The Taco Goes Gourmet

The once-humble Mexican tortilla is the new edible canvas of the culinary world.



Would you pay $20 for a taco? When you stop laughing, consider it holds corn and fresh-caught lobster, or foie gras and hazel­nut-and-red chili jam, or bone marrow and pickled onions, capers and parsley—all of them whipped up by James Beard Award-winning chefs.

As if taco night could get any better, these tasty tortilla folds are following in the epi­curean footsteps of the slider, the bahn mi and the empanada as the latest street food to land on Michelin-starred menus.

“A tortilla enhances something you’d already want to eat,” says Alex Stupak, chef and owner of New York City’s Empellón restaurants. “It’s not just Mexican flavors. You can reach for anything. Why wouldn’t you put, say, Jean-Georges’s scallops with cauliflower and caper emulsion in a taco? Skip the plate, just use a tortilla.”

Much like the race to build a better pork-belly slider or burger, chefs are now one-upping each other in tacos, notes Rene Ortiz, executive chef at La Condesa in Austin. “There’s a weird connection between the streets and the table and we chefs want in. We used to want to be like David Chang. Now, we work in tacos.”

Here’s everything you need to know about this mouth-watering Mexican revolution.

Skip the Cervesa

“Mexican wines—especially those from Northern Baja—are terrific for tacos because they’re easy drinking, and tend to have softer tannins and are more fruit forward,” says Jill Gubesch, wine director at Rick Bayless’s restaurants in Chicago. Most of all: Lose your preconceived notions of varietals when sampling these wines, Gubesch says. “Mexican wines are unlike anything you’ve ever tasted before.” To learn more about Mexico’s wines and see which are worth a try, turn to our Buying Guide.

Raise Your Soft-shell Game

No matter what you fill it with, your taco will taste better when folded in Rene Ortiz’s bacon-fat tortilla. You’re welcome.

You’ll need...
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
Kosher salt
2 teaspoons of bacon fat
2 tablespoons of whole milk
Rolling pin
Plastic wrap

Mix the flour, baking powder and kosher salt (to taste) in a mixing bowl. Add the bacon fat and whole milk, and mix by hand. Let the dough rest for an hour and then divide into 20 equal portions. Ball up each portion by hand then cover the entire lot with plastic wrap and let stand for 20 minutes. Using a rolling pin, roll each into about 6-inch tortillas. Grill for 30 seconds on each side until cooked through and the outside has light grill marks.

The New Taco Stands

Empellón Taqueria, New York City
The Taco: Fresh-caught lobster, with yellow field corn and epazote

La Condesa, Austin
The Taco: Arábicos: seared venison with pickled cucumber, chipotle harissa, fennel-pollen yogurt and cilantro on a bacon-fat tortilla

Pinche Tacos, Denver
The Taco: Agridulce: sweet and sour braised pork belly with candied garlic, cabbage and cilantro slaw in braising jus

Bandolero, Washington D.C.
The Taco: Suckling pig with apple and habanero mustard 

Guerilla Tacos, Los Angeles
The Taco: Charred spigarello and wild mushrooms with burnt tomato chili

The Painted Burro, Somerville, MA
The Taco: Short rib barbacoa “Crujido” with tres quesos, romaine slaw, pico, red wine and Mexican Coca-Cola mole, and cotija cheese

Salvation Taco, New York City
The Taco: Sweetbreads with crispy chickpeas

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