No one knows when the first taco was created. But the tradition of putting meat and veggies into a corn or flour tortilla has lived for thousands of years. The beautiful thing about a taco is that anyone can make one. But the precarious thing about a taco is that not everyone can make them well. I grew up in Princeton, N.J., eating tacos with hard yellow shells. My mother, bless her heart, would cut up lettuce and tomatoes and add them to a four-quadrant plastic platter with shredded cheddar and grocery-store-packet-seasoned beef she made on the stovetop. I loved them. But I also realized there was another world out there with perfectly blended sauces and meat that echoed with flavor.
But now that I’ve lived in Seattle, I wondered: Where is the city’s best taco? To answer that question, I enlisted the assistance of chefs Unika Noiel and Tarik Abdullah and musician (and former competitive eating hopeful) Eva Walker. We broke the experiment down to five very scientific categories: the quality of the tortilla, the meat, the fixin’s, the price, and the vibe of the eatery, ranking each 1 to 10 with a possible high score of 200. And while we know there are many places in the city to get tacos, we chose five recommended locations to gather as much information as we could. Our results:
Winner: Taqueria la Fondita #2
In terms of tacos, this was the clear winner. Our chicken tacos received near-perfect scores for the toothsome tortilla, the seasoned-to-perfection juicy chicken (addictive stuff), and the right dash of fixin’s on top (you don’t need the accompanying salsa at all). The only thing that suffered at this little taco truck in White Center was the outside dining/waiting area. On a cold night, there was no heat or music. But of course in the grand scheme of the experience, it didn’t matter. The tacos, less than $2 each, are to die for. So a little chill was fine.
Second Place: Senor Moose Café
While the tacos are terrific, the draw of this Ballard outpost is the decor and vibe. It just feels like your relative’s home. While you’re waiting for your tacos (we ordered the carne asada), try a side of homemade chips and salsa that, if you’re at the bar, are fried in front of you. Our tacos had “slappin’ ” meat, according to Tarik (a very good thing), which ate juicy and were spiced well. But the tacos were pricey, at just over $3 each. Nevertheless, the excursion to Senor Moose was our most memorable dining experience, and the staff was friendly.
Third Place: Tacos Chukis
We love Tacos Chukis. The owner, Robert Salmeron, after graduating from college, bicycled to Mexico from Seattle instead of following up on an interview with the Gap. And he’s been making bold choices ever since. His Capitol Hill location is fantastic, and Chukis’ smaller “baby burritos” are genius. Since opening the Cap Hill spot, Salmeron has added a few more locations around the city, including South Lake Union. We sampled the “house tacos” ($2.75 each) at the new Beacon Hill location. They are made with pork and topped with a slice of pineapple. Tasty stuff. The meat is moist and kissed with some welcome heat. The vibe of the Beacon location isn’t nearly as vibrant as Capitol Hill’s. And while we recommend visiting for sure, it didn’t hit our top mark.
Fourth Place: Taqueria el Asadero
A converted bus-turned-restaurant, this cute Columbia City adaptation serves very good food. But their carnitas tacos, which we tried, were, unfortunately, dry and salty. However, the shell they come in was crispy, chewy, and memorable. Perhaps it’s hard for places to make carnitas (Tarik tried their chicken taco and enjoyed it), but these were forgettable. However, at $2 each, we didn’t leave upset at the cost.
Fifth Place: Taco Street
Ah, Taco Street. Thanks for the memories. We began our day’s trek here in this Othello shop, which is conveniently located next to the light-rail station and is an easy place for families to get a bite. We ordered their happy-hour special: five carnitas tacos for $7.50. Unfortunately, however, they were unexciting. They came from the kitchen undressed, and Taco Street’s fixin’s bar, which includes fresh onions and cilantro, couldn’t save the experience.