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Taqueria El Semental started out as an old white truck in David Prieto's front yard. Around three years ago, David was going through some tough times and thought, \"I have to do something with this.\" Then he did.\u00a0

The California-native was working as a carpenter at the time, so he put a little money into fixing the truck up, taking the scrap metal off the body and covering the exterior with wooden panels, which he stained the color Gunstock to look like an old Western. He called his truck El Semental, which means \"stud\" or \"bull,\" after a nickname his cousin called him, because he was good with the ladies. On the side of the truck, he pasted a big picture of a hulking white bull wearing a nose ring.\u00a0

For a couple years, the truck operated out at South Kinney Road and Western Way by Old Tucson. And around six months ago, he moved to Fourth Avenue and employed the help of his sister Celina to run the cash register. Parked next to the giant Easter Island head at The Hut, El Semental provides weekend bargoers with massive burritos, Nachos Locos gut bombs and some pretty exceptional late-night bites.\u00a0

This crazy thing, the caramelo taco, was thought up by Celina. It's basically a full-scale caramelo featuring two 10-inch tortillas stuffed with shredded mozzarella cheese and mesquite-grilled carne asada. (David prefers to use the shoulder meat rather than the more popular chuck steak, because he says it's juicier and has less fat and nerve tissue.) Then on top, David puts your regular taco fixins': a handful of shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, a blended red salsa and a squirt of guacamole.

Sitting with this cheesy meat goliath in your hands, it's hard to decide whether you should rip little melty pieces off like you would a caramelo, or just fold the whole thing up and eat it like a taco. I chose the latter, because, you know ... \u00a0I was sitting on a stage in front of a dozen people wearing masks of my face, cheering me on.\u00a0

But lots of people like to eat it right in front of the truck, sitting on a decorative bale of hay and watching the revelers walk by. It's kind of like you're at a cattle ranch in Sonora, except not really. You're in Tucson at midnight, and hey, this is fun!\u00a0

Weird fact:\u00a0The caramelo taco isn't actually on the menu, so you have to ask for it. Also if you get it with corn tortillas, it's significantly smaller. \u00a0

Location: parked in front of the Hut, 305 N. Fourth Ave.

Phone: 520-668-9163

Hours:\u00a07:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Thursdays, 6:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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Strict locavores, look away for a minute! The campus area restaurant Boca Tacos y Tequila ventures into new taco territory\u00a0with its off-the-wall salsas and globetrotting Mexican fusion. Every Wednesday, it\u00a0holds an \"exotic taco\" night with a different obscure meat/veggie from around the world. This time, it was python.\u00a0

Chef Maria Mazon worked with Dickman's deli in Tucson to bring in the snake meat from a farm in Vietnam, said\u00a0butcher Dan Dickman. \"They give to you deboned,\" Maria said. \"You end up with a shrunk piece of white stuff. You're like what is this? Until you start chopping and dicing.\"

Maria boiled down the meat and then simmered it in a stew of sweet chipotle tamarind sauce, which paired beautifully with my black hoisin salsa. Piled atop a corn tortilla with cabbage and cilantro, the springy shards of snake tasted like a muscular pork chop. It reminded me of an extra-dimensional Vietnamese stir fry dish, but my boyfriend was thinking more like Mongolian beef.

This is the third time Maria's done snake in her restaurant. The first time she fried it, and the second time she grilled it. This preparation technique seems to highlight the best of the meat, and soften it up a little. In the words of my server: \"Python is usually more muscular. But this one isn't.\" Let's just say, it was so good it took hold of me, and it never let go ...

Weird fact:\u00a0Exotic Taco Wednesdays of recent past include jackfruit taco, ostrich meatloaf wonton taco, spiced latte taco and coconut curry rabbit.\u00a0

Location: 828 E. Speedway\u00a0

Phone: 520-777-8134

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays.\u00a0

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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Hi, I\u2019m Andi! And I spent the entire summer (plus you know, a few more weeks) eating 100 tacos around Tucson.

Up north in the finest restaurants, I dined on short ribs and maple-glazed buffalo meat. On a south-side street corner this June, I bit into sizzling golden tacos de Jalisco served on a bed of shiny foil.\u00a0On the east side, I nibbled on ahi tuna at the gates of Saguaro National Park. Out west at the dusty Tohono O\u2019odham Swapmeet, I tasted fried pig cheek that melted away like cotton candy.\u00a0

I drove miles, tirelessly looking for roadside food carts that might yield an exciting discovery. I scoured personal Facebook pages. I walked into carnicer\u00edas, bugging the butchers for tips on their favorite places. I also hit Interstate 19 toward Nogales, and drove west to eat Indian fry bread tacos in Sells.

I have eaten tacos at historical restaurants and I have eaten tacos at gas stations.

Rolled chicken and cuitlacoche tacos at Elvira\u2019s Restaurant in Tubac, originally established in 1927 in Nogales, Mexico. Photo by Andi Berlin/Arizona Daily Star

Why? Here's where I'm coming from ...

When I started as digital food writer for the Arizona Daily Star in February, my editor and I sat down and talked about big projects \u2014ideas that would make a splash.

I had always been interested in food studies, and tacos seemed to exemplify our city\u2019s multiculturalism and its Mexican roots. Eating 100 seemed a reasonably impressive goal.

To be honest, as a Jewish girl who grew up in suburban Chandler, I have always been more of a burrito person. We didn\u2019t eat much Mexican food at home unless we brought it back from Filiberto\u2019s. When I went out to Garcia\u2019s or Macayo\u2019s I usually got a chimichanga.

It wasn\u2019t until I arrived as a freshman at the University of Arizona that I started visiting taco trucks and little places on Tucson\u2019s south side, like BK and Taqueria Pico de Gallo. The atmosphere, the prices and the bright flavors were enthralling \u2014 but I didn\u2019t truly appreciate them until I left them behind and moved to Northern California for two years.\u00a0

The taco inspires me \u2014\u00a0It\u2019s a blank canvas for an artist to stylize and build with boundless creativity. There are naturalist tacos that paint a landscape of a region and the animals that live there. There\u2019s experimental fusion at the food trucks, which draw from cultures around the world. There\u2019s the high concept and the gourmet, and the cheap fried and crunchy. (The people's tacos/pop art?)

Tacos are also an industry here. For many chefs and business owners, they are a living and a lifeline, a way to support their families and find the American dream.

Above all, tacos are a symbol of who we are as Tucsonans. We live in a multiracial city immersed in the Southwest, with a thriving food culture and some of the most eclectic restaurants in the country. We are creative people and proud of what we do, because \u2014guess what? \u2014 it\u2019s absurdly delicious.

Taqueria El Semental owner David Prieto makes up a beef caramelo taco during my 100th Taco party at The Hut on Fourth Avenue. Photo by Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star

What tacos taught me about our food scene

Many people have asked me, \u201cAre you sick of tacos?\u201d

To that I say, \u201cNO! Aren\u2019t you sick of sandwiches by now? Because you seem to eat one every day.\u201d

Really, this project has been one of the coolest and most rewarding things I have ever done.\u00a0

This is what I learned: First off, when we talk about Mexican food around here, we usually call it \u201cSonoran\u201d food. This label is a little flawed, in my opinion: Sonoran food is more than chimichangas, cheesy enchiladas and carne seca. These dishes speak just as much to the American Southwest as they do to the state of Sonora.

