Variety and versatility reign supreme when it comes to tacos. They lend themselves to pizza or salad, and they even survive when it comes to fusion with other flavor traditions (see Kona Grill’s Beef Bulgogi Tacos as a prime example).
So pick your protein, select your add-ins, find the perfect vessel and then choose your own taco adventure at these local restaurants. These south-of-the-border-inspired mainstays are big crowd pleasers.
Beef Bulgogi Tacos
Flavors from Asia and the Americas intertwine in beef bulgogi tacos that lean more toward food traditions of Asian countries. The stylish mix of pleasing flavors is just what you would expect from a place known more for sushi and cocktails. A Korean-style marinade tenderizes the beef in this contemporary take on tacos. “There’s a sweet hoisin sauce: that’s more what you taste,” says Jessica Mohanna, general manager.
Not so traditional puffy-flaky shells and a side of Asian slaw makes this two-taco appetizer a memorable one. The veggies provide more texture contrast. A mild vinaigrette cloaks a snappy crunch-in-your-mouth salad of fresh cabbage shreds, red pepper chunks, carrot slivers and a feathering of cilantro. $10.50. 11997 Singletree Lane, Eden Prairie; 952.941.3262.
When pizza and tacos collide, delectable things happen. The taco pizza at Gina Maria’s is fusion food at its finest. A crispy thin-crusted Italian pizza gets spiced up with Mexican-style seasoned beef and a special bean sauce. Throw on a good sprinkling of sharp cheddar cheese, mounded lettuce, sliced black olives, chopped fresh onions and tomatoes for good measure. The pizza is custom baked, then topped with the cool veggies—a proven winner and popular pick. 10-inch, $10.99; 12-inch, $15.29; 14-inch, $18.49. 7416 Mitchell Road, Eden Prairie; 952.937.1589 or 330 Lake Drive E., Chanhassen; 952.934.6600
Southern California Fish Tacos
Fresh and zesty only begin to describe the flavorful blend in this hand-held dish. Southern California fish tacos pack planks of Japanese-style, Panko-breaded, sustainably-raised tilapia fish into thin folds of warm flour tortillas. Crunchy ribbons of Napa cabbage add a healthy vegetable snap and the dish comes drizzled with a zippy chipotle mayo and honey cumin vinaigrette. Both dressings are housemade from Houlihan’s own signature recipes. A side of homemade tortilla chips and house salsa round out the meal. “What’s not to like?” says Kris VonBusch, operations manager. “At the risk of sounding cheesy, it’s like a fiesta in your mouth.” Indeed, the fish tacos are a guest favorite and a top-selling menu item. $12.50 for two tacos. Houlihan’s, 530 Pond Promenade, Chanhassen; 952.974.3939
The taco loco from Rey Azteca packs a flavorful punch. Photo by Amanda Gahler
Put a generous toss of veggies in a pasta bowl with a dash of south-of-the-border inspiration and a tasty taco salad appears. “This is a hearty salad,” manager Barbarajo Kuzelka says. “Very seldom are [the customers] able to finish it.”
This classic taco salad combines fresh garden greens, brightly-colored taco chips, shredded cheddar cheese and black olives with diced fresh tomatoes, red onions and red peppers. Sides of fresh salsa, southwestern ranch dip and spicy, seasoned beef round out the dish. A Victoria House tradition, the taco salad has been an ongoing menu feature for around 20 years. $10.99; $11.99 with chicken. 1715 Steiger Lake Lane, Victoria; 952.443.2858
Taco Salad Fajita de Camaron
No worries about an average salad here. Instead of the usual beef or chicken, grilled shrimp forms the protein in this hefty salad. The taco salad fajita de camaron has a good mix of cheese, tomatoes, onions, guacamole, peppers and crunchy iceberg lettuce with a splash of fresh pico de gallo sauce and dollop of sour cream. Everything goes into a big bowl-shaped, crunchy fried flour tortilla shell. It’s a taco gone veggie-crispy! Seafood taco flavors and garden vegetables mix marvelously in this taco salad. $11.99. 207 N. Chestnut St., Chaska; 952.479.7053
Taco loco lives up to the name. A crazy mix of fillings makes for one lively taco bursting with flavor. This super taco comes not just with beef, but chicken too—plus beans, cheese, sour cream, lettuce and housemade guacamole. “We make all of our own food here,” manager Lorenzo Martinez says.
The taco loco puts a slight spin on a traditional Mexican classic: Picture a protein- packed taco salad rolled in a baked shell. A topping of fresh chopped tomato and splash of nacho sauce seal the meal.
Rey Azteca also has plenty of condiments to create just the right amount of added heat or fire, if you want to reach that level of spicy red. $9.50 7874 Market Blvd., Chanhassen; 952.934.6126 or 813 Marketplace Drive, Waconia; 952.442.2349
Corn or flour? Soft or hard shell? Al pastor (marinated pork), carnitas (shredded pork), barbacoa (slow-cooked meat), chicken or steak? Choices abound with a taco order at Mama Aurelia’s. One thing is for certain, the tacos will have a true Mexican presentation: warmly spiced, freshly made and hand-crafted.
The dinner tacos aren’t dainty, so come hungry. Three tacos are accompanied by Spanish rice, a bejeweled medley of tomato infused rice grains, green peas, carrots and corn. A second side of creamy refried beans has a dusting of white cheese crumbles with a garnish of corn chips arranged like feather plumes in a cap.
Authentic Old World recipes are a proud family tradition. No out-of-the-jar short cuts here. The salsa has a snappy, fresh zing that tastes every bit like a just-prepared batch. Be sure to spring for the housemade chips and salsa (an extra $3.25). Two-taco lunch, $7.99; three-taco dinner, $9.99; steak additional $2. 16388 Wagner Way, Eden Prairie; 952.426.1597