Features

The pillars of Taco Vegas

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Roberto’s rolled tacos are waiting.
Photo: Jon Estrada

Roberto's Taco Shop

At last count, there are 52 Roberto’s Taco Shops across the Las Vegas Valley, which means I don’t really need to type these words. You already know Roberto’s. It wasn’t founded in Las Vegas, but it’s a true Vegas institution—the place you end up eating after a night of hard partying and drinking. From mountains of fries piled with carne asada and guacamole to tree trunk-sized breakfast burritos, this is the spot for late-night or early-morning eats, whether you’re fighting a hangover or preventing one. And that’s the way it is because Roberto’s is delicious, and because you’re going to see at least one Roberto’s on the way home, no matter which way you’re going.

Roberto’s is the single most prevalent source of Mexican food in Las Vegas, even if family restaurants like Lindo Michoacan, Macayo’s, Ricardo’s and Casa Don Juan (see Page 16) have been around longer. Founder Roberto Robledo, who came to California from central Mexico in 1957 with his wife and seven children, is one of the most influential figures in the business of Mexican food in the region, if not the country. He started with a tortilla factory in 1964, opened his first restaurant in 1968 and launched his first Roberto’s Taco Shop in 1971, eventually expanding to Vegas in 1990. (And yes, all those other San Diego-based taco shops that use the ’berto’s suffix are spinoffs.) Robledo died in Las Vegas in 1999, and today his son Reynaldo—second youngest among 13 kids—runs all the local shops with his brothers and sisters.

Reynaldo Robledo

Roberto’s is known for different things, but it really ought to be for its tremendous tacos—slow-cooked beef or chicken shredded into meaty chunks and stuffed into corn tortillas, then fried and stuffed again with cool lettuce and finely shredded cheese. You can get them in a rice-and-beans combo plate, but there’s no need, because the complimentary spicy red and green salsas and escabeche-style hot pickled carrots are all the extra you’ll need. The crunchy, slightly greasy tacos pretty much explode when you bite them, just like the rolled tacos (classic tacos dorados), cylindrical delights piled in a pyramid shape and decorated with fistfuls of guac and cheese. They’re simple, cheap and really good, no matter the time of day, or whether you know the history of hard work behind the food. Multiple locations, robertostacoshop.com. –BR

Los Tacos

Because it’s headquartered on East Charleston—one street, all the amazing tacos you could ever handle—perhaps Los Tacos doesn’t get the attention it should. Or maybe it’s been around long enough (around 20 years) to be forgotten, even as more authentic “street tacos” have come into culinary fashion. Maybe the name is just too simple. All I know is the tacos at Los Tacos are perfect, occupying the middle ground between the big crunchy stuff and the smaller, double-corn tortilla stuff.

Hit the original at Charleston and Spencer (yes, Tacos El Gordo is right there) or check the newer spot on West Sahara (opened in 2010), but come hungry. One $3 taco could be a meal for the lightweight. Warm tortillas are layered with seemingly too many tasty ingredients, starting with cheese that begins to melt once it hits the tortilla, then whole pinto beans, slow-simmered and savory. Choose your meat next, from tender carne asada and carnitas to spicy chorizo to funky lengua. Fresh pico de gallo, sour cream and guacamole top things off.

The warmy sauciness of the beans adds a hearty, burrito-like element to these tacos, a perfect match for chicken, beef or pork but just as satisfying if you go the vegetarian route; that’s an option that just doesn’t work at a lot of local taco shops. I can’t go to Los Tacos without getting a ceviche tostada, too, and possibly washing it all down with pineapple or mango aguas frescas. But then I can’t eat as many tacos. It’s a tough choice. 1710 E. Charleston Blvd., 702-471-7447; 4001 W. Sahara Ave., 702-252-0100. –BR

Tacos El Gordo

Tacos El Gordo translates literally to “tacos the fat one.” That might not make a lot of sense en inglés, but it couldn’t be more apt considering the kind of heavyweight it has become since breaking onto the Vegas taco scene.