The Taco Super with manta ray, octopus and glutinous black tuna fin at Baja Mar food truck. Photo by Andi Berlin/Arizona Daily Star

Sonoran food is a lot of things, but here are the biggies: 1) mesquite-grilled carne asada chopped up on tacos or served as big slabs of steak, 2) obscure cow parts like brains, cheeks and testicles, delicacies of cattle ranches, 3) smoked marlin, saucy shrimp cocktails and mariscos tostadas from the coastal cities around Guaymas, 4) the spicy manta ray and shrimp soup called \u201ccahuamanta,\u201d 5) stuffed yellow guero peppers and those rapturous roasted green onions!

How I learned to stop worrying and love the flour

Sonoran food is also known for its \u201ctortilla de harina,\u201d the wheat flour tortilla with a complex and troubled history. According to research by University of Arizona anthropologist Maribel Alvarez, who is also program director of Tucson Meet Yourself, wheat was introduced to native desert dwellers by Spanish missionaries in the 1600s, and took off because it was drought resistant and could be grown in the wintertime.

Reforma is one of the only gourmet restaurants in town that puts an emphasis on flour tortillas, making them from scratch. Andi Berlin/Arizona Daily Star

In the 1940s, Sonora was a focal point in The Green Revolution, where scientists developed genetically modified crops with the intent of alleviating world hunger. (Unfortunately, much of this led to the disappearance of heirloom varieties like the prized White Sonora Wheat.)

In today\u2019s local food movement with its emphasis on regional cuisine, many gourmet restaurants have abandoned the flour tortilla in favor of the pre-Hispanic corn. At the beginning of this project I followed suit, but now I feel confident enough to say \u201cno mas.\u201d

Wheat flour tortillas are intrinsically tied to our region\u2019s identity and our past \u2014 the pretty parts and the ugly parts \u2014 and they are in no way inauthentic. They are what myself and countless numbers of us grew up eating, and they are of course the best, most delicious choice for carne asada.

The good, the bad and the offal

The list I\u2019ve compiled over these past months is far from perfect.

Because I was writing up \u201cone\u201d taco at each place, I inadvertently missed out on several popular taco styles. These include: calabacitas (there is a great take on the squash classic at Boca, but I went with python instead), real spit-roasted al pastor (Polo\u2019s at the Tohono O\u2019odham Swapmeet, plus Street Taco & Beer Co.), and tacos \u201cal carbon.\u201d (oops!)

I missed several spots, including Mi Nidito (fearing a long wait to get in), a truck called Adictacos Sonorastyle on Prince Road that apparently invented the \u201cVaca\u201d taco with jalape\u00f1os and cream cheese, and El G\u00fcero Canelo, which I had planned to save for last.

By the numbers\u00a0

This is how much I claimed on my expense reports: $756.08.\u00a0(This figure includes mileage, tips, and all the extra tacos I \u201chad to\u201d eat, because many restaurants only offered full plates.)

Times I got sick/food poisoning:\u00a00

Times I ate pig stomach: 2\u00a0(I also ate obscure cow parts like brains, cheeks and testicles, python, a manta ray and two\u00a0vegan tacos).

Times I cried in my car: 1\u00a0(Out of joy, after the quesadilla taco at Cocteleria La Palma.)

Dress sizes I've gone up: 1\u00a0(Not because tacos are unhealthy, but because nobody should eat out this much. Also, the taco\u2019s best friend: the michelada.)During my first taco at Aqui Con El Nene, I ran into James Beard-winning chef Janos Wilder picking up takeout. Arizona Daily Star

My biggest regret?

Ordering guacamole tacos at Guadalajara Mexican Grill on East Broadway. Meh. Just spend the money and get the steaming molcajete bowl.

What I'll never forget

Concluding my four-year search for \u201csesos\u201d (cow brains) at Tacos de Cabeza truck on Grant Road and Stone Avenue. Getting to know the south side and the people who work and live there. They are some of the friendliest, hardest-working people I have ever met.\u00a0

Driving east toward the monsoon lightning, looking for a new place to eat and to learn. Pushing my boundaries and expanding my horizons.

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Look closely underneath that lettuce and you'll see the biggest animal in North America. Yeah that's it, the little strips of beefy-looking meat in the sticky brown marinade.

As far as I know, buffalo meat tacos aren't really found south of the border. Or even south of Tangerine Road, for that matter. (I actually looked up \"tacos de bufalo\" on Google and all I found were images of pool cues.) But American bison meat is a low-fat choice for gourmet burgers, and here it is on the menu one of Tucson's finest resort destinations, the Ritz-Carlton at Dove Mountain.

Sample some at the resort's patio grill\u00a0Ignite,\u00a0while snacking on complimentary olives and staring out onto a sweeping desert scene. The tacos look so dainty tucked into their steel holder, but they're quite substantial really. The highlight is that chewy flour tortilla, fresh like a bite of newly-risen bread dough. With all its sweetness and spice, the marinade reminded me of Korean barbecue, but it was actually a combination of maple syrup, sage, garlic and more.\u00a0

You can just buy one as I did, or get the plate for $18. Either way, you still get the view.\u00a0

Weird fact:\u00a0This was by far the least I've ever spent at the Ritz-Carlton! I was there an hour and only spent $7.44 with tax and tip. Cheapest staycation ever ...\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0

Location: 15000 N. Secret Springs Drive, Marana

Phone: 520-572-3000

Hours: 11:30 to 9:30 p.m. seven days a week (bar hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays)\u00a0

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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Inside the offbeat\u00a0Barrio Hollywood restaurant\u00a0Tania's \"33\" Dos Mundos, there's a blackboard with the word \"Jamaica\" written\u00a0on it. It's not a country nor a drink. Its a kind of taco, featuring dried hibiscus flowers cooked to a\u00a0texture like machaca\u00a0beef.

The restaurant serves a ton of vegetarian and vegan recipes for such a homey place \u2014 calabacitas,\u00a0fried cauliflower and even lentils \u2014 but this is something new. The deep purple flowers are most commonly found in tea, but they've lately become a fad on the foodie lifestyle blogs.

It sounds a little off-putting on the vegan corn tortillas,\u00a0but the flowers really aren't as sweet as you might think. They actually have a natural tartness, and taste kinda like a syrupy sundried\u00a0tomato.\u00a0

Weird fact:\u00a0Watch out for an even newer vegetarian option coming soon, portabello mushroom ranchera.

Location: 614 N. Grande Ave.

Phone: 520-622-0685

Hours: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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Micha's, how do I love thee. Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height, of every taco in my sight. I love thee's chimichangas, and thee's green chile enchiladas. The beef machaca, the chicken tostada, and the carne asada. (Wow, it's easy to rhyme things with \"A\"!) Sometimes the parking lot can be a pain in the neck. But I shall but love thee better after the check.

