We are eating our way through the Phoenix taco scene with our series Taco Summer. There have been plenty of carne asada and grilled chicken tacos, as well as a few unusual offerings that really captured our attention. If you haven't already, these are the five unusual tacos you should be eating right now in Metro Phoenix.
Grilled Cheese Tacos
When fans of Joe’s Tacos need to track down a plate of the mobile taqueria’s "toasted tacos" — fresh corn tortillas pressed from masa on-site and then griddled with a layer of cheese caramelizing between them on the flattop stove to create what is essentially a soft shell with a crispy cheese exterior — they turn to Instagram and Facebook to find out where the truck is parked. The memorable crispy cheese taco shells are filled with the likes of carne asada, al pastor, lengua, and cabeza.
Texas-Style Puffy Tacos
You've eaten soft tacos, crispy tacos, rolled tacos, and street tacos. But have you experienced the distinct pleasures of the puffy taco? The defining feature of a puffy taco is its light and airy tortilla shell, which is produced by dropping a thin round of fresh, uncooked corn masa into hot, sizzling oil until it turns puffy and airy. Three nights a week, you'll find Rivera, along with employee sidekick Teena Resendez, making and selling puffy tacos out of a small white trailer that's parked next to her home in Surprise. Her rendition of the puffy taco is heavenly. The crisp yet tender shell is light and lovely, and every taco is beautifully paired with your choice of four meats. Options include shredded beef, chicken, pork, and carne asada, and there doesn't seem to be a dud among them.
Cheesy Shrimp Tacos
“I put that shit on everything,” Ozzy says of his chipotle sauce. It’s what gives Ozzy's signature taco, the camaron con queso, shrimp with cheese, its distinct flavor. They begin with a yellow corn tortilla on an oiled grill and then load it with a blend of Monterey jack cheeses, shrimp, and sautéed onions and tomatoes seasoned with garlic and paprika. They add a squirt of their house chipotle sauce, fold, and serve. It is a dish that blurs the line between quesadillas and tacos.
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SHOW ME HOW
These days, almost all restaurants purchase their machaca beef pre-dried from a factory, but at El Horseshoe Restaurant, Angel Sr. bought his own dehydrators from Mexico and spends several days each week processing his own machaca meat. After being seasoned and left to dry for days, the jerky-like meat is shredded. When it’s ordered, either to be scrambled with eggs or potatoes for a breakfast plate next to beans and a chunk of salty cotija cheese; stuffed into burritos; or tossed with roasted vegetables for a taco filling, the shredded beef is heated in a pan with corn oil to give it enough moisture to bring the beef back to life, but not so much that it loses its signature chewiness.
Crispy Guadalajaran Tacos
"We didn't find much food from Guadalajara here," says Maritza Santoyo, whose family previously lived in Southern California. "So we specialized in tacos estilo Guadalajara." Tacos dorados are a house specialty, and you might think of these as the taco analog to the torta ahogada. Guadalajarans seem to have a fondness for drowning their food in chile sauce, and this dish is no exception. The crispy tacos soak in the fragrant, garlicky salsa and are stuffed modestly with soft, well-seasoned potatoes. From there, these tacos become DIY, in the sense that you have to stuff them yourself with bundles of saucy beef, sliced cabbage, and onions.