Terell’s Taco Tryouts: My quest to eat some of the tastiest tacos in Reno

The spicy lamb taco from Mexcal topped with pickled red onions and cabbage.

Having moved to Reno from St. George, Utah to work as a reporter for the Reno Gazette Journal back in September, I knew adjusting during a pandemic would be quite a challenge.

Not only did I not know anyone initially, going out to meet others is essentially off-limits.

There are several ways to get involved and integrated into a community, whether that means going to important historical locations or cruising the streets to familiarize yourself with the area.

Trying the foods that a city has to offer can also help you feel closer to the people and establishments that you pass every day.

Terell Wilkins

It was that line of thinking that led me to choose a particular food to focus on as I expand my knowledge of Reno and its best offerings.

In my opinion, the universal nature of tacos is the perfect place to start. They’re cheap, easy to find everywhere, not as filling as a burger and can vary widely.

Tacos can be big, small, spicy, sweet, cheesy, smoky, healthy and the list goes on.

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So in the interest of taking on a food challenge and trying to ingratiate myself into the culture of the city, I decided to try a bunch of tacos from seven taco spots recommended to me by coworkers who have been here much longer than I.

No real criteria, no special judging, just a (relatively) new Renoite looking for the best tacos The Biggest Little City in the World has to offer.

Beto’s

The tripitas (left) and al pastor (right) tacos from Beto's Taqueria at 575 W 5th St. in downtown Reno.

Beto’s was one of two taco shops I visited that had a very authentic feel. You can see the lights of the Silver Legacy and Circus Circus radiating in downtown Reno from the front of the restaurant.

Though the inside was smaller, tables were spaced adequately, and there were a few people braving the chill of the late afternoon to enjoy their meal on the front patio area.

I ordered and got my food extremely quickly from the staff, who were quickly zipping around cooking and cleaning simultaneously behind the counter.

I got two tacos, the first of which was a tripitas taco. Tripe is beef stomach, and the tripitas taco is just fried tripe. 

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I can’t say I’ve ever had beef stomach, to my knowledge, but I would like to try it in other forms because it was a bit thicker and chewy in a good way. The tripitas was tasty, but the al pastor was the definite better of the two. 

Cut just right, the al pastor was a bit on the oily side, but that just made the pork better inside the flour tortilla. Make sure you stock up on napkins eating this one because it was pretty greasy, but the taco is scrumptious all the same.

I made the mistake of trying the horchata and it was amazing so now I’ll forever be trapped into visiting Beto’s whenever I want a sweet guilty pleasure drink.

Roberto’s Taco Shop

Roberto's Taco Shop, located at 801 N Virginia St., is open 24 hours and serves up a delicious adobada taco.

Everything about Roberto’s has the feel of a late-night taco shop. Located on the corner of Eighth and Virginia Streets, Roberto’s is lit brightly with a giant “Open 24 hours” sign calling all passersby to pop in for a midnight snack.

The first thing I noticed about the inside of the restaurant was that it’s not very big at all. Some of the tables were blocked off due to COVID, but even then there would be no space for more than a few dozen people.

I was asked which taco was my favorite several times during the trial process by coworkers, and after much deliberation, the adobada taco stuck with me the most.

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While the full flavor profile of a good taco is complex, the meat of the taco is the most important part in my opinion. It’s hard to have a great taco without flavorful meat as the base, and the marinated pork of the adobada taco was fantastic.

While the fish taco was good, it paled in comparison to the marinated chile flavors in every bite of the adobada taco.

The next time I get a late-night craving for tacos I know will fill me up, I’m throwing on the sweatpants and slides to head down to Roberto’s and treat myself. Might bring some night owl friends along with me.

El Original Tacos Tijuana

On recommendation from my coworkers, I knew one of the tacos I had to try was the Taco Azteca from El Original Tacos Tijuana in Sparks. Tacos Tijuana has an interesting setup as they have both a food truck and drive-thru with separate menus. 

Dine-in was not available on the day that I visited, so I grabbed my two tacos and headed home to give them a try.

Topped with grilled cactus, the Tacos Azteca was surprisingly enjoyable. I was nervous about trying cactus as I’ve never had it before, but it was good and enhanced the flavor of the taco for sure.

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Along with the grilled cactus, the taco was topped with a creamy guacamole sauce that served as a good mixture of tastes. The other taco I got was a cut of meat I’ve never had: the lengua, or beef tongue.

For the squeamish, it’s not as yucky as it sounds. The lengua meat was a little drier than the other tacos I had, but the toughness was delicious when paired with the flavors of the green salsa.

I would say that the lengua tacos, like french fries, are more vehicles for the sauce drizzled on them or the salsa they’re dipped in than a taco you could eat without additional condiments.

Amigo Market

Walking into Amigo Market, my first impression was that I was about to get a very authentic taco. I’m admittedly not a taco expert, but I could tell that they’ve served thousands upon thousands of delicious tacos from the looks of the restaurant.

Amigo Market is mostly a small grocery market, but they have a deli connected to it that sells some of the best tacos in town. Chorizo burritos and tacos are a favorite of locals there, according to the staff.

