Happy Bye Week! Let’s talk about something else: tacos!
For many Atlantans, tacos hold a special place, and with good reason. I posit that our spread could stand with any of Texas/California’s finest, but you have to know where to look, and more importantly what to avoid. I’m happy to offer a guide to the best Atlanta has to offer, but don’t let your journey end with the reading of this article. Go out and taste them, and then come back with your own reviews. Healthy debate is the bedrock of a sound society! We begin at the bottom, but worry not, Dear Reader, for what lies ahead is a steep ascent to the top of the heap.
And if you are gonna try the lot, please, please, invest in some flushable wipes.
The “I want a margarita” Division
I will not be reviewing any of these. They are all essentially the same restaurant, and they are fine, especially after a few cheap margaritas. The best way to describe them: if you like the idea of Mexican food, eat here I guess. I would not choose any of these options from a food standpoint, and yet have found myself knuckle deep in a bowl of queso at each restaurant at least once. I blame the blessed agave, that two-faced minx.
20. Red Pepper Taqueria: 6.2 miles from campus
19. La Parilla: 2.0 miles from campus
Okay I do have one thing to say about La Parilla. I was once asked by a former boss if I’d ever been. I kept it simple and said no. He then described La Parilla as “really authentic and really good,” and I lost what little respect I had remaining for that man. He went to Clempson, I should have seen it coming, and thusly I blame myself. La Parilla is not authentic, and it is not good.
18. Tin Lizzy’s Cantina: 0.7 miles from campus
17. Pure Taqueria: 2.7 miles from campus
16. The Original El Taco: 2.6 miles from campus
The “I’ll go if other people wanna go” Division
15. Moe’s: 0.1 miles from campus
Hot take: Moe’s is bad. As in not good. It was a classic case of “I can do it better than my boss” that motivates so many to found their own offshoots, as Moe thought he could out-Willy Willy’s. Moe, your menu names are cute, and they play to a very specific, young clientele. What under 23 doesn’t love ordering a Joey Bag Of Donuts or a Homewrecker? Who doesn’t love yearning for that third Atlanta United goal so you can be bad and splurge on guac? I get it. I lived in Tech Square, and frequented Moe’s. But when you’re pulling menu items from Taco Bell, it’s time to look in the mirror and ask yourself what it is that gets you out of bed in the morning. Odds are it isn’t love of authenticity. It’s money. Money is the answer, it’s all about money.
LET THE GAMES BEGIN.
14. Chipotle: 0.7 miles from campus
I’ve recently switched to ordering bowls at Chipotle, a move that rocketed Chipotle up my big board. I believe in freshness and efficiency, and it’s tough to find a better Venn diagram of supply chain and quality than Chipotle’s model. The chips are sneaky good, albeit over priced, but I find myself going back time and again. Whatever you’re doing, Chipotle, keep it up. Brownie points for the pseudo-knockoff “Chiplote” in Cuenca, Ecuador (Home of GT’s LBAT Program). It offers a little piece of home and pairs average greasy Mexican with a 12-hour Happy Hour. Go crazy ex-pats.
13. La Fonda Latina: 0.5 miles from campus
I know what you’re thinking. Austin you hypocrite! La Fonda is no better than the #16-#20 restaurants you’ve listed. Look, I don’t wanna argue, but you’re wrong. It’s way better and closer to campus, and those quesadillas are K I L L E R. Yes, I found a chicken bone in one once. Well things happen. I’m not knocking them down, do your own rankings.
12. bartaco: 0.6 miles from campus
Let me get this out of the way: O V E R R A T E D *clap clap clap clap clap* We all on the same page? Cool. Bartaco was all the rage when it popped up on the Westside in the mid 2010s, with people from all over town flocking to the bougie chic spot that felt part taco bar, part Abercrombie. As the depth of our city’s taco game increased, however, the wool began to fall from my eyes and I realized I don’t enjoy paying $6 for a two bite taco, even if the ribeye is flawlessly prepared. The food is actually really good, but holy moly is it overpriced. I feel like I’m paying to subsidize the 70 servers rather than for my food, and for all these reasons I haven’t been back since the new money vibes of finally having a real job wore off. They still have a line out the door at every location, but for the life of me I don’t get why they have a valet.
11. Taqueria Del Sol: 0.8 miles from campus
TDS holds a special place in my heart for one reason: I enjoy fish tacos, and theirs are pretty good. I did go there before really trying good tacos, but sometimes it’s better to be first than the best. Also the lil jalapeño slices on the queso are a good touch, and whenever I leave I feel happily surprised. Taqueria knows what it is and doesn’t try to be more than that. Oh, and the fact that they close between lunch and dinner service follows the Chickfila model. You always want what you can’t have.
The “Places I go when craving Mexican” Division
10. Nuevo Laredo: 3.2 miles from campus
I’ve never eaten at Nuevo Laredo. Why do I have a restaurant in my top 10 that I have never actually eaten at? There is always a crowd at Nuevo Laredo, so much so that they’ve coopted land from PepsiCo and turned it into an overflow lot. During the pandemic, they constructed an outdoor tent to offer greater and safer eating space, and I don’t ever see the tent coming down. It just gives more space for more customers, and progress doesn’t go backwards. Any restaurant that committed to Coca-Cola and serving dishes that look like this clearly is doing something right. Think of Nuevo Laredo as Oregon—until I see a reason to not believe in them, I’ll just trust the people actually paying attention and give them their flowers.
9. Bone Garden Cantina: 2.2 miles from campus
Bone Garden takes the Vortex model and went full Day of the Dead, soaking the entire interior in sugar skulls and motifs. Along the way, they make some damn good Mexican food, particularly quesadillas. I love the fact that they’re in a sparsely occupied office park, and that they were early to the Westside wave. Their empanadas are also quality, and overall they are a good middle of the road option for college students and professionals alike.
