It was the best of tacos, it was the worst of tacos.
Yes, the classic tale’s opening may be overused, but hey, when something works, it works … or maybe it’s an epoch of belief.
That’s right. Once again your devoted GO! Magazine crew and its torturous features editor (me) endured the pain (taste buds and waistlines were harmed) of sampling nearly 30 tacos en route to identifying Central Oregon’s top traditional, specialty and most reliable among them. A special thanks to our guest tasters, news reporter Brenna Visser and photo editor Dean Guernsey.
We traveled to Prineville, Sisters, Redmond, Madras and all over Bend to gather corn-tortilla-hugged chicken, beef, pork or vegetables complemented with the right spices, toppings and sauce.
The criteria: The taco had to be prepared on a food truck and the truck had to be open for lunch on a routine schedule. Two varieties of tacos were purchased from each vendor, a traditional style and a specialty or most popular. Judgments were made about the tortillas, appearances, overall flavor and messiness, then each one was rated from 1 to 5.
This taste test — unlike GO! Magazine’s pizza, mac and cheese, chili, smoothies or fried chicken crawls — was by far the most surprising. The quality and flavor took broad swings from truck to truck.
Sometimes simpler is better — meat, cilantro and onions in the right proportions can be all it takes for a delicious taco. This minimalist approach is an authentic Mexican-style taco identified as a street taco, and it’s ubiquitous among taco trucks. No, it’s not fancy, as one of the tasters pointed out: “Street tacos all look the same to me.”
El Amigazo Taqueria in Redmond had the best deal: eight tacos for $10. The tacos scored a 3.25 because tasters found the beef and chicken a little dry, but with four house-made spicy sauces offered at the truck, that was easily remedied.
Want a generous portion of chicken, beef or pork on a street taco? Pihuamo’s Tacos on Third Street in Bend served corn tortillas topped with large chunks of juicy meat. Keep the napkins nearby.
Tacos El Nava, on Ninth Street in Bend, had the proportions right with all the ingredients stacked tidylike. Just one problem: The sweet spice on the chorizo — nope.
The winner: El Patron Mexican Kitchen in Redmond. Score: 4.25. The chicken taco was “perfect togetherness,” one taster said. It was spiced right — the meat tasted like it had been marinated in adobo sauce (a mixture of chili peppers, vinegar, herbs and spices) and it was topped with just the right amount of onions and cilantro. The fresh-made tortilla pulled it all together.
A close second was Toni’s Tacos in Prineville. Rating: 4. “Perfect, not greasy, held together.”
Find the right combo of ingredients and put them on a tortilla and you have a specialty taco, much like what’s happening inside a hamburger bun or some other breadish vessel.
Putting a spin on tacos is popular in Central Oregon, so the GO! crew tracked down the best specialty taco for you.
And let’s just say, it was the best of combos, it was the worst of combos.
Westside Taco Co. takes this fusion concept to the max with its offerings: a blueberry chipotle brisket, root beer carnitas, red Thai chicken and buffalo chicken.
The word on the streets is they’re good, but the day we visited the wait was 20 minutes. So, if you have some time you could be in for a treat.
Barrio’s taco truck at On Tap in northeast Bend offers a choice of pork carnitas, chipotle chicken, carne asada or mushroom/corn and sometimes fish, topped with a slightly fermented onion and cabbage mix, cilantro, cotija and a choice of salsas. Tasters described the tacos as colorful, overflowing and a good balance of flavor, but the fermented onions were better on the side.
Back at Shred Town, which has food trucks in Bend and Redmond, everything was going well at first. “Attractive, inviting,” “Super colorful,” the tortilla was “pretty perfect,” “manageable (mess).” Then, the red sauce drizzled on top assaulted our taste buds. Not sure what the flavor was in the sauce, but our best guess was Worcestershire sauce.
GoodLife’s new taco truck, which opened in June, took the top spot for specialty taco with a 4.25 rating.
We tried the Sweet As carnitas and Pass Stout barbacoa, obviously named for the beers used in the cooking.
The carnitas, a pork shoulder, is cooked for 12 hours in Sweet As Ale with Mexican-inspired spices. The tortillas are made fresh every day by Tortilleria Reyes, a local restaurant. The pork is topped with queso fresco, cilantro, diced onions and a mojo aioli, said chef Buddy Cardona. (Buddy, what a great name for a chef.) The beef taco is chuck roast braised overnight using the Pass Stout and the fitting spices. The meat is topped with a cilantro-lime sour cream, queso fresco and pickled red onions. For $9.50, you get three tacos and chips and salsa.
“Beautiful colors, generally appealing.” “Good,” “Like the fruity forward taste, back heat is good.”
El Sancho Taco Shack was a category on its own. The GO! crew dubbed this reliable. While other trucks strive to be different or naturally authentic, El Sancho’s is consistent, satisfying and has no lengthy wait times: That’s a 5.
And for those few of you still nervous about eating a taco served out of a truck, well, we’re all still standing.