With Cinco de Mayo just around the corner, it's time to talk tacos (and burritos, oxtail soup, and pork belly products, etc.). In anticipation of the holiday and as part of the countdown to New Times' annual Best Of issue, we've put together a list of ten of the best places for Mexican food in Broward and Palm Beach counties. This represents a cross section of styles and price points, but we'd love to hear from you: Who did we miss, and who do you think belongs on this list?
1. Tacos al Carbon
A perennial winner, this roadside attraction serves some of the most vaunted, zero-frills Mexican food found in South Florida. With the place open around the clock to feed the masses, you can't go wrong with a lunchtime taco -- with familiar fillings like grilled chicken or the slightly more adventurous beef tongue or pork skin -- or a late-night burrito made with a fresh flour tortilla and fillings of grilled steak. The roasted corn on the cob, smothered in a creamy, spicy dressing, is not to be missed.
2. Alegria Tacos
Kitsch-free and underpriced, this authentic restaurant provides its crowd of regulars with a steady supply of low-priced tacos, burritos, tamales, menudo, and platters of beans and rice. As is typical with many of the better independent ethnic restaurants in town, this is the sort of place you'd drive by without a second glance. The food -- from the chicken enchilada to the chorizo taco -- should convince you to double back.
This highly decorated, Zagat-rated restaurant doesn't deal in $2 taco Tuesdays or burritos the size of your dinner plate. With entrées priced $24 to $36, this is a spot to steer your date when you're looking to impress or, better yet, when they're willing to pay. Main fare includes dishes like rubbed loin of pork medallions or slow-roasted duckling with a spicy guava syrup and cinnamon-poached pear compote. The oeuvre is an amalgam of Mexican ingredients and European techniques.
4. Zona Fresca
Fast, cheap, and -- as the "fresca" moniker would suggest -- fresh. This popular spot practically has a cult following flocking to locations in Fort Lauderdale, Plantation, and most recently Pompano Beach. Fish tacos are typically a can't-lose proposition at this restaurant. They're made with a thick cut of white fish and nestled between two soft corn tortillas and dressed with cabbage, among other toppings. The salsa is made daily and deserves a spot on your plate.
5. Taqueria Dona Raquel
Certainly not located in the most scenic area of town, this authentic little joint is worth the detour into the auto repair/light industrial hub of Pompano Beach. Try an al pastor pork taco with grilled pineapple or enchiladas with fresh-made sauce. You won't pay much for the meal, despite the made-just-for-you quality. Spanish is the primary language spoken and on the menu, but even if you aren't fluent, there are translations of all dishes available, and the staff will do what they can to make sure you walk away happy.
If all this little taco store had going for it was the somewhat tongue-in-cheek Mexican wrestling shtick, it may be considered a novelty. Fortunately, there's plenty of culinary clout to back up the restaurant's colorful personality. Their brand of "hardcore Mexican street food" encapsulates a well-curated list of tacos, quesadillas, tortas, and plates with an assortment of drinks that features sangria (including a seasonal variety), craft beers, Mexican soda, and imported beer. A few notes about specials: They pop up on a regular basis, they often feature pork belly, and they are generally a "must order."
7. El Guanaco Taqueria y Antojitos
It's not strictly Mexican -- and in fact boasts plenty of Salvadoran dishes -- but it is strictly tasty. The made-to-order corn tortillas are indicative of the fresh-first theme of this small, independent restaurant. Certainly don't pass up the fresh juices (the tamarind is delicious) to wash down the pupusas, another must-order item. The prices are positively rock-bottom, and daily specials include traditional favorites like tripe soup and stewed oxtail.
8. Casa Maya Grill
With a focus on cuisine from the Yucatan Peninsula, this cozy spot by owner Emilio Dominguez shuns frozen and reheated ingredients for real food prepared in mostly traditional methods. The dining room can be a romantic enough setting, but outdoor seats also are available. You'll find a mix of ultrafamiliar fare like quesadillas and nachos, plus less-traveled (at least in South Florida) dishes like codzitos and poc chuc (sour orange-marinated pork loin) fajitas.
Purists can turn their noses up all they want; that just means more tacos for everyone else. This is a popular food truck that typically patrols southwest Fort Lauderdale and is a frequent fixture at truck rallies and other mobile cuisine affairs. Items like the baja fish taco are a nod to SoCal, and the laid-back attitude certainly sweetens the California-dreaming vibe. Be sure to try the aptly named chronic ginger lemonade.
10. Baja Café
Painted in a wash of Crayola-bright hues and surrounded by a minijungle of tropical foliage, this midday getaway is the perfect place to run when you need to guzzle some margaritas on your lunch break without fear of being spotted by a coworker. The outdoor patio is the ideal spot to tuck into plates of burritos or tacos and possibly one of several dozen varieties of tequila. If you like a little heat with your lunch, order the Satan's Revenge or, better yet, the rattlesnake burrito.
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