I made this into a poem because this Tucson institution has been written about for decades, and most of what I can say has already been said. But here it is anyway ... If you want to know what Tucson Mexican food tasted like before the foodie scene brought in all the gourmet and the hyper-regional, this is it: \"Pattie\" beef tacos, with the ground beef shaped into a crumbly hamburger, fried to a beautiful crackle\u00a0with a storm of shredded yellow cheese on top.\u00a0

This is Sonoran food. It is not healthy and it is not fancy, but it's extremely well-executed. And dare I say it, freaking delicious!\u00a0

Weird fact:\u00a0The ground beef patty tacos are actually an original recipe from Micha's co-founder Artemisa \"Micha\" Mariscal. The family has been serving them ever since they opened the restaurant in 1976.

Location: 2908 S. Fourth Ave.

Phone: 520-623-5307

Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays, 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.\u00a0Tuesdays through Thursdays, 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays\u00a0

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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How I learned to stop worrying and love the flour tortilla ...

The tale goes something like this: Intrepid food writer, anxious to prove her culinary clout, picks corn everywhere she goes because she perceives it to be more authentic. Somewhere along the way she realizes A) the flour tortilla has an extremely rich history in this region, and B) when done right, a warm flour tortilla is a flawless food, and it is a delicacy.\u00a0

So I'm just gonna go out on a limb and say this: As far as tacos go,\u00a0Reforma Cocina y Cantina\u00a0has the best tortillas in town. I have not tried their corn tortillas, only the flour. But now that I've had them, I will never go back ...

The St. Philip's Plaza restaurant makes them from scratch, kneading the flour and the lard into a dough and then running it through a big conveyor machine that presses and cooks it, much like a comal. The tortillas come out thick and warm and dusted with flour. They aren't crackly and they don't have layers that peel off when you take a bite. They have a nice chew to them, and taste like real ingredients with a hint of buttery fat. They are in short, amazing.\u00a0

Lots of people prefer corn tortillas with shrimp tacos, but these people need to try the ones at Reforma. The flour tortilla keeps them light and highlights the freshness of the shrimp, chubby and bursting with a guajillo chile marinade. The squirt of zesty lime crema really sets them off, so that the flesh tastes bright and mineral-rich. At $5.50 apiece they are on the pricier side. But they are so worth it ...

Weird fact:\u00a0Executive chef Zack Ghidotti cut his teeth up in Sonoma County where he did pop-up dinners and lived and cooked on an organic farm. You can say he brings a Bay Area aesthetic to his cooking, using high quality ingredients etc. \u00a0 \u00a0

Location: 4310 N. Campbell Ave.

Phone: 520-867-4134

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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Sahuaro Cafe opens at 6 a.m., which is prime time for these lovely breakfast tacos. Take a seat at one of the booths lining the long sidewall, and let Janice take care of the rest. She'll fix you up with a steaming plate of scrambled eggs on two flour tortillas, with melted yellow cheese on top.\u00a0

This is diner food through and through. It's more Southwest than Sonoran, and despite the fact that the little eggy curds are stained red with chile, it's not particularly spicy. But it does taste good with a cup of coffee and a morning paper. And sometimes, that's all you need.\u00a0

Weird fact:\u00a0Some people might quibble with the spelling of \"sahuaro\" with an h. So I did a little research about it and found out that the \"g\" actually arrived with the Spanish. The other spelling \"sahuaro\" may have come from a native O'odham word, according the book \"O Brave New Words! Native American Loanwords in Current English\" by Charles L. Cutler. Either way, lots of places are spelled with the \"h,\" like Sahuaro High School ...

Location: 12142 N. Rancho Vistoso Blvd #120, Oro Valley

Phone: 520-297-3258

Hours: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. seven days a week \u00a0

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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There's not much to this Marana-area restaurant; just a room with some yellow walls and a few abstract prints. But if they lack anything in style, they sure do make it up in size! La Olla Mexican Cafe\u00a0serves what has to be the biggest fried taco I've ever seen. (And I've seen a lot.)\u00a0

It's called El Grandote, which sounds like a name from a Taco Bell commercial. To describe it, I picture an exaggerated Latin voice slowly belting out: \"A forklift of juicy ground beef and thick slabs of chipotle chicken, topped with lettuce, sour cream, soft avocados and fiery pickled jalape\u00f1o. All in a crispy taco shell that'll crack your world to pieces!\"\u00a0

But Taco Bell can't go near this beautiful beast. It's too ambitious and expensive for them, and surprisingly well-executed ... With all this protein, the taco clocks in at $11.95 with rice and beans, a fierce contender for the most expensive in town. (But I think the $9 lobster, bacon and chorizo taco at Lerua's still has them beat.)\u00a0

But honestly, it's not tough to finish this thing. The thick, puffy shell does a great job of holding everything in. And you can take little bites of all the different ingredients: the peppery beef stained red with the fragrant chile, the tangy little jalape\u00f1os that burst into pangs of spicy juice ...

Insider's tip: They've also got a killer lunch special with big plates of food for $5.35 until 4 p.m.\u00a0\u00a0

Location: 8553 N. Silverbell Road

Phone: 520-579-0950

Hours: \u00a011:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, closed Sundays

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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These tacos feel like a meal at grandma's house ... If your grandma is the kinda lady that drinks spritzers and lives at the country club.

In other words, they're right up my alley! They're not on the menu, but\u00a0Harvest restaurant up in Oro Valley does a plate of meaty\u00a0short rib tacos upon request.\u00a0The beef is ripped into big chunks that taste almost like pot roast without the gravy. Instead, a silken avocado sauce with some fruity pico de gallo and milky little sponges of queso fresco on top.\u00a0

These tacos are gentle and easy, with little to no spice. I ate them on the patio staring up at a pack of bulbous clouds threatening rain. But in my mind's eye, I was laying on the sofa wrapped in a big warm blanket.\u00a0

Weird fact:\u00a0I actually came here for the \"Greek tacos\" with gyro meat and feta cheese, but two separate people recommended these ... \u00a0

Location: 10355 N. La Ca\u00f1ada Drive, Oro Valley. But there's also a second location at 5605 E. River Road, Tucson.

Phone: (520) 731-1100

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays\u00a0

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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Drive over the railroad tracks and you'll get to a parking lot with an old feed store and a\u00a0crumbling brown building that used to be a post office. There's a bright red taco truck with some walls built around it, almost like an Arizona room without the house.\u00a0

This is your Vail spot for Mexican food. The truck is called Valeria's, and its menu of flautas and chimichangas reminds me of a late-night burrito place. It's also, surprisingly, the only place I can remember that serves\u00a0green chile beef tacos. I usually go for the shredded red, but this is a nice change of pace with chunky cubes of soft roast bathed in a mild sauce. Get it on the flour tortillas, which crackle a little bit as you pop them up into your mouth. \u00a0

Weird fact: The truck sits across the street from the Santa Rita Shrine, which dates back to 1935 and is apparently the only Catholic church in the U.S. to be built in memory of a Japanese citizen. \u00a0\u00a0\u00a0

Location:\u00a0East Colossal Cave Road and East Old Vail Road, just north of the I-10 freeway, Vail\u00a0

Phone: no phone

Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, closed Sundays

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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I wanted to include an\u00a0ahi tuna taco on this list. I was not expecting it to be at Saguaro National Park.\u00a0

But way out at the base of the Rincon Mountains where Golf Links Road hits a fork, a historic restaurant is turning out plates of gourmet cheese curds and quinoa kale salad. Former downtown restaurateur Kade Mislinksi took over the old Saguaro Corners\u00a0in December, revamping the menu with hip comfort foods a'la Hub and Playground.\u00a0

A lot of times when you get tuna around here, it's gummy and flavorless. This was a different story. Supple little plumps of sashimi-grade tuna, glistening and fat with their juices, were marinated in a soy-based ponzu sauce with a hit of sweet ginger. They get tucked into crispy fried wonton wraps, with hunks of avocado and a little white sesame.

