NATIONAL TACO DAY: TASTING TUSCALOOSA’S TOP TACOS
For some unknown reason, National Taco Day isn’t on a Tuesday this year. Somehow, the taco powers that be missed an opportunity for the national holiday to coincide with Lebron James’ favorite day of the week. Not only were the marketing options limitless, but everybody could have enjoyed a celebratory taco on the day with which it is most closely associated. Instead, National Taco Day falls on today, Friday, Oct. 4.
Nonetheless, fellow WVUA 23 reporter Savannah Bullard and I decided to track down the best tacos in Tuscaloosa, to give you, our cherished readers, direction in where you should go to commemorate one of the most important (and delicious) days of the year.
Here’s what we discovered on our taco trek:
Let’s Taco Bout Our Contenders
Just like we did with our burger taste test, we tried to choose local restaurants only. Despite this rule, we allowed Taco Bell to sneak into the competition, probably just because Savannah was craving a Baja Blast. Besides T-Bell, all of our contenders are tacos that you can only get in Alabama. Including local favorite Taco Casa was a no brainer. The self-proclaimed “biggest cactus in town” has become a cult favorite and we wanted to see if it deserves such a loyal, rabid following. We also included a cult favorite of a different kind: Taco Mama. The official taco spot of sorority girls everywhere, Taco Mama is a trendy locale with a reputation for having tasty food and a sweet atmosphere. On the opposite end of the spectrum from Taco Mama is Antojitos Izcalli, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that serves authentic Mexican cuisine with no frills, not that it would need them. The final contender was Jalapeños, a local sit-down restaurant renowned for its great margarita deals and generous helpings.
DISCLAIMER: This taco taste test is not a referendum on these restaurants’ entire menus. We realize that many people order burritos, nachos or whatever else from these fine establishments, but it wasn’t National Chalupa Day, so we stuck with each restaurant’s basic taco.
Paying the Price
One of the best things about tacos is their price. All of the restaurants we tried offered tacos for under $10, with most coming in at under $5.
- Taco Bell – The epitome of cheap Mexican food, a Taco Bell taco costs $1.29.
- Taco Casa – Even though it is a chain local to Alabama, Taco Casa almost matches Taco Bell’s price with a taco costing $1.42.
- Antojitos Izcalli – Although Antojitos couldn’t beat Taco Bell or Taco Casa, at $2.65 a taco, it’s still an exceptional price.
- Jalapenos – While you’ll pay $5.99 at Jalapenos, you’ll receive three tacos in your order.
- Taco Mama – Taco Mama was the most expensive, coming in at $8.00 for two tacos, chips, salsa and a side (we chose queso because of course we did).
The Taste Test
Over the course of our taste test, Savannah and I realized that our preferences in tacos differ.
Ben – I’d heard great things about Antojitos Izcalli and they didn’t disappoint, claiming my top spot by delivering a taco with seriously delicious beef. The perfectly-seasoned beef was nestled against a handmade tortilla and accompanied by generous portions of cilantro and onions. The taco also came with a delightful salsa verde for dipping or direct application.
Ben’s rating: 4.25/5
Savannah – Like Ben said, Antojitos Izcalli is the real deal. I was absolutely blown away by the beef and how well it was seasoned. While I loved how the tortilla was handmade and fresh, it lacked a familiar flavor that I may only be used to because I’ve never a tortilla that’s that authentic. The cilantro and onions were delightful and that salsa verde was killer. I even used the salsa verde for some of the other tacos on this list. Sacreligious? Maybe. Genius? Absolutely.
Savannah’s rating: 4/5
Ben – I was pleasantly surprised to see how similar Jalapeños’ tacos were to those from Antojitos Izcalli. They were constructed almost identically, having handmade tortillas, cilantro and onions. While the beef on the tacos from Antojitos packed a greater punch, the tortilla from Jalapenos may have been the best tortilla we tried.