8. Jalisco Restaurant: 3.2 miles from campus
A neighborhood staple, Jalisco plays to its strengths and knows who it is. Their offerings are simple and traditional and give the people of Buckhead what they want: a steadfast go-to that still has hand-written tickets and Andes Mints at the register. Don’t let that dissuade you from venturing over, however. One bite of their melty, cheesy steak quesadilla will be all you need to understand how it has persisted despite rising rents in the area. Jalisco is solid, and as Marshawn Lynch says, it don’t get no better than solid, baby.
7. Willy’s: 2.3 miles from campus
That’s right people, I’m a Willy’s guy. Their queso hits the spot, their quesadillas always leave me wanting one more for the road, and I’ve had dreams about their chips. It’s not that it’s the best Mexican, it’s that it’s by far the best option of the ATL big 3 (Moe’s, Chipotle, Willy’s). I was raised on Willy’s, I’ve watched the to go containers change from styrofoam to plastic, seen them add items such as the Frito burrito and smothered burrito, and been happily surprised that, much like everything else they offer, they’re well made and actually really good. One knock: Idk why they chose to go with fresh Serrano peppers rather than jalapeños, perhaps the gringo pallet couldn’t handle the heat. Regardless, Willy’s earns its top 10 ranking off of its consistent and high level food prep. Fun fact: all those Jeeps riding around with ‘Willy’s’ on the fender have no connection to the restaurant. I know, I was crushed to learn that too.
6. Hankook Taqueria: 3.4 miles from campus
Though technically Korean, Hankook has cornered the cops-who-crave-tacos market. Seriously, there is always some sort of law enforcement official on the premises enjoying a saucy pork or fried chicken taco. I love their fish tacos as well, and the rotating taco special almost always hits. Sesame fries and bibimbap round out their menu. Be sure to ask for extra crispy fries.
The “City Jewels” Division
5. Little Rey al Carbon: 2.8 miles from campus
Opening in 2019 from Ford Fry, Little Rey has quickly become one of my favorite taco spots in the city. Food is prepared with the same principles as his full service Superica, but in a much more approachable package. In addition to the tacos, Little Rey boasts a wood-fired grilled chicken that harkens to a backyard barbecue and is truly excellent. Their salsa bar is also quality, with something for just about everyone. I recommend the jalapeño ranch, affectionately known as “Green Crack.”
4. Bell Street Burritos: 2.7 miles from campus
The top of the in-town lunch option heap, Bell Street took what Willy’s and Moe’s started and turned things up a notch. Their pulled chicken quesadilla absolutely melts in your mouth, and unlike some…other places, is always cooked to perfection and will only fall apart in the good way. On tacos, Bell Street has you covered. Want traditional street tacos? Order the green style. Craving some cheese and a bit of smoke? Order them chipotle style.
As an unapologetic meat eater, I find myself ordering the bean and potato tacos and loving every bite. The ambiance and decor are an added bonus. Another bonus, their soda fountain features Cheerwine. I suggest throwing a couple limes in there and having yourself a day.
3. Superica: 2.6 miles from campus
As far as sit down Mexican goes, you will not find a better restaurant in Atlanta than Superica. Maybe it’s the margs, but time and again I find myself spending money I don’t have and yet never regretting it. The fajitas will make you question everything you thought you knew about life, and time will henceforth be divided into B.B./A.B. — Before the Butter, and After. Like Frank’s Red Hot, the butter should be put on everything.
One visit, their flour tortilla maker was broken and I was forced to order corn. In the moment, it was no problem, the corn held their own. But my next visit, with the flour tortilla maker back in service, I realized just how empty my days had been since last tasting the freshly made, warm, dusty vessels. I haven’t done it yet, but I could 100% order only tortillas and salsa and still leave satisfied. It’s a futile exercise, as no sane person could or should resist ordering a Queso Fundido, but I digress.
tl;dr Kids are expensive, save your money for something that really matters: eating at Superica.
2. Prison Tacos @ El Progreso: 6.5 miles from campus
The proverbial hole in the wall and nicknamed for the Federal Prison nearby, Prison Tacos is located within the El Progreso #14 on Boulevard. It was actually recommended by an out of towner and frankly made me feel foolish for never discovering this gem. The tacos are cheap and simple so feel free to order 4-6, but don’t expect leftovers.
Since it’s inside a market, you get the added bonus of inexpensive Mexican sodas, with a full cabinet dedicated to Jarritos and half liter glass Cokes. They even have a bottle opener on hand, because like a loyal Boy Scout, they’re prepared. The salsa bar is big enough to swim in, with three options: Hot, Hotter, and Hate Yourself. Who knew heaven on Earth could be found across the street from a literal prison? Now I sure do.
1. Salsa Taqueria & Wings: 8.5 miles from campus
Located inside a gas station on Buford Highway, Salsa Taqueria was recommended to me by a coworker, and man am I glad I followed their advice and paid Salsa a visit. Don’t let the setting scare you off: Salsa packs a ton of flavor into its dishes, as the omnipresent lines portends. The Birria Tacos are somewhere between a quesadilla and a hardshell taco, and the consomme they’re served with is more of a “Mexican jus,” making the whole experience akin to a French dip. Two Birria should be more than enough to fill anyone’s belly and leave you with that warm fuzzy feeling only a satisfying meal can bring.
While I haven’t tried much outside of the tacos, find me another gas station taco restaurant where you can get a whole fried fish, and I will happily make the trek for a tasting. Even so, Salsa is well worth the trip. All of their offerings are Halal, and did I mention that they deliver? Support a local business and check out Salsa if you haven’t yet. If you have, I’m sure you’re already planning your next visit.