I was honestly kinda surprised these tacos were so good, until they brought out the chef Kevin Gorski, a seasoned kinda guy who told me he'd also worked at Anthony's in the Catalinas. \u00a0 \u00a0 \u00a0

Weird fact:\u00a0The dining room, which dates back to the '50s, is dominated by large windows that look out onto surrounding desert. Manager David Musso told me that back in the day, the tables by the windows were always full because they fed javelinas right outside. \u00a0

Location: 3750 S. Old Spanish Trail

Phone: 520-886-2020

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Fridays, 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sundays

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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Most tacos are made on the stove or the fryer. These come from the mandolin.\u00a0

In addition to being vegan and gluten free, these\u00a0sunflower street tacos\u00a0are also 100 percent raw. Instead of tortillas, the tacos are wrapped with thin disks of Asian daikon radish cut on a mandolin kitchen slicer.\u00a0

The Tasteful Kitchen's co-owner Sigret Thompson\u00a0is inspired by the challenge of creating vibrant and filling dishes without animal products or flour. Rather than serving the standard mock meats of many vegetarian restaurants, her menu showcases vegetables and other natural ingredients like sunflower seeds.\u00a0

For the tacos, she soaks the raw seeds in water to soften them up before straining and blending with jalape\u00f1os, cilantro and other Southwestern seasonings. The result is a punchy paste with a nutty flavor and the\u00a0\"mouthfeel of taco meat,\" she said. The sunflower spread is rubbed into the daikon wrap and topped with a bright bouquet of fresh grape tomatoes, red cabbage, avocado and whispers of pickled onions. \u00a0

Something strangely magical happens when you take the tortilla away from a taco. It becomes fresh and light, almost like a salad or an Asian spring roll. The daikon has such a wonderful sweet flavor, with just a hint of bitter on the back. It's surprisingly supple for a radish, despite how crisp it is. And it's a great foil for those ripe avocados, nature's butter ...

Weird fact: Gotta say, this has been one of the most interesting dining experiences of all the places I've been. It's not every day that you get to sip water from a crystal goblet while sitting next to a tree painting of a deer with a dragon's tail.\u00a0

Location: 722 N. Stone Ave.\u00a0

Phone: 520-250-9600

Hours: 5 to 9 \u00a0p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, closed Sundays and Mondays

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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Tacos de Cabeza\u00a0on Grant Road is exactly what it sounds like: a truck dedicated to the many subtle wonders of the cow's head regions. Aka, the kinda place to get your tongue on some lengua, or compare the texture of cachete cheek meat with\u00a0paladar \"roof of mouth.\"\u00a0

But cabeza, or the meat of the face, is pretty standard around here. This place goes deeper. As far as I've seen, Tacos de Cabeza is the only business in town with sesos on the menu. That's brains, folks: glorious gray globules of custardy meat funk cooked overnight in big pots and then steamed into a livery pate.\u00a0

Rosalinda Arzate, who runs the business' two trucks with her husband Carlos Salas Olaiz, says they go through about 30 cow heads a day. They get them from a USDA-certified supplier out of Phoenix, and are very specific about making sure the product is always 100 percent clean. (They have very favorable ratings from the health department, she adds.)\u00a0

Sesos are a breakfast food in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, where Arzate's husband is from. They're a delicacy, Arzate said, and some people believe eating them makes you smarter. I was smart enough to realize that they taste infinitely better with a squirt of spicy orange habanero salsa. But I wasn't smart enough to realize that putting them down for a minute won't fix anything. At the end of the meal, you're just gonna have a plate of cold brains ...\u00a0

Weird fact:\u00a0The truck also sells eyes and lips, but the couple can't bring in any from their supplier right now.\u00a0

Locations: I checked out the truck at 250 E. Grant Road, on the south side of Grant just east of Stone. They also have a truck on the northeast corner of South 12th Avenue and Nebraska Street.\u00a0

Phone: 520-312-9328

Hours:\u00a06 a.m. to 2 p.m. seven days a week. (Closed Christmas Day and New Year's Day.)\u00a0

Payment:\u00a0cash only\u00a0

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For the past eight years, Guadalajara-native Ramon Becerra has run a full-fledged taqueria from a converted house off South Park Avenue. The brick building that houses Maico is mostly a patio, decorated with wooden tables and potted plants. Most days you'll find Ramon's son, Ramon Jr., working the counter. Ask him what his favorite is, and he'll say the chicken taco ...

I got three: A battered fish taco, the standard crispy chicken taco with shredded lettuce and a pork\u00a0adobada taco on corn tortillas. The style is like a saucier al pastor, with a spice mix of chile, oregano, cloves, garlic and more. This one also had soft chunks of onions, almost caramelized, that gave it a savory hit. I usually order adobada through the drive-thru window at about 2 a.m. But as it turns out, it also makes a great lunch!\u00a0

Weird fact: I took several coworkers over here during a power outage in the Star newsroom. Thank goodness it's right down the street!\u00a0

Locations: 835 E. 22nd St.

Phone: 520-294-2836

Hours: 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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I was expecting the manta ray. I wasn't expecting what came on top: Black shards of blubbery flesh that shined like wet clam shells.

The sea is full of wonderful and frightening surprises, and this is definitely one of them. Aleta de atun (\"tuna fin\") is a specialty of Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, where food truck owner\u00a0Braulio Lopez found it. He says the meat comes from a specific fin on the bottom of the fish.

At his truck Baja Mar - Mariscos y Cahuamanta, they slow boil the fin along with a slab of sting ray meat for several hours. The two go onto shop's Taco Super Baja Mar\u00a0along with whole shrimp and squishy little octopus disks and tentacles.

The creation is kind of a Tour de Gulf of California: a mountain of sea life on double-stacked corn tortillas with cabbage, onions and tomatoes. The manta ray on the bottom was soft and shredded in red sauce, almost like a heavier tuna fish without any gaminess. It was the base for the spunkier ingredients like the octopus. (Sadly, I think they forgot to put on the shrimp that day.)

