Samantha Bakall and Jasmine Lee taste test all the taco shops in Champaign and Urbana
Mexican food isn’t an anomaly in Champaign-Urbana; there are four taco shops just on Green Street. However, the ubiquitousness of them prove a problem — where to go for the best? Two buzz staffers went around both towns, trying out all the eateries that offered tacos to find out just where to go to answer that call for tasty and satisfying tacos.
Oh, Maize, you and your teeny tiny shack with your amazingly tasty and cheap food offerings. Any and all of their taco meats are fantastic — well, except for their pulled chicken. Honestly, their chicken tastes much better on a tostada or in a burrito — and while I’ve been a fervent fan of their pastor, which tastes similar to chorizo, only less greasy and less ground-beefy, I have been converted into a carne asada fanatic and am itching to try their rib eye. Their fish taco is also extremely tasty, filled with chopped, grilled fish with just the right amount of seasoning, and a dollop of Maize’s spicy salsa (which you must ask for) makes my tastebuds very happy. Every order comes with a complimentary bag of deep fried tortilla chips and salsa. Their horchata, a refreshing, iced rice-milk drink that tastes like cinnamon and vanilla, is also a great addition to any meal there. Whether you eat in store or as takeout, the quality remains the same. (These aren’t tacos, but their pumpkin blossom and huitlacoche quesadillas are also killer!)
My first introduction to Mas Amigos was via their food truck, Taco Motorizado, which is always parked on Bradley and Springfield. The restaurant Mas is located right on Springfield, and the place is painted a cheerful yellow (matching their bright yellow food truck). While not large, the restaurant has two walls of booths and two rows of four-top tables. A propped up chalkboard announces the day’s specials, and next to the cash register is the open kitchen. Their chips, first off, are thin, wonderfully crunchy and never ending, which boded well for the rest of their multi-paged menu (which, by the way, includes a notable 60-ounce pitcher of margaritas). Mas has quite the selection of taco meats, up to and including tongue, which was pleasantly crispy and hard to find at many taco joints here in CU. The carne asada was also yummy: Tender, bite-sized pieces of steak, grilled to perfection. The seasoning balanced out the onions and cilantro with neither overpowering the other. Their tacos come double wrapped in corn tortillas and are practically overflowing with filling.
On Whiskey Wednesdays, grab the nearest server and ask about their food specials for the night. If they say, “blackened fish tacos,” you better order them, because they will completely blow your mind. The tacos also come battered and fried if you’re looking for a more filling option, even though the two tacos themselves are already plenty filling. Whatever you do, eat them slowly, because while wolfing these delicious tacos may be temporarily satisfying, once your stomach catches up with your brain, you’ll be in for a nap. And pronto. While I usually stick with “Mexican style” tacos, with cilantro and chopped onion, I make an exception for these and their coleslaw topping, which adds a wonderful creaminess to what could be a dry taco, a common problem with some fish tacos. The fish is well-seasoned with a perfect hit of char (which goes quite nicely with a good whiskey, surprisingly). The tacos aren’t on their regular menu, and I’m not sure if Seven Saints offers them on any other day except for Wednesday, but these are definitely worth the request.
SUPER TACO (the previous TACO LOCO)
While the location of Super Taco is a little odd — situated next to Slumberland and across from Menards on Town Center Boulevard — the blasting Mexican pop music, the insanely spicy hot salsa that comes in a big red ketchup bottle, and the low prices make up for it. Super Taco is an off-shoot of El Progresso, the Mexican grocery store and bakery across the street. Head out for tacos and pick up a few pan dulce for breakfast from across the street while you’re out!
FIESTA CAFE’S PASTOR TACOS
I have this thing against pineapples strewn atop pulled pork tacos; Basically, I think it should be illegal, and I always make sure to ask for no pineapple. But after going to Fiesta Café, something I should now be aware of and make sure to ask for “on the side” is the green sauce. I like Fiesta’s green sauce: It’s spicy and creamy and avocado-y, but when that sauce completely overtakes the taco meat, then we have a problem. Fiesta’s pastor tacos are really interesting; these cinnamon-y offerings are like none I’ve had before. It added a really interesting and surprising flavor to what is typically a “regular” taco. The cinnamon provides a nice kick and mixes it up, helping Fiesta make the list.
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