So much of what we consider haute cuisine is really just dressed-up working-class grub, the handheld quick lunches and filling, starchy dinners our great-grandparents wolfed down after the shift-change whistle blew. That’s how tacos started—with, food historians have theorized, 18th-century silver miners in Mexico. They brought tacos with them to the United States in the early 20th century, and postwar families worked taco night into the week’s family dinner rotation.
But the venerable, original Mexican “street taco” persisted, and eventually, restaurateurs and food truckers figured out the taco was a fine launchpad for all manner of variations: You can put just about anything in a tortilla—Tuna! Ice cream! Cow tongue! Tabbouleh!—and serve it as a meal. That food trend (along with every other) has blossomed in Charlotte over the last decade, and we decided it was time for a representative sample of what we have: traditional tacos, nontraditional tacos, and the margarita options that go best with the tacos. Sample, mix, match, enjoy. The choice of flour or corn tortilla is all yours.
El Toro Bruto
Chorizo breakfast taco
It comes out fresh and hot, wrapped in wax paper and foil to protect the hot freshness in case you’re getting it to go. But on a weekday morning, Resident Culture Brewing Company in South End is a pleasant place to kick back with a coffee and your laptop, sift through your emails, and sink your incisors into Chef Hector González-Mora’s breakfast tacos. Order from the counter-service kitchen next to Killer Coffee. Sunlight streams in, flanneled professionals tap away at their MacBooks, and on pastel small plates come warm, handmade flour tortillas that contain scrambled eggs, griddled cheese, onions, peppers, and hash browns. You can go meatless or choose bistec, barbacoa, chorizo, or bacon. All good, but chorizo demonstrates the full commitment. The smell is heavenly, and each bite is dense and layered. If you’re really hungry, take care not to accidentally bite into the tortilla-colored wax paper. 332 W. Bland St., Ste. C (inside Resident Culture Brewing Company)
Las Margaritas Mexican Restaurant
4 for $18.65
When you walk into Las Margaritas, in a beige strip mall off East Independence Boulevard, you’d better be either really hungry or ready to share. The restaurant’s Steak Tacos come four-to-an-order on a serving platter, and each taco overflows with juicy, diced grilled steak. True to the authentic street taco, they’re served on soft corn tortillas and topped with diced raw white onion and plenty of cilantro. If you like your tacos with a kick, ask for the housemade hot sauce. Oh, and do not disregard the whole charred jalapeño and grilled green onions as frivolous garnish. They earn their places on the plate. 4426 E. Independence Blvd.
Pollo street tacos
They’re really more gas-station-parking-lot-off-I-77 tacos. On weekdays, the green-and-orange food truck parks next to the hedgerow at the edge of the Cashion’s Quik Stop property near Exit 28 in Cornelius. Would you like to see a menu? Yes, you would, and will; it’s painted on the truck, with photos and everything. The business logo is a four-wheeled cartoon taco that wears a Pancho Villa mustache, broad grin, and sombrero. It is thoroughly ridiculous and an undeniable indicator of taco quality. We could ride around the block all day and discuss what constitutes an “authentic” street taco, but here’s what you get from Taco Mobile: 12 varieties—including lengua (beef tongue) and cabeza (cow’s head)!—served hot on fresh tortillas with a mixture of onion, radish, and cilantro, plus lime wedges and small plastic cups of salsa verde. (We’re going with the pollo as a default to accommodate a broad range of palates, but you really should explore the options.) The tacos come in Styrofoam containers in plastic bags handy for disposal of the morsels that drop as you bite. Anything more authentic would have to come from the other side of the Rio Grande. 19733 Statesville Road, Cornelius
A taco the size of a machete? Count us in. Taqueria Medina owner Chris Medina began selling tacos from a truck of the same name in 2011, around the time food trucks were first gaining popularity in Charlotte. In March 2022, tired of dealing with permitting issues for the truck, he opened a brick-and-mortar shop near the intersection of Kilborne and Eastway drives. With just six metal tables, the counter-service restaurant does mostly to-go orders. You won’t care when you behold the Campechano Machete: an 18-inch, oblong corn tortilla packed with cheese, beans, and a mix of carne asada and chorizo, and grilled on a flat-top. (You can also get it with just chorizo, carne asada, pollo, or al pastor.) Taqueria Medina started offering the Machete only in early 2023, when a longtime employee from Michoacán, Mexico, where the Machete taco is popular, suggested they add it to the menu. Making the massive tortillas requires a special tortilla press, so Medina enlisted a local blacksmith to make one for them. When you order a Machete to-go, it’s cut in half and snuggled up inside a Styrofoam takeout container with a side of lettuce, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, and a plastic ramekin of homemade red or green salsa. 2120 Kilborne Drive