The tuna fin? Well I guess I'll be honest. It was really sticky and gummy and smelled like something you'd find in a tidepool. Even the the guy working the line said it wasn't his favorite. But apparently, \"A lot of people like it!\"

Weird fact: The Sonoran specialty cahuamanta \u2014 which usually contains a mixture of manta ray, shrimp and sometimes tuna fin \u2014 used to be prepared with turtle meat until our favorite reptilian friend was put on the endangered species list. \u00a0\u00a0\u00a0

Locations: I caught up with Baja Mar on the northeast corner of Oracle Road and Miracle Mile. But there's a second truck on northeast corner of East Drexel Road and South Nogales Highway. NEWS!\u00a0Lopez says that in a couple of weeks they plan to open a third Baja Mar on 22nd Street and Wilmot outside the La Mexicana\u00a0Mercado y Carniceria.\u00a0

Phone: 520-940-7784

Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Payment:\u00a0cash only

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Savvy Tucsonans know about the second great neighborhood for Mexican food, the vast stretch of deliciousness between Oracle Road and the I-10 freeway. Cruise down Prince or Ruthrauff any day and you'll see half a dozen shops and stands serving some of the best food north of 22nd Street. \u00a0 \u00a0\u00a0

I found this place just by driving up Oracle Road, past the dirt lots across the street from the Holy Hope Cemetery. The truck has a cute cartoony insignia with a molcajete stone bowl shaped into an \"M,\" for\u00a0Molcas.\u00a0

I like this place because it's got a trendy vibe, but at the same time it feels simple and sincere. Empalme, Sonora-native\u00a0Antonio Alfaro has stacked the menu with colorful tortas, caramelos and various fried items labeled under the name \"fritangas.\" My carne asada taco\u00a0was standard but choice, with plump chunks of beef on a flour tortilla with a little chopped cabbage on top. They save the creativity for the salsa bar ...\u00a0

Insider's tip:\u00a0Despite what you may read on Yelp or Facebook, the truck is no longer on Grant Road. It's on Oracle!\u00a0

Location: East side of Oracle Road just north of Miracle Mile.\u00a0

Phone: 520-358-1919

Hours:\u00a07 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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Denise Schafer's mother is from Michoac\u00e1n and her father is Tohono O'Odham. Her family restaurant La Indita is a little bit of both: familiar faire like red chile beef along with rustic vegetarian recipes from Central Mexico.\u00a0

That's why you can get an Indian fry bread taco smothered with nopales cactus pads. Or my favorite, a puffy pocket of fried masa they call the Tarascan taco. The name refers to a the pre-Colombian state of Tarascan, which roughly borders today's Michoac\u00e1n, and its people the Pur\u00e9pecha. (The region's most popular dish is actually a spicy red bean soup that closely resembles the modern tortilla soup.)\u00a0

On the streets of Michoac\u00e1n, the tacos are cooked in big pans that look like woks, Schafer said. At La Indita they stuff them with spinach and fry them into a half-moon shape similar to an empanada. You cut the tacos with your fork and let the soft leafy greens spill out. Almost like you would a chimichanga ...\u00a0

Weird fact: It only took Nogales artist Jocar one night to paint that staggering mural depicting a Michoac\u00e1n village from Maria Garcia's childhood. But since he was working from a photograph, the mountains in the mural are actually from Sonora. \u00a0\u00a0\u00a0

Location: 622 N. Fourth Ave.

Phone: 520-792-0523

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit

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Just this one time: Pass up the oxtail stew and the curry goat for a plate of jerk chicken tacos with habanero salsa. Seems strange, but it's perfectly natural over at D's Island Grill Ja., the colorful Jamaican restaurant at Fort Lowell and Country Club.\u00a0

D's started out as a food truck, where fusion tacos are just par for the course. The Morant Bay, Jamaica\u00a0native Duwayne Hall went brick-and-mortar in 2013, putting traditional dishes like ackee and salt fish on the menu with his sandwiches and quesadillas.\u00a0

The tacos start the same way as his jerk chicken, rubbed in a dry seasoning powder imported from Jamaica. Then Hall adds a wet rub, blended from standard jerk ingredients like allspice and Scotch bonnet pepper. After a trip to the smoker grill in the back, the chicken is seared in a combination of garlic butter and coconut oil to give it \"an island taste.\"\u00a0

All chopped up and spread over flour tortillas with melted cheese, the plumps of chicken aren't nearly as saucy as you might expect. But of course there's the tangy jerk sauce on the side, which I liberally poured over the top. Even the coleslaw, sweet and stringy with a bitter bite, was delicate and displayed care. \u00a0

Insider's tip:\u00a0The D&G Pineapple Soda is quite lovely and sweet.\u00a0

Location: 3156 E. Fort Lowell Road

Phone: 520-861-2271

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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This food truck/Mexican candy store came highly recommended by a server at Nox Kitchen, purveyor of short rib tacos and New Zealand rack of lamb. With its late-night hours and killer carne asada,\u00a0Karamelo King\u00a0has gained a cult status among industry workers and dive-bar dwellers along Grant Road.\u00a0

The truck's owners Cristina and Rafael Gastelum are from Cananea and Ciudad Obreg\u00f3n, Sonora, where grilled steaks reign supreme and the plain cheese quesadilla seems inadequate compared to its beefier brother, the caramelo. But these guys take a step further by letting you \"King\" size things by adding onions, whole pinto beans and avocado on top!

Rafael fixed me up a Taco King\u00a0straight from the mesquite charcoal grill, where he uses a rotating wheel rack to control the temperature. (He also handed me a brilliant charred onion, which I popped out of its crispy shell straight into my mouth like an Otter Pop! Gosh I love those ...)

I can see why people flock to this place. The chuck steak is seasoned with nothing but salt, a pure expression of the steer that drives the culture of Northern Mexico. It's great with the beans and the like, but it's also great by itself. (And while we're at it, in the Hass taco with cheese and green chiles.) The perfect treat after a long day, or perhaps, a long night ... \u00a0

Weird fact:\u00a0The pi\u00f1atas in the candy shop next door are a serious contribution to pop art, especially the SpongeBob SquarePants. If you ask nicely like I did, they might even take you inside to meet Donald Trump!

Location: 3752 E. Grant Road

Phone: 520-409-1027

Hours: 6 p.m. to midnight Mondays through Thursdays, 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, closed Sundays

Payment:\u00a0cash only

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Everyone has their spot. This is mine:\u00a0Taqueria Pico de Gallo sits in\u00a0that funky orange building with the cartoon chicken\u00a0on South Sixth Avenue. It's a cozy place with three little rooms and a counter at the front, which serves some of the best corn tortillas in town.\u00a0

If it's not too busy, peek around the counter into the kitchen and you might see Elizabeth Terez pressing fresh tortillas from a ball of masa. They are fluffier and bendier than others around town, with a good sear to them that reminds me of a pancake.\u00a0

It's the tortillas \u2014 not necessarily a particular filling \u2014 that make Pico de Gallo's tacos outstanding. On my last visit I got a plate with bubbly battered fish, chunky lengua in salsa verde and a fiery carne asada with chopped jalape\u00f1os and tomato pico. So many bright flavors, each different, all wrapped in the same hearty blanket of warmed corn that feels just right. After eating all these unique tacos in every corner of town, this my comfort food. \u00a0 \u00a0\u00a0

Weird fact:\u00a0You've gotta check out the episode of \"Bizarre Foods,\" where Andrew Zimmern takes Chris Bianco to Pico de Gallo for some white menudo. In true Zimmern form, he calls it \"gamey rectal stomach happiness.\" (Starts about the 10-minute mark.)\u00a0

Location: 2618 S. Sixth Ave.