Ben’s rating: 4/5
Savannah – The Perfect TacoTM for me would be Jalapeños’ tortilla and cuts of beef with Antojitos’ mad seasoning skills and salsa verde. Jalapeños does not skimp on the cut and quantity of their beef and while it was seasoned very well, Antojitos’ was just seasoned better. The cilantro and onions, again, were lovely and the tortilla was phenomenally homemade and fresh. By the end I was sneaking Antojitos’ salsa verde into a couple of bites that made for the best bites of the night. I have to tie the two for first.
Savannah’s rating: 4/5
The Middle Child
Ben – I’ll admit it. I’ve never been a big Taco Mama fan. But the queso that came with our tacos made me a believer. However, we were on a quest to find the best taco, not queso, so I’ll stick to ranking only that. Taco Mama’s taco is a classier version of a soft shell taco from Taco Bell, containing much fresher ingredients and more flavor.
Ben’s rating: 3.25/5
Savannah – Alternatively, I am a total Taco Mama STAN. I love those guys, and being from Huntsville, Alabama, our love affair began long before I came to college at UA. That being said, a classic beef taco from this establishment really did not do it for me. It honestly does just taste like a fresher Taco Bell taco inside a sturdier tortilla. So instead of hating on my faves at T-Mama, I instead encourage you lovely readers to order the shrimp soft tacos with cilantro-lime rice, grilled onions, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and queso fresco. Now THAT is a superb taco. Also, this taco order came with amazing chips, salsa AND queso, so you have to give them love for that.
Savannah’s rating: 3.5/5 for the taco I ate, 5/5 for the taco I recommend
Penultimately Near the Bottom
Ben – As much as I wanted to order a quesarito when we pulled into the Taco Bell drive-thru, I surprisingly had enough self-control to only order tacos. And when I bit into my hard-shelled Taco Bell taco, I immediately wished I hadn’t used self-restraint. Not that the Taco Bell taco was terrible, it was just exactly what I expected it to be – a basic, eat it before it gets cold, taco.
Ben’s rating: 2.5/5
Savannah – It’s true. I did just want a Baja Blast. But, I tend to agree with Ben on this one, too. Taco Bell is great because it is there for you when you need it the most (for me, that may be at 2 a.m. after I’m leaving the library with fewer brain cells than when I had arrived). But in terms of quality and enjoyment, it leaves me either regretting I ate it or wanting something more from it that I know I’m never going to get. Ben prefers hard shell and I prefer soft, so we got one of each. It was a little comical watching his shell collapse in his hands as untrustworthy-seasoned beef narrowly missed his white shirt, but I couldn’t help but feel for him in that moment. The Baja Blast was great, though.
Savannah’s rating: 2.5/5
That Ain’t It, Chief
Ben – Before Tuscaloosa locals break out the pitchforks and torches, I would like to clarify that I wasn’t born in the Druid City. Therefore, I was not born with taste buds that can fully appreciate Taco Casa’s tacos. With that being said, I was far from dazzled by the “biggest cactus in town.”
Ben’s rating: 2/5
Savannah – OK look guys, Ben and I discussed it and we decided I’ll take one for the team with this one. Taco Casa is not good. No, we didn’t get adventurous and try a taco burger or messy nachos or whatever, but I didn’t even finish the soft taco I was given, and Ben didn’t finish his hard-shell. First of all, the mild sauce should be illegal, and my taco was practically swimming in it. Second of all, the taco itself is extremely similar to a T-Bell taco, just…somehow…worse. I don’t know. I wasn’t here for it. Why do y’all only put one huge wedge of tomato on your tacos? Why not diced? It’s weird! Maybe it’s because I wasn’t born in the 205, but Taco Casa will probably never do it for me. Sorry guys. Y’all have cute t-shirts and really tasty sweet tea, though.
Savannah’s rating: 1/5
FOLLOW WVUA 23:
Every day should be National Taco Day in our book, but since it can’t be, we really enjoyed ripping the roads of Tuscaloosa to find a good, old-fashioned taco.
It’s unfortunate that we could not hit every spot in T-Town (we even passed a great number of holes-in-the-wall that almost looked too enticing to pass up) but the five we did choose to highlight offered a great perspective on our personal tastes and standards for what truly makes a good taco.
Where is your favorite taco spot? And, what National Food Day do you want to see us highlight next? Sound off on social media and let us know!