Tacos rank right up there with pizza when it comes to favorite eats. But, like pizza, the simple construction and authentic flavor profiles have gotten lost in the quest to impress the “more is more” American palate. It’s time to get back to basics and experience tacos as they were meant to be – uncomplicated pocket sandwiches in which a few earthy flavors are melded then spiked with a hint of spice. From the highways to the back roads, South Carolina is rich with taco treasure troves just waiting to be discovered. Here are 10 to start you on your journey:
Forget the modest atmosphere here – what this place lacks in ambiance it more than makes up for in flavor. This is the real deal when it comes to tacos and everything else. While you should sample the rustic stews and other offerings from across the border, there’s plenty to satisfy your taco tooth. Nothing fancy – just tender meats, tantalizing salsas and the obligatory chopped onion and cilantro served up in warm corn tortillas. Gracias, Alicia’s.
This is a pleasant, family-run restaurant with a full bar for tipplers. Tortillas are handmade and you know it at first bite: light enough to wrap around the fillings but substantial enough not to succumb to the juices. Lots of diced onion and cilantro make the perfect taco toppings. If you like your salsa hot, ask for the one your server eats.
Don’t be fooled by the numbered lunch specials or familiar-sounding combos on the menu. Instead, take a seat and prepare for a taste sensation. This is your place for excellent tacos, from lengua (beef tongue) to al pastor to barbacoa. Go ahead and get a variety, but be sure to include the fish tacos made with succulent sea bass.
Chef Sean Brock offers up a fun mix of tacos and more. Try the roasted shrimp taco with jicama slaw or the charcoal grilled chicken with mango and pickled red onion. Pair your picks with a shot of some of the finest Mezcal in these parts.
Five signature salsas and tortillas made fresh daily are the calling cards of this bustling Gervais Street taco joint. Order up your heart’s delight at the counter, then pile on the flavor at the salsa bar. Breakfast rules here, too – try a savory taco with eggs and carnitas or grilled chicken. The finishing touch of Hatch green chile sauce will add a Southwestern exclamation mark to your morning.
There’s plenty of fresh on the menu at both locations of Tacos Nayarit. In Columbia, chow down on your favorites in a restaurant setting, or look for the taco truck and covered picnic area on Charlotte Highway in Fort Mill. Homemade everything is the name of the game here. Tacos are served up on corn tortillas fresh from the griddle. Meats are seasoned just right and juicy enough to bathe the taste buds with glorious, peppery spice. The chorizo tacos are particularly yummy.
Latin flair is in the air at this cute neighborhood eatery. Try the Chicharron el Pollo – chicken marinated in sofrito, fried crispy then topped with cool avocado, cilantro slaw and marinated onions. There’s also a lot of buzz around the Pato Asada, a braised duck taco with poblanos, chayote and tamarind sauce. It’s quacking and lip-smacking.
Taqueria el Portrero
This no-frills taco joint has a robust, loyal following. These tacos are legit – simple fare that captures and balances the hallmark flavors of Latin America. Homemade tortillas deliver an earthy corn flavor. Meat fillings are flavorful enough to pop at first bite, but don’t overpower the other components. If you’re up for a carnivorous adventure, try the lengua tacos, which are remarkably tender.
There’s a lot of love emanating from the crowds surrounding this nondescript food truck. Tucked behind a building on Ashley Phosphate, this taco hot spot has picnic table seating for your noshing pleasure. Think taste bud animating pepper sauce, moist meats infused with spices, pickled jalapeno and carrot for crunchy toppings. One bite and you’ll be haunting this taco truck for a long time to come.
Admire this funky cantina for its environmental aesthetic (which involves dispatching table scraps to a compost facility) but become a lifelong fan for its toothsome tacos. You can veer off the grid with a Southern-style option, like the Carolina Q – smoky mojo pulled pork, slaw, barbecue sauce and pickles. But it’s the Crispy Avocado taco, featuring wedges of tempura-coated avocado, shaved cabbage, sweet chili sauce, sesame seeds, microgreens, crema and pico, that you’ll fall for hardest. Southern Living did.