Taco Summer

Taco Summer: Tex-Mex Crispy-Shell Shredded Beef Tacos at a Tempe Institution

Shelby Moore
Casa Reynoso crispy shell shredded beef tacos.
17. Casa Reynoso

Casa Reynoso, 3138 South Mill Avenue, Tempe
Open Since: 1984
Style: Southwestern Mexican-American
Signature Taco: Shredded beef with crispy shell

What a person imagines when they think of their typical, neighborhood-style Mexican restaurant may depend entirely on which generation they belong to.

While millennials residing in major Southwestern cities like San Diego and Phoenix may dismiss fast food mega-chains like Del Taco, they likely think, instead, of the abundant fast food “-bertos,” like the 24-hour Filibertos establishments, of which there are over 50 in metro Phoenix alone.

The offerings are cheap, fast, and smothered in cheese. They surfaced in the '90s and have dominated the 2000s, and may be part of the reason why Chipotle, with its healthier, fresher, more wholesome image, caught on so swiftly over the past decade.

But Filibertos can best be understood as a response to another category of Mexican dining, offering a streamlined version of the homey Tex-Mex fare served at the everyday, neighborhood sit-down Mexican restaurant, which holds a nostalgic place in cross-generational hearts.

One such place is the iconic Casa Reynoso in Tempe. Opened in 1984 in the large corner space of a strip mall not unlike any other in the area, the inside dining room is constructed as a mock-patio, with ornamental chili peppers handing from exposed wood beams. In place of the bright blue sky, are generic, office-standard, gray drop ceiling tiles.

Though it looks like any other generic restaurant, Casa Reynoso is one of the originals. The family who owns the restaurant have been in the restaurant business since 1938, when they owned the original location in the Globe-Miami area, almost 100 miles east of Phoenix along US-60. In 1984, they opened up shop in Tempe, where they created the “gollo burro,” a green chile pork burrito that would become their calling card. The Reynoso family has continued to build their empire, going on to open several restaurants out east and here in the Valley.

Nostalgic baby boomers, gen-Xers, and a scattering of millennials, too, continue to flock to Reynoso, though on most tables the monster gollo burros have been replaced by taco salads, cheese crisps, enchiladas, and a strawberry margarita or two. Simple, craveable dishes for some, these are either timeless classics or a relic from the '80s and '90s, depending on who you ask.

As for tacos, there is something endearing and soul-satisfying about the Reynoso shredded beef tacos, the salty beef loaded into crispy shells, marked with a small patch of a melted shredded cheese blend, and topped with cold, crisp shredded iceberg lettuce. The warm beef is rich and soft, and the crunch of the shell gives them some welcome composure, while the lettuce offers a cool contrast in temperature.

It’s all a bit retro. And you know what? I liked places like Casa Reynoso growing up, and I like them now. The world and taco landscape have changed around Casa Reynoso, and institutions like it, which makes them all the more special.

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
43. Adrian's
42. La Fiesta
41. Taqueria Lucy
40. Tortas Ahogadas George
39. Taqueria El Chino
38. Joe's Tacos
37. Taqueria El Gallo de Lagos
36. Tacos Huicho
35. Puffy Taco Shack
34. Ni De Aqui Ne De Alla
33. Mr. Mesquite
32. Senor Ozzy's
31. Tacos Jalisco
30. Ta'Carbon
29. Taqueria Los Yaquis
28: Helio Basin Brewing
27: Sonora Taco Shop
26: Mercado Y Carniceria Cuernavaca
25. Restaurant Atoyac Estilo Oaxaca
24. Paquime Street Food
23. The Rez
22. Asadero Toro
21. La Frontera 1
20. Taquería Yaqui
19. Presidio Cocina Mexicana
18. Mucha Lucha Taco Shop