I ordered one carne asada taco and one buche, or pork stomach, taco on recommendations from the employee at the register. His endorsement was a good decision as both tacos were definitely worth savoring.

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Though the tacos were smaller, they were also probably the best from a full flavor standpoint due to the onions, cilantro and lime. I was also given a green salsa that, combined with the onions and cilantro, carried the taco to another level.

The carne asada and buche were also good, but the flavors from the herbs and lime were truly the best part. If I ever want a bite-size taco that I can eat three or four of without feeling ashamed, Amigo Market will assuredly be back on my radar.

Next time, that chorizo is leaving with me.

Mexcal

Definitely the fanciest tacos I ate, Mexcal is absolutely a place I plan on eating inside one day as the pandemic eases up in the coming months.

The two tacos I ordered were the house favorite quesabirría taco and a deliciously spicy lamb taco topped with pickled red onion and cabbage.

The bright colors of the pickled red onion made for a taco so photogenic that I was sad it had to be devoured.

The lamb was very juicy and the salsa it came with had a more smoky taste that was good with the spiciness of the taco itself.

I would warn that this taco is not for those averse to spice as the seasoning had much more kick than even I, a devoted spicy food lover, could handle at times.

But taking a break after every bite to wipe my tears was part of what made the experience worth it, and the taste of the lamb was not overwhelmed by the heat.

Though it was the prettier of the two, the quesabirría taco was one of the best I had the opportunity to try.

Mexcal, a tacos and tequila spot, opened in 2020 not long before the coronavirus shut down on-premise dining.

The bright orange tortilla was made out of a cheesy dough that tasted fantastic with the goat meat.

Traditional birría comes with a stew, and while there wasn’t the usual stew, the taco came with a broth-like salsa that tasted well with the quesabirría, but even better with the spicy lamb taco.

Mexcal was the most populated of the restaurants I visited, with most of the available tables full on a Saturday afternoon.

The fanciness of the tacos was matched by the more upscale vibe of the restaurant, much more spacious and decorated than other taco spots.

If you’re trying to impress a friend or date with your knowledge of specialty tacos around town and are looking for more of a sit-down experience as opposed to quick bites, Mexcal might be the place to swing by. Like I said earlier, I know I will.

Antonio’s

A look at the chorizo (left) and shrimp (right) tacos from Antonio's Mexican Grill at 95 N Sierra St. in downtown Reno.

Located downtown near the Riverwalk, Antonio’s had my favorite interior décor and ambiance for a Mexican restaurant. From the beautifully tiled walls to the Clase Azul Tequila bottles lining the top of the bar, Antonio’s had the look of a family restaurant.

Another aspect I appreciated was the consistent airflow throughout the restaurant. It may be a silly thing to notice, but the consistent breeze from several fans I couldn’t see, which I’m sure was due to COVID, felt comfortable on my skin even on a chilly day.

Antonio Valle and his wife Irma Valle have been running Antonio’s for years now, and Irma was the first to greet me at the door upon my arrival.

I sat at the bar and ordered two tacos, one shrimp and one chorizo, to go. Not only was the look of the restaurant very fun, there was a healthy vibe in the restaurant with several of the tables full of families and groups of young adults hanging out.

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It gave me a feeling of comfort, almost the type of restaurant you would take your parents to if they came to visit Reno and wanted to have tacos. Antonio’s definitely had a very warm ambiance, from the energy of the staff to the bright orange walls.

The tacos were also good, with the shrimp taco standing out to me as very well cooked. It had a light brown crisp on both sides and tasted chewy instead of slimy and wet, which is how some shrimp come when put in tacos.

Another positive was that, like Amigo Market, the fresh vegetables and herbs stood out to me. The chorizo taco was tasty, but the green salsa that seeped into it with the cilantro and onions made it that much better.

A pleasurable lunch spot, Antonio’s may have given me the best experience I had while getting to know Reno through the beauty of tacos.

Los Cuatros Vientos

I got my first taste of birría delivered to my home from Los Cuatros Vientos as a lunch treat from a coworker who heard about my future taco endeavors and wanted me to try some.

These were a preliminary run for later tacos, and I don’t think it’s possible to have a tastier trial run.

I received a chicharron taco and an al pastor taco, and within minutes, they were gone. Both were delicious, with the zestiness of the chicharron taco edging out the al pastor offering.

But what I was really excited for — and why I had been sent the food — was the birría stew the tacos were dipped in. Perfectly spicy, it was a great compliment.

The stew brought the food to the next level once I had devoured the tacos as the goat meat slid off the bones, collecting the juices from the stew.

I couldn’t help but notice how much I enjoyed the balance of the two facets of the meal as one collective spread. The tacos, which aren’t very big, get dipped in the birría stew, and then the meat is eaten from the stew itself.

It’s the perfect amount of food to make you full, but not enough food to make you feel bloated or heavy afterward.

We’ve all eaten tacos so stuffed with meat, cheese, lettuce and other toppings that one taco is a chore to consume. As silly as it sounds, the portion size was a huge bonus for me.

The tacos, and especially the birría, weren’t bad either.

Follow reporter Terell Wilkins on Twitter, @terelljwilkins, call him at 252-367-8463 or email him at twilkins@rgj.com.