Tacos El Gordo

Originating in Tijuana in 1972, Tacos El Gordo first opened stateside in the late ’90s in San Diego. It didn’t arrive in Nevada until 2010, but by my calculations, seven-plus years in the Valley qualifies El Gordo as a local. I can’t even begin to count the number of meals I’ve eaten here. In my defense, my memory’s somewhat hazy—the original Vegas spot is open until 4 a.m. on weekends, after all. But I can easily recall the moment I first heard of this taco heaven.

In the world’s greatest game of telephone, my hairstylist Angela told me how her boyfriend Chris—then sous chef at Robuchon and now her husband and chef de cuisine at Sage—was working with a team of line cooks, all raving about a ridiculously good but somewhat divey taco joint on East Charleston. She thought I’d dig it. She knows me well.

I immediately fell for the chaotic fervor of the ordering lines, which are less “lines” than “friendly gatherings”—adobada on a spit to the right, carne asada and chorizo atop the grill to the left and every other animal part in the massive cauldron in the center. I don’t have a clue about the arrangement, but it’s obviously intentional, because each of the three current El Gordos is laid out exactly the same way. It can be kind of intimidating for the unfamiliar, but mostly it’s just fun.

Always start with the life-altering, stunningly red adobada—tender pork awash in a red chile and cinnamon-based marinade carved directly off the spit. And always ask for piña. Always. Shift to the left to save some savory suadero (similar to flank steak) from the witch’s brew before finishing your meal with either char-grilled asada or slightly spicy, not too fatty chorizo. Everything gets piled into a duo of fresh, hot, griddled tortillas—textural bliss in every bite.

Enough tacos and you’ll be El Gordo yourself. We all need goals. 1724 E. Charleston Blvd., 702-251-8226; 3049 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702-982-5420; 3260 Losee Road, 702-641-8228. –JB

Taco Y Taco

The second location has been a staple of the Las Vegas Weekly newsroom since it opened three years ago, and despite being situated in a strip mall on busy Eastern Avenue, Taco y Taco is far from the basic suburban fare you’ll find at fast-casual chains.

Sisters Faviola and Gabriela Trujillo, daughters of Los Compadres market owner Flaviano Trujillo, opened the original TYT at Tropicana and Pecos in 2013 before expanding to Henderson in 2014, offering a much larger, two-level space where folks can get their taco game on. Both offer the same traditional Mexican eats, a point of pride that clearly runs in the family.

As at Tacos El Gordo, there are a few rules here you should know upon ordering. Want a burrito or bowl? Step to the side; that queue’s on the left. But if you want tacos—and that’s why you’re reading this, right?—you’ve got three lines from which to choose and a bevy of options. The chicharrón, juicy carnitas topped with pork rinds, is a must-try, as is the beef cabeza. Yes, that translates to cow head, but no, you won’t be eating brains—that’s cesos, if you’re feeling adventurous. Cabeza comes from the cheek and other parts of the animal’s head, delivering some of the most tender and flavorful tacos around.

Whatever you do, don’t feel overwhelmed; trying out new fillings is half the fun. Experiment until you find the one that’s right for you—whether that’s buche or tripas (pork and beef stomach, respectively), lengua (beef tongue) or, another personal favorite, the slow-roasted, marinated pork called pibil. 3430 E. Tropicana Ave., 702-331-3015; 9470 S. Eastern Ave., 702-749-7091. –LV

Komex Fusion

When it comes to tacos, I definitely fall on the side of the traditionalist. But that hasn’t stopped me from devouring some deliciously outside-the-box options, and the best in that spectrum is KoMex Fusion.

Mexican food was always part of the family business for Lynda and Sonny Yi, but the idea for their fusion restaurant was something of an accident. It all started when a customer saw the owners pairing Mexican salsas and condiments with their home-packed Korean lunches, which led to off-menu items that became so popular, real fusion came next. The Yis opened KoMex in 2011, and they’ve been serving their brand of Korean and Mexican cuisine to hungry Las Vegans and curious tourists ever since.

