Ah, el taco. Soft corn tortilla, meat (make it al pastor for me), cilantro, diced onions, salsa taquera with a lime wedge and radish on the side. That's how I like it. Simple, greasy and to the point. Just like the tacos I used to get with my dad on Friday nights from his compadre's taco truck in Napa where I grew up. The taco sure has come a long way since I was a kid, as has Napa, but that's a different story for another day.
Eateries and chefs in Mexico and across the globe, including Oakland, are using the taco, a dish constrained by tradition, as a creative outlet for inventive and delicious iterations. Here is a list of my favorite places to get tacos in Oakland - from the traditional to the inventive.
Taqueria Sinaloa, Fruitvale District (traditional) - pair of taco trucks in the Fruitvale District serving hot, delicious tacos into the late hours. Order the holy trinity - carnitas, lengua and al pastor. You won't be dissapointed.
Tamarindo Antojeria, Old Oakalnd (traditional) - owned and operated by mother and son, their mission is to bring traditional dishes often found at "mercados" or open air markets in Mexico to their patrons in Oakland. My favorite taco is el taco de camaron. Perfectly fried shrimp taco with a layer of melted cheese inside to keep your shrimp from sliding out. Genius!
Xolo, Uptown Oakland (traditional) - named after the hairless dogs that Frida Kahlo used to keep, Xolo is a fun and casual taqueria that is as colorful as Frida's Casa Azul (P.S. check out my DF post for tips on how to conquer Mexico City's food scene). The tacos are delicious, greasy and satisfying. Order el vampiro which is al pastor, salsa
ranchera, red onions, cilantro and a fried cheese tortilla.
Belly, Uptown Oakland (inventive) - inspired by the Korean-Taco fusion made popular in L.A. by chef Roy Choi, owners Alice Woo and Alan Chun, opened Belly serving delicious tacos as well as burgers and other delicious bites. My favorite? The Cali - steak, fries, guac, pico de gallo, jalapeño aioli. Boom! The fries in the taco remind me of the burritos we used to get in SoCal when I was going to school at UCLA. Excuse me while I reminisce.
Tacos Oscar, Everywhere Oakland/Pop-Up Shop (inventive)- last but not least is Tacos Oscar. Taquero Oscar Michel, a former cook at both Doña Tomas and Boot and Shoe Service, slings delicious handmade tortillas filled with fresh ingredients. Though the ingredients and the flavors are synonymous with Mexican cuisine such as carnitas, pepitas and radishes, the way he composes them is unique and untraditional. You can try his tacos at one of his pop-up shops around town. He now makes a reoccurring appearance at The Starline Social Club on the second and fourth Monday of every month. Trust us you need to get some. The fried egg taco is bomb.
About the Author
Raquel Navarro is the founder of See.Eat.Love. a food and drink tour company that offers food lovers intimate culinary strolls through Oakland’s diverse neighborhoods. Raquel takes guests on gourmet adventures to meet the makers, and discover delicious edible treasures one bite and sip at a time. She lives in the Grand Lake District with her husband, two year old son, dog and three chickens, Louise, Gertrude and Agnes.