If you spent a year away from Tucson, what would you miss the most?
While “friends, family, and Eegee’s” might be a popular response, the true answer is tacos. Explore elsewhere in the U.S. and you’ll likely have a harder time finding Mexican food outside of the realm of what you’re used to in Tucson.
We’re fortunate to have pillowy corn and flour tortillas, complex roasty and spicy salsas, and mesquite-grilled meats. It’s not just Tucson’s proximity to the Mexican border that helps — our neighbor Hermosillo is home of our beloved Sonoran hot dog. Additionally, the prominence of cattle ranching and mesquite trees resulted in the style of mesquite-grilled carne asada we’re so fond of today.
Perhaps some day we’ll have tacos on every corner, but in the meantime, most quality tacos are in culinary-dense neighborhoods. While it’s nigh impossible to get tired of tacos, it takes too much time and driving to try a different taco each day.
Our solution? Take a taco tour, go taco hopping, whatever you want to call it — one neighborhood at a time. Grab a group of friends and order a batch of tacos so each person can eat the signature taco, then move on to the next nearby taco joint.
In the inaugural segment of our Tucson Tour de Taco series, we’re featuring a small stretch of South 12th Avenue, also known as La Doce.
The list below doesn’t come close to encompassing this legendary taco territory, but you’ll enjoy a wide variety of styles. Also, it’s doable for most people to eat at every spot via hoofing it.
Tour de Taco Part I: South 12th Ave
Tacos de Cabeza
5245 S. 12th Ave.
Although cabeza means head in Spanish, cabeza tacos don’t include brain. It consists of specific parts around the head depending on where you order it, with catchete (cheek) being one of the most popular — it’s beefier than braised short rib. Sticky and gelatinous, it’s lip-smackingly addictive. If you’re feeling adventurous, they also offer sesos (brain).
5118 S. 12 Ave.
Although BK is legendary for their Sonoran dogs, they know how to throw down with tacos. Go for their mesquite-grilled carne asada or cabeza. Also take advantage of the generous salsa bar.
For more information, visit bktacos.com.
El Chivo de Oro
435 W. Irvington Rd.
Even though the $1 cabeza is an outstanding deal, spend the extra 99 cents for the goat birria. The rich meat has a faint hint of gaminess, which is balanced out by the intense salsas. Be careful with the red salsa.
Keep up with El Chivo de Oro on Facebook.
4841 S. 12th Ave.
Taco Fish is as plain Jane of a name as it gets, but you know what you’re getting. Don’t go for the basic fried fish taco, however — order the massive gordo taco with fried fish, fried shrimp, and a marlin chile relleno. The cabbage-carrot slaw isn’t as flavorful as it looks, so compensate with one of the salsas or cremas.
For more information, visit tacofishtucson.com.
3553 S. 12th Ave. #117
For a hard-shell taco, check out Taqueria Porfis. The freshly-fried shells are as satisfying as just-fried tortilla chips — satisfyingly greasy without the staleness of bagged chips. Go for tacos al vapor or dorado.
3501 S. 12th Ave.
Even though the menu says huevos, it’s not eggs. It’s testicles. You can try it just to say you did, but they’re nothing you’ll crave again. Instead, go for any other of Tacos Apson’s marvelous grilled meats such as the rasurado piled with beefy rib meat. Go Hass for green chile and melty cheese.
For more information, visit tacosapson.com.