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The tacos that changed our lives

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It’s the bartender who greets you with a smile and should be on a tourism commercial for Las Vegas, then hugs you and welcomes you back. It’s the soft light and the stained glass, the hand-painted Mexican tiles and the tangy soup on a chilly night. It’s the service from a staff that’s so disciplined, capable and nimble in tight spaces, it’s like a culinary SEAL team. I don’t know how many hundreds of tacos I’ve had at the original Lindo Michoacán—generally beef, sometimes chicken, always off the a la carte menu—but every time I’ve felt like I’m eating with people who care about me in a place where there’s no such thing as an outsider. –Ric Anderson

Four-and-a-half years ago, on the first day of the LA trip when I started believing I was going to leave New York and move for the West Coast, my BFF David Landsel drove me to a taco truck in Boyle Heights. We had already eaten lunch and dessert at two different spots. David was taking me out of the way from my next scheduled destination. It was the middle of the afternoon. I wasn’t hungry. I didn’t understand the point of this detour. But then I ate Marisco Jalisco’s fried shrimp taco. Crunchy exterior, pillowy interior, slices of fresh avocado, all drenched in a perfect tomato-and-cabbage salsa. It was the best meal of my trip. Six months later, I was an LA resident. –Andy Wang

Is Mike Minor the taco Icarus? Did he fly too close to the sun and burn his delicious tortilla wings out? Is that what it takes to make a perfect taco? Minor, now back as chef at Border Grill in Mandalay Bay, formerly operated his own Truck U Barbeque truck specializing in Californian-Mexican barbecue mashups. The burnt-ends burrito is the stuff of legends, but the fried chicken tacos were equally crave-worthy. The buttermilk-fried chicken, coated in cornflakes and cooked in duck fat, was finished with chipotle bbq sauce, jalracha sauce (I still have no idea what this is) and creamy coleslaw. They might be gone for now, but their story lives on. –Jason Harris

The taco that changed my life isn’t really a taco at all—but I didn’t know that when I ate it. How could I confuse a taco with something that isn’t? Because I was eating a baleada, a traditional Honduran dish very similar to the Mexican staple. I had a baleada for the first time a few years ago at my dad’s house in Chicago. I woke up in the morning to find my stepmom cooking chorizo and scrambled eggs, which I unknowingly assembled into a baleada—a warm tortilla followed by rich layers of beans, eggs, sausage, avocado and fresh cheese straight from Honduras. No breakfast taco can compare. –Leslie Ventura

Four months after graduating from college, I was in my Toyota Corolla, mom sitting shotgun, heading south from Boston towards Naples, Florida. In that sun-bleached, Gulf-side retirement community I found my first job in journalism, my husband and Taqueria San Julian. You could argue that the first two had a more profound impact on my life, but that would be selling San Julian criminally short. That low-ceilinged restaurant with bright yellow walls introduced me to simple joy: tiny corn tortillas piled with succulent meats, a sprinkle of raw onion and cilantro and a squeeze of lime. I could get two and a bottle of Coke for under $5. It was the perfect lunch. Things have changed in the 10 years since I left Florida. Recessions have come and gone. We elected our first black president. The Cubs won the World Series. But Taqueria San Julian has largely stayed the same. And the same is delicious. –Sarah Feldberg

The marlin tacos at Mariscos Playa Escondida are magnificent. Tender, smoky and flavorful, they’re the proverbial vacation-in-the-mouth. And I would never have known that the restaurant that serves them even existed if I hadn’t joined Justin Favela and Ras One for one of their “try every taco on East Charleston” iron-stomach excursions. I discovered a lot of hidden gems that day—the handmade tortillas at La Pupusa Loka, the inexpensive but loaded tacos at Cemitas Poblanas Mi Chula Puebla’s outdoor cart in front of La Flor De Michoacan—but it’s those fish tacos at Mariscos Playa Escondida that stand out in my mind, because to me they represent Vegas’ many great unsung taco heroes. Seriously, I live around the corner from that restaurant and had no idea it was there. –Geoff Carter

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