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In Which We Explore The Wide Wide World Of Tacos

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Tacos
James/Flickr

Humble street food or high art? Tacos turn a corner

There was a time in American life when "taco" was associated the u-shaped, crispy, yellow tortilla shells, that seemed designed to shatter into a dozen small pieces as soon as you bit into one end of the taco. Those were unhappy times....

These days, taquerias are ubiquitous across Las Vegas. And unusual fillings abound: barbecued pork, marinated Korean bulgogi and kimchee, and goat cooked in banana leaves.

You might even say that a taco snobbery can be found in some circles. which would be annoying if we were talking about wine, or French food. But taco snobbery is happy news for all of us, because it means that there are more places serving tacos with fresh, tasty ingredients.

And a taco, well-made, can be a sublime and delectable experience. Bundles of seasoned, often braised meat, sprinkled with fresh toppings, and served in an edible wrapping…what could be more convenient?

One could evangelize about the virtues of the taco at length. And Jay Jara, the owner of Los Tacos, will.

Jara learned Mexican cooking from his father and grandmother. In fact, Jara's father runs La Tacqueria, which awarded “best Burrito” by Nate Silver’s data-crunching website, 538.

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Jara serves his tacos with same attention to detail found at his father's restaraunt in San Francisco's Mission District. They're more abundant with fillings than taco-stand tacos. Jara uses all fresh ingredients, including white Peruvian beans. He cooks over an open flame.

Chris Palmeri is chef/owner of Naked City Pizza in Las Vegas, where he serves specialty tacos once a month, including the chivo taco--goat meat wrapped in banana leaves and slow cooked until the meat falls off the bone.

Palmeri ran a Mexican restaurant, beloved by critics and patrons alike, that closed last year because of a lease problem: Desnudos Tacos.

But years ago, Palmeri was the head chef at Diego at the MGM Grand, where he learned from the legendary Rick Bayless.

If you are trying to up your taco game at home, focus on the preparation of the meat, Palmeri says. Cook lower-cuts over slow wet heat, pull it off the bone, and then fry it to add some crisiness before putting it in the taco.

Food critic Al Mancini gives a thumbs up to Border Grill, Los Antojos, and Tacos El Gordo. He also will order the duck tacos at Sammy's Woodfired Pizza. Who knew?

Some of the best tacos in Las Vegas.

Try the Tacos Adobada, pineapple-roasted pork, sliced off the rotisserie and smothered in green sauce, at Tacos El Gordo, the Tijuana chain that opened in Las Vegas several years ago. The El Gordo on east Charleston often has long lines at 11 p.m. on a weeknight.

Just next door at Los Tacos, get the chicken taco, served with white Peruvian beans, sour cream, and pulled chicken on a tortilla that is elastic, chewy and fresh. Don't miss the seafood cocktail, served with shrimp, oysters and octopus.

You might miss Los Antojos, a narrow shop in a strip mall at the corner Eastern Avenue and Sahara Avenue, but when you find it, enjoy the beef tacos -- carne asada or suadero, especially with a bowl of Consomee Loco, a soup served with shredded chicken, rice, slice avocado, and cilantro in a clear broth.

For an upscale experience, try Border Grill at Mandalay Bay.

Taco fusion? There's the happy marriage of Korean and Mexican cuisine at Komex Fusion.

 

Guests

Jay Jara, owner, Los Tacos; Christopher Palmeri, owner, Naked City Pizza; Al Mancini, food critic for almancini.net and VegasSeven Magazine.

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