Phone: 520-623-8775

Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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We live in the heartland of carne asada: right next door to the cattle ranches of Northern Mexico and in the middle of the Sonoran desert, which provides a steady supply of mesquite wood for grilling.\u00a0

But even here, the real deal can be hard to find. If you're really serious about your grilled steak, you need to get down to El\u00a0Taco Rustico in the Tohono O'Odham Swapmeet. Unlike other restaurants that cook their steaks on a flattop or with charcoal, Rustico uses a real mesquite grill that spews a heavy cloud of meaty smoke into the morning air.\u00a0

Owner Juan Almanza has been doing barbecue for 25 years, and perfected his mesquite-cooking technique on the Terraza patio at Hacienda del Sol resort. The vibe down here is a little more \"rustic\" \u2014 it's not much more than a tarp and some chairs \u2014 but the grill is a site to behold. If you're there early, Almanza piles on everything from racks of rib to tripas and buche, sliced pig stomach that was actually pretty nice and crunchy.\u00a0

The carne asada here doesn't come heavily spiced or adorned with cheese or accoutrements. It's basically just fat chunks of Angus chuck steak \u2014 much thicker than other places around town\u2014 plump and juicy with some smokiness and a hint of mesquite flavor. Very simple, but as Almanza says, \"You can taste the difference.\"\u00a0

Stay tuned for more tacos from foodie paradise, the Tohono O'Odham Swapmeet ...

Insider's tip: While you're there, you've gotta try the sandia agua fresca, with big chunks of watermelon. They serve it in a Burger King cup, but it's totally homemade.\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0

Location: Tohono O'Odham Swapmeet, 5721 S. Westover Ave.

Phone: 520-891-7346

Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays

Payment:\u00a0cash only

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If you've ever looked at a carne asada taco and thought, \"I wish this was heavier!,\" I have the dish for you. It's called the\u00a0taco alambre\u00a0and it is carne asada plus bacon, mushrooms, bell peppers and melted cheese. The name, which means \"wire,\" is thought to refer to skewers of meat done kabob-style, but the style is more often likened to fajitas.\u00a0

Up at San Carlos Grill in the Oro Valley Marketplace, the tacos are anything but wirelike. Piled high with iceberg lettuce and tomatoes, they look like something a talented 16-year-old would make after soccer practice. Except that everything was perfectly executed: the sirloin springy and soft with the crisp bacon strips that still had a little bit of flex to them. The melty Monterrey Jack cheese on the bottom. Even the blended red table salsa on the side, which took a second to get going, but had quite a nice kick.\u00a0

With all these goodies, the tacos are tough to leave behind. But if you eat them all, it's okay! The restaurant is next door to a movie theater ...

Interesting newsy bit:\u00a0San Carlos Grill had a second location on Silverbell Road, but closed it in March to focus on the Oro Valley spot.\u00a0

Location: 12125 N. Oracle Road, Suite 169

Phone: 520-544-0066

Hours: \u00a011 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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The window seat is a wonderful place for little saut\u00e9ed shrimps, arranged in a neat line with a splatter of cabbage and avocado. Presentation is key at Lo Esencial, this gourmet Mexican restaurant at the entrance to The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain. The space which previously housed Dove Mountain Grill is chic and airy, with high-backed booths and funky spiral sculptures hanging from the walls.\u00a0

Chef Shawn Watts is particular about the details, from the sour cream sauce that he freshens with dill to the sprinkle of cayenne pepper he tosses on top. But once the taco gets folded up and popped into your mouth, all bets are off. Crisp cabbage, toasty chile or bright tomatoes, you may get a bite of anything. That's what keeps it fresh. \u00a0 \u00a0

Interesting newsy bit:\u00a0The restaurant is currently operating on a limited menu until the season picks up Oct. 1. They're also closed on Sundays until the end of this month.\u00a0

Location: 12130 N. Dove Mountain Blvd.

Phone: 520-579-8999

Hours: \u00a0Closed Mondays, 3 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, closed Sundays until Oct. 1

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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Korean kimchi tacos, a most unlikely hybrid, are usually a marvel of sweet chile sauce and funky fermented cabbage. But downtown at 47 Scott, they're are all about the grill.

The first thing that hits you is that wonderful char, caked into ridges of braised pork belly and bubbling out from the flour tortillas. These are meat tacos pure and simple. All of the sauce in here comes from little shreds of tangy Brussels sprout leaves fermented into kimchi from the house sauerkraut: not exactly that fat slab of chile-glazed cabbage you might expect. But drier, more delicate, and dare I say it? German ...\u00a0

Interesting newsy bit:\u00a0The tacos are a new addition to 47 Scott's happy hour menu. When Executive Chef\u00a0Daniel Thomas came on from Scottsdale's J&G Steakhouse\u00a0in July, he revamped the menu and added the happy hour. \u00a0

Location: 47 N. Scott Ave.

Phone: 520-624-4747

Hours: Happy hour is 4 to 6 p.m. seven days a week. Full hours are 4 p.m. with last seating at 10 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and 10 a.m. with last seating at 10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.\u00a0

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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Janos Wilder seems to be racking up his frequent flyer miles these days: This month's Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails menu explores the Sichuan cuisine of Chengdu, China. But these braised beef cheek tacos hit close to home.

Served on flour tortillas with a zippy chiltepin salsa and radish sticks that merge into the cabbage slaw, the tacos remind me of Tucson's best resort food. They're not meant to be fussy, but they've sure got panache ...

They are bar bites after all, situated on the bar menu somewhere between the warm Oaxacan peanuts and the fancy Sonoran J Dawg. They are little snacks that slip down easy with the whiskey-spiked Tucson Lemonade. (Or in my case, the J Bar Margarita ... another La Paloma classic) Because here, the familiar is both a comfort and an excitement. And as it turns out, margaritas taste great with Oaxacan mole French fries!\u00a0

Weird fact:\u00a0Janos really does walk the walk when it comes to pioneering Sonoran flavors. The man practically christened this taco voyage by stepping behind me in line at Aqui con El Nene when I was doing Taco Numero Uno. He has good taste when it comes to takeout.

Location: 135 S. Sixth Ave.

Hours:\u00a04 to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 4 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Phone: 520-623-7700

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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Why is carne seca a Tucson specialty? According to El Charro Caf\u00e9's Ray Flores, it's something in the air. The Mexican shredded beef dish thrives in the arid desert climate, because it's actually the air that dries it, not the sun.

That's why if you want to get real carne seca, Flores says you have to go to El Charro. The iconic Tucson restaurant still dries its meat outside in special cages up on the roof. First they marinate strips of Angus beef in green chiles and garlic, then give it a good 24 hours in the rack before it gets freshened up on the flattop grill. Slow and long, so the meat gets salty and crackly, but doesn't burn.\u00a0

The meat comes to the table all dressed up fancy with Cotija cheese and thin slices of radish. But this is pretense. This is a traditional hardshell taco, with green peas and potent stringy beef that tastes like it could have tasted 50 years ago. In other words, delicious! \u00a0\u00a0

Weird fact:\u00a0Apparently, Flores used to dry the beef on tree limbs. \u00a0

Location: 311 N. Court Ave., also have locations at 7725 N. Oracle in Oro Valley and 6910 E. Sunrise near Ventana Canyon.\u00a0

Phone: 520-622-1922

Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit

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Don't let the line intimidate you ... The downtown spot\u00a0Street Taco and Beer Co.\u00a0can get pretty packed with\u00a0businessfolk during the weekday lunch rush. But there's an upside to the assembly line approach: It's freaky fast!

