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Taco the town

Photos and graphic by Brent Holmes

LAS VEGAS HAS a lot of things worth loving, but few measure up to our taco scene. From the transcontinental mashups at KoMex to the hardcore traditional flavors of Tacos el Gordo, we run the gamut of delicious small tortillas filled with joy. I’m not foolhardy enough to attempt an in-depth list, since a new place pops up every other month. Instead, here some small gems old and new that this valley has come to rely on. 

Los Tacos

As an East Coast transplant, I found Los Tacos to be my entry point into the valley’s Mexican cuisine, welcoming me with open arms and two convenient drive-throughs. I could not have asked for a better introduction to West Coast-style tacos: plump and stuffed with crema, beans, cheese, and meat. (This was in 1999, when the East Coast's idea of Mexican food was Taco Bell.) The quality and flavors haven’t diminished. I recommend the buche, but if you can't stomach meat, get the veggie taco, which is packed with bean-and-cheesy goodness. 1710 E. Charleston Blvd. and 4001 W. Sahara Ave.,

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Durango Taco Shop
Everyone knows that if you want good tacos, head to East Las Vegas. This spot way out west is an exception. The folks at Durango Taco Shop put taste to tortillas like no one’s business. While the lengua will have your tongue wagging, and the chicken is nothing to cluck at, for my money the queso birria tacos bring a level of deep, rich flavor I usually experience standing beside food carts in tire-shop parking lots.  7785 N. Durango Drive #105 (additional locations at 9360 W. Flamingo Road #1 and 1380 E. Flamingo Road);

Birria de Res

Speaking of carts in parking lots, please, dear reader, make your way to this spot at East Charleston and 15th. I know the market for birria (a kind of meat stew) is oversaturated, but I can't complain about such a delicious trend. Birria De Res not only serves the beautiful, dippable consommé carafes that constitute a birria taco, it also offers birria ramen (right). Spindly fried noodles straight out the packet, soaking up clean, deep, beef broth flavors, topped with cilantro salsa to lighten things up. Make it your next act of self-care. (No formal contact info; just show up!)

Garden Grill
Though not strictly a taco spot, this plant-based hole-in-the-wall serves up some of the more commendable vegan tacos in the city. The beer-battered avocado tacos deliver spicy, crunchy, and creamy as well as any animal-based version. And the “beef” taco leaves nothing wanting in the flavor department. Pair these with one of the shakes, and you may forget that this food is good for you.  7550 W. Lake Mead Blvd. #8,

Tacos El Compita

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For quality tacoing, I find few in the valley equal to this little grease spot tucked away on West Charleston. While I can't say Tacos El Compita does anything very different in the kitchen or on the plate, on the tongue it’s a winner. The asada (right) is intensely seasoned and melts in your mouth. The al pastor rivals any served citywide. If you are weary of tacos, treat yourself to a plate of chile verde for some refreshing heat. 6118 W. Charleston Blvd., 702-878-0008 (additional locations: 7622 Westcliff Drive and 4455 E. Tropicana Ave.)

The Taco Stand

This California transplant, with its clean, minimal interior and rapid-fire service, feels like what would happen if In-N-Out ran a taco stand. Inauthentic as that sounds, the flavors are anything but. The fried fish taco (right) is a great place to start, the fish crunchy and light on plump corn tortillas and drizzled with a creamy hot sauce. If pescado is too far upstream for you, grab a nopales — the sliced, grilled cactus atop fried cheese offers a lush contrast of textures and flavors. Finish with the fried churros prepared fresh when you order.  3616 Spring Mountain Road, 702-268-8762

Famous Chicago Style Taco Shop

It would take a great deal of text to explain the historic Mexican migration to the Windy City and its effect on the cuisine there. But simple changes like grilled instead of griddled tortillas, and variations in spices and cuts of meat (right) show the subtle differences in style. This chile relleno taco — a little chile stuffed with cheese, then fried — is one of the most enjoyable interpretations of this dish I've come across; it has an explosive effect on the palate. The barbacoa is pretty great, too, whether in a taco or on the aptly named Windy City fries.  3415 W Craig Road, 702-823-2315

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