Taco de Asada
Ten years before La Caseta opened in Camp North End, Raydal Hospitality Group established Three Amigos and Sabor Latin Street Grill as go-to joints for tacos in Charlotte. La Caseta builds on that foundation with street foods from distinct Latin cultures. Owners Dalton and Miriam Espaillat, originally from the Dominican Republic and El Salvador, name the country of origin alongside each dish on the menu. The Taco de Asada is specific not to a country but a city, Tijuana: The handmade corn tortilla is packed with grilled flap steak, cilantro, onion, an avocado salsa, and chimol, a Central American roasted veggie salsa. It’s akin to what you’d find in Las Ahumaderas, Tijuana’s “Taco Alley,” a collective of street food vendors. 1801 N. Graham St., Ste. 203 (Camp North End)
The hashtag #birriatacos has more than 1.2 billion TikTok views for good reason. These cheesy, braised beef tacos are one of the sexiest street foods you’ll ever encounter. Tacos Rick-O owner Ricky Ortiz, a native of Durango, Mexico, slings these stunners six days a week at Hoppin’ Charlotte’s South End taproom, where his food truck is permanently parked. Ortiz soaks corn tortillas in the broth from Mexican beef birria stew before he pan-fries them with meat and cheese inside, which makes their exteriors crispy. The gleaming orange tacos come three-to-an-order with a cup of consommé, a thick broth for dipping. The tortillas absorb all the flavors from the broth yet remain surprisingly crisp. The first bite is magical, and that cheese pull is totally worth capturing on your iPhone. 1402 Winnifred St.
Taqueria Mal Pan
Cochinita Pibil Taco
$10.75 for one taco, $15.25 for two
Owner Andre Lomeli and his team give their tortillas the proper treatment. They boil, grind, and mix the blue corn into fresh masa to make these beauties every day, giving them a sweeter, nuttier taste than white or yellow varieties. Then they stuff them with Yucatán-style braised pork marinated in “recado rojo,” their special mix of 15 spices. It gets better. They top them with fried plantains (!!), red onion escabeche (Mexican pickled onions), guacamole (obvi), and xni-pek Doña Maria (a Yucatán salsa). The result is soft and savory with a punch of sweetness and just a hint of citrus. It covers all food groups and flavor profiles. 4625 Piedmont Row Drive, Ste. 115D
Como en Mexico
Como en Mexico is in a small strip mall by the intersection of East Sugar Creek Road and The Plaza, sandwiched between a sign shop and a botánica (a religious goods and natural medicines store). It has only a few tables—often a sign of worthy tacos. Como en Mexico’s chicharrones are stewed with tomatoes and chiles and served on soft corn tortillas with finely chopped onions and cilantro. They’re nothing like the processed pork skins on grocery store and gas station shelves. These skins have chunks of meat attached, and everything’s so soft, it practically melts in your mouth. Ask for salsa verde for mild spice or salsa roja for a punch of heat. 1125 E. Sugar Creek Road, Ste. E
Chana Masala Taco
$4.50 each (or $14 for three with a drink)
Another truck that’s been rolling around since Charlotte’s early food truck days, Tin Kitchen slings tacos, quesadillas, nachos, and sliders. Five years after it opened in 2010, its first truck was featured on the Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Today, Tin Kitchen has two trucks, which park at breweries, events, parks, and more. Peep its Instagram or Facebook page to find out where it’ll be next, then head over to order an unexpected menu delight: the Chana Masala Taco, with stewed chickpeas in a coconut curry sauce, apricot-date couscous, crumbled goat cheese, and scallions. Owner David Stuck “wanted to do a vegetarian option—something different, something more than just a few vegetables thrown in a tortilla,” says Diana Anthony, Tin Kitchen’s catering and operations manager. “And there are so many great vegetarian Indian dishes out there, so he just thought, Why not put one in a taco?” @tinkitchen
Umami PokéRito treats a crispy wonton like a taco shell and fills it with chunks of spicy ahi tuna, avocado, and radish, then tops it with spicy mayo, a drizzle of eel sauce, and cilantro. Be prepared for a few rogue wonton flakes as you bite into that shell—and keep some napkins ready to catch stray eel sauce. Once you get to that meaty tuna steak and smooth avocado, though, you won’t care. This taco is a little bit of everything: savory, spicy, fresh, cool, and creamy. The poke bowls at this south Charlotte counter-service joint may get customers in the door, but don’t sleep on this appetizer. 7510 Pineville-Matthews Road, Ste. 5A