KoMex has been featured on the Cooking Channel’s Taco Trip and written about on Buzzfeed. At $2.25 per taco, it’s easy to get your fill here. Fusion tacos come with your choice of beef, chicken, pork, pork belly or tofu (calamari, fish and shrimp cost 75 cents extra) and are topped with slaw and pico de gallo. There are plenty of other enticing options on the menu, from sliders to a bulgogi torta. I might be a traditionalist, but that won’t stop me from eating fried rice and tacos together at KoMex. 633 N. Decatur Blvd., 702-646-1612; 4155 S. Buffalo Drive, 702-778-5566. –LV

China Poblano

If big, fancy casinos on the Las Vegas Strip are all about fine dining and have no room for simple street food, nobody told José Andrés. The Spanish superchef clearly couldn’t decide if he wanted to create a killer dumpling and noodle spot or the big Vegas version of a taco truck—and that’s how Cosmo got China Poblano.

China Poblano

Once you enter and see the in-house tortilla-making operation, you know you’re in for a holy-sh*t-this-is-great taco experience. There are some wild combinations (duck tongue with lychee, crispy beef tendon with oyster), and the prices are higher than at your neighborhood taco shop, but all the flavors and textures are on point—so much so that an argument could be made that our best tacos come from a Spanish chef in a half-Chinese restaurant. Don’t miss the fried fish with cabbage, pickled onions, ancho chiles and lime mayo; the nopales y queso with cactus, seared queso fresco and salsa molcajete; and the sublime cochinita pibil, the best $5.50 pork taco you’ll ever bite. The Cosmopolitan, 702-698-7900. –BR

Bomb Tacos

It might seem impossible to avoid the roll call of overhyped restaurants on social media—Rainbow This, Unicorn That, you know the deal. But there’s a new taqueria in town, and its name is far from hyperbole. Robert Solano, the former chef at Mundo, Mingo and Olivia’s Latin Cuisine, opened Bomb Tacos earlier this year, and the food lives up to its name.

Each taco on the menu looks just as colorful as the taqueria’s festive décor, almost making it too pretty to eat … almost. Adding to the warm and bright atmosphere is Bomb’s exceptional service, which makes eating there feel cozier than in your average shop. If you’re a first-timer, start with the fried shrimp taco. Topped with a creamy cilantro chile sauce, cabbage, pico de gallo and cheese, it’s bursting with juicy, garlicky goodness.

The al pastor, a regional favorite with roasted pork and pineapple, is a smoky, spicy, sweet vessel of deliciousness that will win the hearts of every meat lover. Bomb Tacos also features interesting vegetarian options, like the robust mushroom tacos, bursting with spices, and the crunchy potato taco, filled with mashed papas and soyrizo and topped with lettuce, pico, guacamole and cotija cheese.

Round out your meal with a large serving of piping-hot rice and beans and some churros with vanilla ice cream for dessert. Everything on the menu is worth trying, but the tacos are truly the bomb. 3655 S. Durango Drive #27, 702-262-0141. –LV

Tacos La Carreta

The first rule of taco trucks is: You see one, you eat some tacos. Actually, that’s the only rule. But it goes double in Las Vegas, where food truck appearances are mostly limited to street festivals and special events, and it goes more than double if you see Tacos La Carreta parked somewhere along Spring Mountain Road, because it’s not out there as often as it used to be.

But worry not; La Carreta has opened a tiny taco shop next door to a gas station on West Flamingo. It feels like stealing to sit down there and eat $1.50 carne asada, al pastor, chorizo or pollo treasures, and lengua and brilliantly flavored barbacoa tacos cost just 50 cents more. Deep-fried potato tacos are also $1.50, and there are tortas, burritos, tostadas, enchiladas, hot dogs and fries on the menu, too. But that chicken is so juicy, and that pork is so tasty ... this feels like an eight-taco joint to me. What, too many? 9010 W. Flamingo Road, 702-889-0702. –BR

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