Some of the crispier taco meats like carne asada tend to suffer after spending time in tubs, so I decided to work the system:\u00a0carnitas!\u00a0Marinated in spices and then slow-roasted in an oven for four hours, they are a soft and magical meat.

These carnitas can sit as long as they want, because they aren't trying to be crispy. They are moist and fatty with big chunks that you can rip off and shove straight into your mouth. I would eat them with a ladle if I could.

This isn't to say that the other meats here aren't great. (The line moves fast after all, so they probably don't sit for long.) But honestly after this taco, it will be very hard for me to order anything else. \u00a0\u00a0

Insider's tip:\u00a0This place really does have one of the best salsa bars in town. Don't miss out on that blended avocado salsa laced with bright cilantro ...\u00a0

Location: 58 W. Congress St.

Phone: 520-269-6266

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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Seis Kitchen and Catering\u00a0makes its corn tortillas from scratch, starting with the nixtamal. The word refers to the ancient Aztec process of making masa by boiling down corn with lime water. It's an essential step in tortilla-making, one that's most often skipped in favor of industrialized store-bought dough.\u00a0

But down at the Mercado San Agustin, tortillas are serious business. They are fresh and hearty and thick; good enough to eat rolled up by themselves. But they're also a base for some interesting regional styles of meat: the achiote-glazed Cochinita Pibil pork and the Poc Chuc chicken of the Yucat\u00e1n. And my favorite, a Seis original called the crispy avocado tacos. \u00a0 \u00a0 \u00a0 \u00a0

Co-owner Jake Mu\u00f1oz said he wanted to make a beer battered fish taco that vegetarians can eat. So he takes avocado quarters and coats them in a thick batter laced with Modelo Especial. Then they go into the fryer and come out as bulbous masses filled with avocado so soft and warm it's stunning. All with a crunch like a savory donut. Dare I say it, even better than the fish tacos of the coast. 'Cause hey, when life gives you avocados ...

Insider's tip:\u00a0Seis is also the only restaurant in town that serves Poc Chuc, a grilled slab of chicken or pork that's popular in the\u00a0Yucat\u00e1n. The Poc Chuc tacos took first place for chicken tacos in the 2012 Tucson Taco Festival.

Location: 130 S. Avenida del Convento in the Mercado San Agustin\u00a0

Phone: 520-622-2002

Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit

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The Iguana Cafe, that nondescript gray storefront across the street from the Ronstadt Transit Center,\u00a0has gone strong for almost 12 years as other bars on Congress fell by the wayside. Jesus and Rosie Padilla's bar is a subtle reminder of the old downtown, before redevelopment brought in all the gourmet and the glamour.\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0

During the day it's got a working class kinda vibe, with people sipping beers along the square bartop that takes up most of the room. An old jukebox seemed to be playing Carlos Santana's entire discography ... A fitting soundtrack for these tacos dorados, some of the tastiest I've had downtown or anywhere.

My chicken was shredded real soft, with little bits of tomatoes and onions giving it some extra juice. Then it was rolled up in a corn tortilla and fried to a perfect crisp. Nothin' fancy, just good old fried tacos with an unassaulting \"guacamolito\" sauce of finely blended avocado. Good stuff! \u00a0\u00a0

Weird fact:\u00a0If you eat here you gotta roll with the punches, 'cause weird stuff might happen: One guy was caught trying to walk in smoking a cigarette, and I got in a conversation with another dude about how eating iguanas is good for you and gives you \"mucho mucho power.\" No iguanas on the menu though, just chicken. \u00a0

Location: 210 E. Congress St.

Phone: 520-882-5140

Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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Cauliflower is serious business over at The Cup Cafe, where the sturdy vegetable gets spiced up with chile and yellow curry powder. These cauliflower tacos are a light little bite: flash fried without batter to springy crisps with meaty centers.\u00a0

Avocado adds a nice creamy base, but the tacos here are much drier than I originally thought when I saw curry was involved. The shredded cabbage and thin pickled onions, all slipped into a crispy tortilla from Anita Street Market ... made for the perfect sunny lunch out on the patio.\u00a0

Insider's tip:\u00a0In addition to the cauliflower tacos, Congress also does drunken fish tacos with beer battered cod, and Mission Street Tacos with crispy pork belly.\u00a0\u00a0

Location: 311 E. Congress Street

Phone: 520-622-8848

Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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What came first, the turkey or the egg? At\u00a0Penca's brunch service they tend to come out about the same time. The downtown restaurant serves upscale tacos starting in the a.m., so I went for the guajolote taco: moist shreds of roasted turkey on a hand-pressed corn tortilla. \u00a0\u00a0

Gorgeous. Each ingredient brought a fresh color and a clear purpose: the silken pink chipotle crema coating the delicate meat, the shredded red cabbage with its bitter snap, the pop of the bright green onions. So different, yet they're all pulled together by that hearty masa, filling your mouth with the timeless flavor of warmed corn. \u00a0

Insider's tip:\u00a0How do they get the turkey so soft? Before they roast it, they brine the whole bird and add a mirepoix of carrots, onions and celery.\u00a0

Location: 50 E. Broadway

Phone: 520-203-7681

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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You will never see this taco in the daylight.\u00a0Kyle Araishi fires up the grill at about 10 p.m. and keeps it going through the wee hours, keeping the dance floor hot and smoky at\u00a0La Cocina.

Even in the dark you can see that these are serious bar bites: grilled on real mesquite wood and sent directly to your mouth before the night air fades away that beautiful char. They can be splashy numbers dolled up with cilantro and shredded red cabbage. But tonight they were also doing Korean BBQ tacos, a hybrid popularized by the Kogi food truck in Los Angeles. \u00a0 \u00a0

The beef on my taco had been trimmed from a brisket cut and then tenderized with a marinade that includes orange juice, Tamari and various spices. After it came off the grill, Kyle threw on a slab of Korean kimchi he'd gotten from Grantstone Supermarket, then a tower of crispy onion rings and chopped cilantro. Sweetness, tempered by the funky fermented cabbage and that sharp flavor of the smoky mesquite wood. Ironically, it was some of the most authentic carne asada I've ever had.\u00a0\u00a0

Insider's tip: Korean tacos are only on the menu every couple months, but Kyle usually does some kind of weekly taco special like Hawaiian or chimichurri. Plus, there's always the LaCo dog, a Sonoran hot dog with some chipotle sauce and more. \u00a0\u00a0

Location: 201 N. Court Ave.

Phone: 520-622-0351

Hours: 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.\u00a0Thursdays through Saturdays

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards, at the bar

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Tucson folks call it a \"torito\": A fat yellow guero\u00a0pepper that gets stuffed with melty cheese and wrapped in bacon, then crisped up on the grill. The mini Sonoran chile relleno is a fun thing to order at taquerias like BK Carne Asada. But it's always a side dish, until now ...

