In the hunt for the latest trendy restaurants, our spotlight often misses neighborhoods that are home to some of the Valley's best kitchens — including those making metro Phoenix's best tacos. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be guiding you toward the Valley’s tastiest tacos, and the taquerías that serve them. Welcome to Taco Summer.
37: Taqueria El Gallo de Lagos
Taquería: Taqueria El Gallo de Lagos, 730 East Brown Road, Mesa
Open Since: 2005
Style: Comida casera, or home-style Mexican cooking with a Jalisco twist
Signature Taco(s): Buche, pollo, al pastor
Taqueria El Gallo de Lagos is the kind of under-the-radar taquería that you might drive past for years before you finally take notice of it. It's located in a sleepy strip mall near the intersection of Brown Road and Horne in Mesa, set far enough back from the road to make it practically indistinguishable from the street.
"We've worn out two cars driving here every day," says co-owner Alfredo Rea, who runs the restaurant with his wife, Maria.
The Rea family lives in Peoria, and they make the drive to Mesa six days a week to tend to their restaurant. They ended up at this location out of circumstance — a family member used to run a restaurant in the space before the Reas took it over more than a decade ago.
Over the years, the family has made the space their home. It only takes a short glance around the room to see that the Reas are proudly Jalisciense. There are Chivas fútbol banners at every turn, and there's a lovely photo tribute to the hilly streets of Rea's hometown, Lagos de Moreno, which takes up most of the restaurant's wall space.
The menu at Taqueria El Gallo de Lagos is small, but there is much to explore and relish. There are five types of taco meats — asada, birria, al pastor, buche, and pollo — plus house specialties like handmade gorditas, sopes, huaraches, tortas, quesadillas, and flautas. Consomé de birria, served with a stack of tortillas, is a popular item on the weekends.
You might notice a stenciled note on the restaurant's storefront that reads "Tortillas hechas a mano." But even if you missed that sign, when your taco platter lands on the table, it's clear that the tortillas are made by hand to order. They are soft and pliable, and curl up slightly around the edges.
Rea explains that it's all part of the restaurant's philosophy, which he half-jokingly describes as "tarde pero bueno" — late but good. Your food might take a little longer to arrive, but the wait will be worth it.
The recipes all come from his wife's family, Rea says, and they put a lot of time and effort into every dish.
"We put a lot of heart into what we do," Rea says in Spanish. "We never let chicken cook past its point. The only thing we don't make here ourselves is the bread used for our tortas."
One of the stand-out tacos at Taqueria El Gallo is the buche. The pork stomach is cut into melty, slippery cubes and served chopped fine, with a delectable crisp.
"I put the juice leftover from the trompo and use it to cook and flavor the buche," Rea says. "Little details make all the difference."
The al pastor tacos are another highlight. Rea is happy to slice some pineapple-scented pork from the trompo for you to sample. The pollo tacos, too, are marvelous, prepared in juicy, beautifully seasoned hunks.
If for some reason you're not in the mood for tacos, Rea recommends you try the restaurant's homemade gorditas. Someone, Rea says, stands over the comal (griddle) to watch as each finely shaped, doughy disc swells and rises over the fire.
"We want to make sure everything is served fresh," Rea says, with something like a twinkle in his eye.
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"If you came to our restaurant 10 years ago, we want everything to taste the same as when you came before. Actually, we want our food to get better every day than it was before. Sometimes, we lose clientele because we're not the fastest, but that's because we take our time and we want to do it right."
Our Taco Summer picks so far:
50. Taqueria Don Beto
49. Kiss Pollos Estilo Sinaloa
48. Tacos Tijuana
47. El Burrito Grande
46. El Horseshoe Restaurant
45. Tacos Sahuaro
44. El Pollo Correteado
42. La Fiesta
41. Taqueria Lucy
40. Tortas Ahogadas George
39. Taqueria El Chino
38. Joe's Tacos