down-to-earth vibe. It also has a packed, soccer-blaring full bar with a gargantuan house margarita that could knock you flat. Happily, the deep-flavored lengua and al pastor tacos in just-toasted soft tortillas could pick you right back up again. Everything I tried here was good. There are crunchy-edged carnitas, crispy tacos toasted to a golden-brown crunchy on the griddle and dusted with tangy parmesan, breakfast all day, tons of mariscos and punchy salsas as well as good golden chips at the salsa bar. Even the taco salad – that much-maligned Americanized dish – comes in a perfect just-fried, crunchy, golden tortilla shell. I can vouch that even if El Bramido is your eighth stop on a taco tour, its food is strong enough that you won’t want to stop eating until you leave. And then when you get out the door, you find the coup de grace: a churro stand with the cinnamon-sugar-coated cylinders fried and filled to order with vanilla cream, strawberry or caramel. Are churros excessive after dozens of tacos? You bet. Should you, or anyone, skip them? Heck no.
Location/info: 2394 Northgate Blvd., Sacramento; 916-565-1552.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily.
Taco rating: 4 stars.