Did someone say tacos? National Taco Day is in October, and trying to pick from Atlanta's numerous Mexican restaurants can be daunting. So here are my picks for places to celebrate this beloved food. Some have fantastic decor that you can't ignore, perfect for a celebration, while others are no frills, but make up for it with fantastic tacos.
- Babalu – Probably the sleekest spot on this list, Babalu has locations in several cities in the Southeast and features both tacos and tapas. With nine different kinds of tacos, it can be tough to choose, but a pork belly is quite interesting, drizzled with a peanut sauce. Snag a table outside on this hot Midtown patio.
- El Rey de Taco – This restaurant, whose name means “the king of tacos,“ is located on Buford Highway. It’s a rite of passage to dine here for these tasty and inexpensive tacos. Here you’ll find taco fillings like pork stomach, chitlins and tongue. However, you can “play it safe” with pork, flank steak or mushrooms.
- El Taco Veloz – With locations all around Atlanta, this no-frills spot keeps it real with low prices and quality tacos. Expect long lines during peak lunch hours. You’ll need to get at least two to fill you up. Get the barbacoa and lengua. Wash them down with a horchata (cinnamon/milk drink).
- Hankook – At the height of fusion popularity, Hankook opened on the Westside and is a combination of Asian and Mexican. The calamari tacos are a standout. And items like the sesame sweet potato fries are a hit. Tip: Avoid the lunch rush as parking is a mess.
- Holy Taco – Located in the East Atlanta Village, Holy Tacos are super inexpensive. Goat and 12-hour braised pork shoulder tacos are good choices.
- La Carreta – If you find yourself in Marietta, near the Big Chicken, try to make it over to La Carreta. Handmade tacos are filled with well-seasoned meats, many of which are topped with a lovey avocado sauce. Tip: There’s a small grocery store attached to the restaurant.
- The Original El Taco – This family-friendly restaurant is located in the Virginia Highland neighborhood. Get the pork cheek tacos or the smoked chicken tacos. Going with a group? Get the taco platter (five tacos, rice and beans).
- Red Pepper – The festive decor at Red Pepper makes the perfect place to gather with your gang. The best are the shrimp and kale tacos, but go and find your favorite on the menu.
- Rock ‘N Taco – There are 20 gourmet tacos to choose from, all priced between three and four bucks at this Buckheadspot. Standouts include the duck confit, roasted lamb and Mediterranean with smoked salmon, capers, goat cheese and a basil aioli. But if you love tuna poke, you are making a mistake if you don’t get at least one of these tacos.
- Rreal Tacos – Adrian Villarreal’s restaurant marries his training in Le Cordon Bleu Paris with his Mexican heritage. Order the pork trompo, also known as al pastor, and grilled beef. The pork trompo is on display on a spinning skewer as you enter Rreal Tacos in Midtown. The beef barbacoa and pork carnitas are shredded and another good choice
- Taco Cowboy – The chic restaurant is much more upscale than you’d expect from your typical taco joint. There’s a lovely patio in the back. Start your dinner off with your own personal margarita. Don’t miss the Trailer Park taco.
- Taqueria del Sol – These small tacos pack a punch. And lucky for Atlantans there are locations all over the city. There are only six varieties to choose from, but you can’t go wrong with any of the choices. However, my personal favorite is the brisket. I always pair it with the shrimp and corn chowder plus a house margarita.
- Teela – though this Sandy Springs restaurant isn’t going to win awards for authenticity, it does have a fun vibe for getting a group together. Highlights are the Bang Bang Shrimp, Holy Mole Chicken and chorizo (stuffed with dates, feta cheese and bacon bits).
Malika Bowling is the author of Culinary Atlanta: Guide to the Best Restaurants, Markets, Breweries and More!, and founder of Roamilicious. Malika also has served as a judge at various culinary competitions and food festivals, including Taste of Atlanta. Her podcast, Just a Byte, can be downloaded from iTunes. Follow her on Twitter @MalikaBowling and Instagram.