Kibbeh Pita Tacos
Executive Chef Shai Fargian had the genius idea to treat Yafo’s warm, fluffy pita bread like a tortilla and fill it with spiced ground lamb, pine nuts, Shai-lula hot sauce, tahini, and sumac onions. These taco-pita hybrids look tidy enough until you bite into one and the savory drippings run down your chin. Just go with it—that’s what napkins are for. The spiced ground meat, popular in Middle Eastern cuisine, is like caffeine for your taste buds. It’s rich and salty with some nuttiness from the wheat and pine nuts. The Shai-lula gives it some extra heat, but the creamy tahini keeps it from kicking you in the teeth. They are hearty, filling, and anything but bland. Multiple locations
Beer Battered Cauliflower Taco
We wouldn’t ordinarily include a national restaurant chain in this lineup, but Velvet Taco—a Dallas-based fast-casual joint with three Charlotte locations—offers a vegetarian taco that doesn’t taste vegetarian: the Beer Battered Cauliflower Taco. Served on a flour tortilla, the taco overflows with crispy beer-battered cauliflower, queso blanco, Texas Pete ¡Sabor! hot sauce, avocado-corn pico, and crushed candied pepitas. Herbivorous or not, grab a stack of napkins and dive in. Multiple locations
MOA Korean BBQ
Spicy Pork Korean Tacos
If you dine at this Korean barbecue restaurant, we recommend (what else?) the tacos. MOA Korean BBQ owner Sean Kim served his Korean barbecued meats in tortillas at his first restaurant, 929 Kitchen & Bar, which he still operates in downtown Columbia. “When I opened it, it was mainly 90% traditional Korean dishes,” Kim says, “but I added some twists.” He marinates the taco’s proteins—beef or chicken bulgogi, spicy pork, or tofu—in traditional Korean ingredients like garlic, ginger, brown sugar, sesame, and soy sauce. The spicy pork has a sweet heat, cooled by the bed of iceberg lettuce, homemade pico de gallo, and sour cream, wrapped in a flour tortilla and topped with shredded cheddar and a lattice of spicy mayo. The tacos are served three to an order on a stainless-steel taco holder with a generous side of addictive, crispy Parmesan truffle fries. 128 S. Tryon St.
Cabo Fish Taco
Soy Ginger Shrimp Tacos
Tacos are popular in part because tortillas, it turns out, are ideal delivery systems for many foods: Whatever meal you fancy, you can whip up a pocket version, spatula it hot into a tortilla, and looky here, you have a (dish name here) taco. The Soy Ginger Shrimp Tacos at this NoDa anchor are like a handheld version of potstickers—the sauce, green onions, and sesame seeds add a sweet tang to the plump, beer-battered shrimp that rest atop lettuce and tomato on a fried flour tortilla. (You can get it on a corn tortilla if you react poorly to gluten.) The texture is—yes, this sounds strange—pillowy, with just a hint of crunch. When summer hits and you’re dragging your sweaty limbs around town, you want something on the airy side of the menu. 3201 N. Davidson St.
Recommendations from Charlotteans who know their tortillas and toppings
El Rinconcito Chilango Taqueria
Tacos de Suadero
“This place uses only ingredients from Mexico,” Betancur, a native of Colombia, says from a counter stool at the tiny restaurant. His go-to order is Tacos de Suadero, made from a smooth cut of beef just above the flank that U.S. grocery stores typically don’t sell. El Rinconcito Chilango serves suadero on handmade corn tortillas (made with blue corn on the weekends) with onions and cilantro. Betancur advises you to ask for the plump, reddish flor de mayo beans and quesillo, a semi-hard cheese from Oaxaca. “Peel the leaves from the (spring) onion and place it in the taco,” he adds, “then the salsas go over.” Wash it all down with an agua fresca. 1409 Eastway Drive (inside Rodriguez Supermarket) –
Tacos El Nevado
“I’m from Mexico City,” Torres-Weiner says, “so I know tacos.” Quesabirria is like a taco-quesadilla hybrid: stewed meat—usually lamb, beef, or goat—folded into corn tortillas with melted cheese and served with consommé for dipping. Tacos El Nevado serves its quesabirria three-per-order with sides of diced onions, julienne cilantro, habanero-pickled red onions, radish slices, and lime wedges. Torres-Weiner recommends you squeeze the lime into the consommé. “Then, open the tortilla and put the onions and cilantro inside. And dip.” She takes a bite before she reopens her tortilla. “I’m going to add some salsa.” Tacos El Nevado typically makes its quesabirria with beef, but on the weekends, they offer it with lamb. “This is good,” Torres-Weiner says, “but it’s even better with lamb.” 4715 Central Ave.; 4640 South Blvd.
