Is there any dish more simple, nourishing, and economical than a fresh-off-the-grill taco? A street taco is fast food perfection: a hot snack you can demolish in a couple of bites and pay for with the loose change gathering dust under your car seat or sofa cushions.
Here in the Valley, we’re spoiled with an abundance of excellent taquerias and food trucks pushing out meaty, juicy flavor bombs at all hours of the day. But living in a taco town like Phoenix means it can be hard to separate the gristle from the taco meat.
We cut out some of the legwork for you, searching high and low to find some of the best cheap taco spots around metro Phoenix. Each of these tacos is also priced at $2 or less, which means you can probably order a whole round of them — even if it means having to look under the car seat for a few more quarters.
One of the best taquerias in Phoenix is in Sunnyslope, and it goes by Most Wanted Tacos. A small taco will run you less than $2, and the ambitious menu of 14 chicken, pork, and beef tacos means you’ll probably find at least one that you love. The restaurant offers harder-to-find fillings, including cochinita pibil, the traditional Yucatan slow-roasted pork dish rippling with citrusy flavor. And if like your tacos spicy, try the morita pork taco. The heat off the smoky, vinegary sauce will linger on your palate for hours. The chicken green chile taco is another great choice, so savory and juicy it’s wise to eat it over a paper plate. The friendly staff even offers free samples of every meat behind the counter, making it easier to navigate the taco menu and discover new favorites.
Tacos Sonora Grill is the kind of no-frills place you turn to when you know exactly what you want: Piles of meat, cradled inside steaming hot corn tortillas. Like many Sonoran joints, the house specialty is the carne asada taco, which is stuffed with bubbling, juicy bits of lightly marinated skirt steak. But don’t overlook the pollo asado taco. The chicken is golden brown, juicy and peppery, laced with a delicious lime-citrus marinade. Tacos are $1.89 apiece, and you’ll want to budget for at least a couple.
You can smell the carne al carbon from the parking lot at this West Phoenix taco shop. Follow the scent to the dining room, which is invariably jammed with eaters during the lunch rush. Pretty much every taco on the menu is irresistibly good — and priced under $2. Don’t leave without trying the Hazz, a green chile beef taco overflowing with rich salty, cheesy savoriness. You’ll also have to try the Lorenza, a newer take on the crunchy vampiro taco. The tortilla is griddled until it’s dried out and crunchy, then layered with salty white cheese, a mild red chile sauce, and carne asada. Who knew eating off a Styrofoam plate could feel so good?
Formerly El Nuevo Taquito, Taqueria El Fundador recently went through an extensive rebranding. Thankfully, the kitchen didn’t toss out the recipe for its al pastor tacos. The pork tacos bubble over with juicy, tangy-sweet savory flavor. Also wonderful are the restaurant’s head meat tacos, especially the stringy, savory cabeza taco. The tacos are on the smaller end of the spectrum, but at about $1.35 a piece, there’s little room to complain.
Never tried a lengua (beef tongue) taco before? If not, your first one should probably be at Tacos Sahuayo (sometimes listed as Tacos Sahuaro) in Central Phoenix. The silky, tenderized meat, chopped into beefy rectangles, is generously piled onto a grilled corn tortilla, then finished off with chopped cilantro and onion. Every bite is so juicy and well-seasoned, you’ll forget you’re chewing, well, cow tongue. The chorizo tacos, smoky and a little chewy, are also irresistible. Most tacos are $2, and worth every cent.
Asadero Norte de Sonora is beloved for its succulent whole grilled chickens – you’ll see plenty of diners carrying them out of the restaurant around dinnertime. It’s no surprise, then, that the restaurant makes a top-notch chicken taco, full of beautifully charred hunks of juicy meat. Every other taco, including the al pastor and barbacoa, is equally addictive. The hefty tacos are served on the restaurant’s chewy flour tortillas with a side of fresh guacamole. At $1.90 apiece, they're a steal.
You never know quite what to expect from hole-in-the-wall eateries like Taqueria Don Beto, housed in what used to be a convenience store near 27th Street and McDowell. One thing you can expect from this taqueria is an outrageously good cabeza taco. The finely shredded beef will indulge any cravings you may have for richly flavored meat that seems to melt on your tongue like snow. Of course, you’ll have to try one of the tacos árabe (Arab-style tacos), a classic Puebla-style taco developed by the city’s Lebanese immigrants. Like al pastor, the meat is cooked on a rotating spit, but seasoned with traditional Middle Eastern spices like cumin and marjoram.
Tacos Old West is a new kid in town, a homey west-side eatery that’s already getting attention for its excellent tripas (small intestine), carne asada, and al pastor tacos. The carne asada is classic Sonoran, with hefty heaps of sizzling meat deliciously wrapped in mesquite smoke. Bonus points to Tacos Old West for their excellent side cart, which includes finely shredded white cabbage, several homemade salsas, and a unique cucumber-and-cream mirepoix-cut side.
The Taqueria La Hacienda food truck has become a fixture on Buckeye Road, a place where people from all walks of life converge to chow down on consistently excellent carnitas, asada, pollo and lengua. Most tacos are less than $2, including harder to find cuts like buche (pork stomach). You’ll definitely want to try the chicharrón taco, which is brimming with crisped-up pork skin in a savory red sauce.
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TC’s Tacos, tucked away in a Tempe strip mall next to a drive-thru liquor store, is earning a local following for its smoked in-house meats. Try the smoked pork taco, piled with juicy, tender shredded meat and the occasional bubbling bit of smoke ring-charred pork. With the exception of the carne asada, every taco at TC’s is less than $2.