La Botana Fresco Grill and Cantina\u00a0puts the humble pepper on a pedestal of two flour tortillas, transforming it into the\u00a0Torito Taco. The pepper gets stuffed with little shrimps and spattered with a bouquet of green onions and tomatoes.

Eating it with tortillas rather than toothpicks might give you a bout of food dysphoria, kind of like biting into a soup dumpling or a lettuce-wrapped cheeseburger. But it's a lot less messy this way ... And hey, now you can order five of them!\u00a0

Insider's tip:\u00a0This place has a mean happy hour from 2-5 p.m. and 8 p.m. to close weekdays. They sell 10 tacos for $10 and a bucket of six little beers for $7.\u00a0\u00a0

Location: 3200 N. First Ave.

Phone: 520-777-8801

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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Peppers often play the second fiddle in Mexican food, blended up into salsas or boiled with vinegar for a spicy side. Rarely are they the star of the show, unless of course you're talking about the mighty Poblano. \u00a0

From the colonial city of Puebla, this Central Mexican staple is used most prominently in the chile relleno. It's also popular in Zacatecas, where Rodolfo Delgado is from. His midtown Tucson restaurant Taqueria El Pueblito\u00a0serves up the vegetarian specialty rajas con crema:\u00a0sliced Poblano peppers simmered in cream. (Just in case you were wondering, \"rajas\" means slices.) \u00a0

At El Pueblito, the peppers are cooked with some butter and sour cream until they're soft and stewlike, with just a little snap left in them. The cream wasn't as prominent as I'd expected, but more like a rich background flavor. Little bits of onions and blistered corn added a nice texture, and helped to cool down the sizzle that was building on my tongue.\u00a0

Weird fact:\u00a0This little spot, which got its start in the Mercado San Agustin, recently made headlines when a national foodie blog listed it\u00a0as the second best Mexican restaurant in Tucson. (Right behind Guadalajara Original Grill.) Read the list here: www.tableog.us

Location: 1800 E. Fort Lowell Road

Phone: 520-339-9336

Hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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Get off the I-19 and drive down the frontage road past the Via Lechuza, Calle Azulejo and Menudo Court. You'll eventually get to a series of hidden shopping centers tucked between the freeway and a residential neighborhood.

There you'll see a yellow building marked by a stately shrimp floating in an oyster shell over a pair of lobster claws. This is La Bocanita, home of the Taco Gobernador.\u00a0

A gobernador, Spanish for governor, is a popular Baja style that's just as powerful as it sounds: shrimp, with soft peppers and onions, smothered with a white gob of melted cheese. At La Bocanita they tear up the shrimp until it's machaca style, then cover it with gooey Monterrey Jack. The crispy tortilla is folded up halfway, so the pink little shrimps poke out from the edge.\u00a0

But my favorite part: pale red salsa, exactly like the stuff in the malecon of Puerto Pe\u00f1asco. Twelve miles from the border, all I wanted to do was keep on going ...\u00a0

Insider's tip:\u00a0This place has one of the largest selections of seafood I've seen in Arizona. In addition to oysters, squid, octopus and the usual, they also serve sea snails, a food I've never encountered outside of the beach in Rocky Point.\u00a0

Location: 1185 Circulo Mercado, Rio Rico\u00a0

Phone: 520-281-0249

Hours: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week

Payment:\u00a0$20 minimum for debit and credit cards

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I had given up on finding Cuitlacoche, a delicacy of the Aztecs that's been virtually untapped this far north. For those who don't know it, Cuitlacoche is corn smut: a mossy gray fungus that grows inside corn husks after the rain. \u00a0\u00a0

In Mexico City it's treated like a truffle, stuffed into meats and quesadillas for a springy taste of the earth. Up in Tucson you might see it at a special theme dinner in a gourmet restaurant, but other than that, nuthin'.

But travel down to Tubac and you'll find it any day, hidden inside a gorgeous plate of rolled tacos\u00a0with red cabbage and smokey chipotle salsa. Elvira's Restaurant\u00a0works with Mexican distributors to import baggies of the corn smut already peeled off the cobs. The Cuitlacoche is stuffed into the tacos along with shredded chicken, onions and jalape\u00f1os, then rolled up and fried in oil.

Rip open one of the tacos with your fingers and you can pick out the little black bits: They taste like mushrooms, with just a hint of raw corn. Life is full of delicious, subtle surprises ... \u00a0 \u00a0

Interesting fact:\u00a0Cuitlacoche is actually one of the restaurant's specialties (aside from their incredible mole): Right now they're running a special chile relleno stuffed with Cuitlacoche and Oaxaca cheese, battered in egg and topped with truffle oil and a basil chipotle portofino sauce. They also sell jars of Cuitlacoche in the gift shop, $12.95 for 325 grams from Old Mexico Gourmet.\u00a0

Location: 2221 E. Frontage Road

Phone: 520-398-9421

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays, closed Mondays.

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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Tacos in Green Valley, the land of thrift stores and golf carts ... Where to go? The parking lot's full over at\u00a0Manuel's Mexican Restaurant, a big brown adobe befitted with Roman columns and a blue observatory-style dome.\u00a0

The family spot has a suburban vibe to it, with advertisements for nursing homes, window cleaners and dentists laminated onto the bright yellow tables. There's a lot of steaming and sizzling in the air as servers carry around platters of fajitas supreme.

I got a\u00a0catfish taco, because, hell why not? The little pieces of fish are fried up real nice almost like popcorn shrimp, with a crusty batter that smacks of pepper. I took the sprawled-out avocado garnish and slipped it inside, along with some coleslaw and the pico they'd shaped into a little hill. I left the broccoli alone. \u00a0\u00a0

Weird fact:\u00a0The place serves red and white menudo on the weekends. Cool!

Location: 121 W. Duval Road

Phone: 520-648-6068

Hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays\u00a0

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

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Beauty on the borderlands: At the corner of South Sixth and 22nd Street near the gateway to South Tucson is a white taco truck called\u00a0Cocteleria La Palma. The owners, Esther and Mario Romero are from the coastal state of Sinaloa and run what one might consider your typical shrimp cocktail joint.\u00a0

But they also make a thing so scandalous it should only be spoken of in hushed tones, a fantasy food they call the taco quesadilla. It is like it sounds: half battered shrimp taco, half quesadilla with mozzarella cheese. It is a monster of a thing with a loosely folded flour tortilla that crackles away with each bite, revealing fluffy balls of crispy shrimp and gooey cheese that spews out the side. There is also avocado and a lot of lettuce, and some light chipotle cream sauce somewhere in there. In short, it is a show.

You eat the thing under a tarp with a silver fan that spews out a thick, hazy mist into the air. Through it, you can see a tire shop, a hot dog cart and the historic Santa Cruz Catholic Church. It was truly a moving experience.\u00a0

Weird fact:\u00a0Their Seven Mares seafood soup is apparently \"the cure\" for hangovers. That's why they're open on Sundays.\u00a0

Location: 1137 S. Sixth Ave.\u00a0

Phone: 520-270-4067

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays, closed Tuesdays\u00a0

Payment:\u00a0accepts debit and credit cards

"} ]