Tacos El Regio
Tacos de Trompo
Valdez, born in Acapulco, has the occasional urge for tacos al pastor—a style of sliced pork that Lebanese immigrants helped introduce to Mexico in the late 19th century. (The meat is spit-grilled, like shawarma, on a vertical rotisserie called a “trompo,” thus the name.) Genuine al pastor “is hard to find in the United States. People usually just marinate and cook the pork instead of using the trompo,” Valdez says. “When I’m craving al pastor—I rarely eat it in the U.S. because it’s so hard to find—that’s probably the closest to what I can find in Mexico.” 8829 E. W.T. Harris Blvd.; 813 E. Roosevelt Blvd., Monroe
Taqueria Mal Pan
Sweet Potato Tacos
It was 2020, at the low point of lockdown. Strimling, a Mexico City native who’s lived in the Charlotte area for two decades, and his then-girlfriend decided they needed to eat out, even if it meant just picking up. They looked for places nearby and found Taqueria Mal Pan, which impressed them both with its eclecticism and quality. “The steak is very good, the chicken is very good. But the sweet potato—it’s something I’d never tried before,” Strimling says. “The flavors feel very authentic. The tortillas they use, the texture, it’s hard to find tortillas like that in Charlotte. They’re housemade, and sometimes they use blue corn—(I love) everything about them.” 4625 Piedmont Row Drive, Ste. 115D
Why have one margarita when you can have four? Birritaco serves margarita flights, each with four 12-ounce margs on a chalk-labeled flight board. Choose from 21 homemade flavors that range from horchata, coconut, and spicy mango to dragon fruit, grape, and passion fruit. (Our faves: blood orange and desert pear.) Each flavor is mixed with house reposado tequila, house margarita mix, and triple sec. For the rim, pick from salt, sugar, or chamoy and Tajín. You can also elevate your flight with any of Birritaco’s 125 bottles of tequila. You’re no novice—order some Birria Tacos or Pizza Birria to soak up all that tequila. 228 Cabarrus Ave. W, Concord
Calle Sol Café & Cevicheria
This one’s not on the menu. But if you ask for a spicy marg at Calle Sol, they’ll take their classic Margarita With No Name and add muddled rocoto chile peppers, which turn the drink sunset-orange and give it the optimum amount of kick: enough to party but not enough to make you aspirate while trying to swallow. (We’re not saying it should be named The Charlotte Mag-arita, but we’re also not saying it shouldn’t.) 1205 Thomas Ave.
Casa del Tequila
The name means “casseroles.” Hmm. Fear not. It’s in the presentation. This light, refreshing drink comes in a clay casserole dish adorned with images of citrus fruits. A cazuela is a traditional Mexican cocktail meant to be passed around the family table. We’re not sure we’d be able to share. With blanco tequila, grapefruit, lemon, and lime juices and a splash of Fresca, Casa del Tequila’s version is a no-added-sugar alternative to a skinny margarita. There’s a reason it’s a staff favorite in a place whose name means “House of Tequila.” 14815 Ballantyne Village Way
It starts with an internal taste test in mid-to-late May. After the Taco Mama team agrees the watermelons are at peak sweetness, they’ll launch this seasonal favorite, which is typically available from June through August. This made-from-scratch ’rita combines blanco tequila, muddled watermelon cubes, freshly squeezed lime juice, a splash of soda water, and a salt or sugar rim (that part’s up to you). It’s tart, fruity, and the prettiest shade of pink—like summer in a cup. Or a pitcher, if we’re being honest. 2452 Park Road, Ste. C