If you have been reading along. I have been tasked with finding the best taco in the city, as part of Vancouver Foodster’s latest challenge. 7 restaurants have created 7 unique, (some) limited edition tacos, to vie for the best of them all. And as one of the 3 judges, my job was to visit reach respective restaurant, and to pick my favourite based on taste, originality, and presentation. So having ran the gauntlet, they are as follows, in the order that I visited them; with my tasting notes.
And if you playing along at home and judging all the tacos yourself, you can compare to see if we scored the same.
Their Taco El Mejor is seared prawn and pork belly on a warm corn tortilla. Topped with fresh pico de gallo, butterfly Bahia beans, and a spicy topper of habanero aioli. What isn’t listed on the limited edition menu is the fact that the tortilla is prepared with chorizo oil, adding another layer of flavour to an already pretty tasty taco. Although the same oil does make the tortilla greasy to the touch, but once again the flavour additive is well worth it. This is such a luxe taco. There is so much going on, and it all comes together with plenty of flavour and textural balances. The pork stays crispy throughout and now and then you are treated to pops of spice. We found this very well conceived and executed on. Plus visually stunning with the bold colour of the shrimp and use of watermelon radish on tye contrasting blue plate. This is definitely one of the more memorable, non-traditional tacos we have had to date.
This is the Surf & turf taco with hickory smoked beef steak, a 3 Mexican chilli, an adobo prawn and shrimp mix, garlic cilantro mayo, pickled red onions, and cilantro with lime. Served in a double corn taco shell with a layer of crispy cheese. Its uniqueness was in the three layers of shells used. Two different types of tortilla and the crispy cheese shell, that set this one apart. Altogether, the 3 gave this taco maximum chew and crunch. Thus providing a great base to highlight the smokey and charred steak bites on. Worth mentioning is the original use of the dried shrimp; which I have never seen in Mexican cuisine, let alone in a taco like this. I personally would have given it a different name as when I think surf and turf I think lobster or crab with my steak. Therefore something as common as shrimp does slightly disappoint. Although taste wise I have no complaints, this is a salty and greasy taco that you would crave the day after a night out drinking. But visually it could use more colour. All the dark grilled meats and burn cheese has it looking less appetizing.
This is the Mags99 Chefs Kiss Taco. A deep fried taco shell dredged in cinnamon and sugar, topped with sweet ancho pork, lime slaw, and a spicy in house made salsa. Finished off with hot taki bits and a side of chimichuri sauce. There was a lot of flavours and layers to peel back on this one. The term “kitchen sink” comes to mind. It all meshed well enough, but is not something you would crave again. An interesting taste combination that has you going back bite after bite, trying to figure out what it is you are having. It definitely earns top originality marks with the sweet tortilla, the only dessert taco option in the running. You would not expect the sugary sweetness to pair well with savoury meat and its gristle, but it some how jibed with the pork. I believe the intention was a play on a churro. But the taco’s sweet and salty combination had me thinking of a McD’s McGriddle, either you like it or you don’t. But make sure you eat it quick as it is over stuffed and does fall apart easily.
Little Mexican Cantina
This is Taco Diablo: a homemade blue corn tortilla topped with tequila infused prawns, their devil hot sauce, pineapple salsa, pickled red onions, and Chicharron. Sadly, we were asked our dining preferences, and although we can eat spicy foods we decided to go mild tonight; and as a result, the tacos did not come as intended. It was missing the aforementioned “devil hot sauce”. And I think if it was present on the taco, it would have popped. So be sure to order it as is for the full experience. As we had it, the taco was a little simple, clearly relying on the quality of the ingredients used. The fresh prawns were large and juicy, but you don’t get any of the aforementioned tequila infusion. The pineapple and pickled jalapeños did what they could to add interest, but things still left me searching for a salsa for an added “sauce” of sorts. Presentation wise the soft blue corn tortilla was a striking colour and the use of chicharron as an edible garnish a creative take. I could have used a lot more of the latter for crunch and would have liked it to be seasoned for another layer of flavour.
This is the Choriqueso and it features the owner and operator’s family chorizo recipe: a homemade Mexican pork chorizo sausage with fresh guacamole, tomatillo salsa verde, melted asadero cheese, pumpkin blossoms, pickled onions, and sprouts. All of which is served on a heirloom corn tortilla. The twist was the pumpkin blossoms, I just wish I could see and taste more of them. Looking back I wouldn’t know they were in the taco, if not emphasized on the competition’s website. So reading it and not getting it had me feeling at a loss. I would have placed the blossom atop of everything as a visual, edible garnish; instead of under the pile of fresh toppings and sauces. As for how it ate, it was interesting that the tortilla shell used landed in between a hard and soft shell, great in absorbing some of the excess jus from the saucy chorizo; and providing a crunchy contrast. Though I wanted the chorizo more flavourful and I needed another sauce. Maybe a smokey and spicy flavour like that of the hot sauce that was given to us as side. Although, sadly as it was not part of the intended taco, I cannot judge this with it in mind.
Kyu’s contribution was the Creamy Bussin Shrimp Taco. Battered shrimp dressed in their Bang Bang sauce, served in a grilled corn masa tortilla with shaved cabbage. Topped with fresh mango salsa, onions, and salsa. It was good, but the description of the taco on the competition website set the exceptions a little askew. Their “Bang Bang” was not “fiery” it was more sweet than heat, and reminded me of ebi mayo (like what you get from a Japanese restaurant), but on a taco to help cut into all that cream. They should have called it the ebi mayo taco, and I am sure it would have gotten more orders as a result. The shrimp was crispy and the sauce creamy it delivered as one of the better ebi mayos I have had fresh. We didn’t even use the lime of side of sauce. Although did not get any of the aforementioned mango salsa in this, as they were not offering the taco when we visited, and had to make it on the fly. This is despite me contacting them ahead of time and basically making reservations for the food truck.
This is the Taco Yucatan. Black tiger shrimp marinated in anchiote salsa and served on a black tortilla infused with squid ink. Then finished with Monterey cheese, and a pineapple and mango habanero salsa. It isn’t listed on the description or pictured on the competition website, but ours came with a pile of crispy yam shreds that elevated this, much like how deep fried and shredded yam elevates a fusion sushi roll. Its added texture and crunch provided a pleasing contrast to the firm shrimp and moist tortilla. And they don’t cheap out on the shrimp. This is one that you don’t put down because one, if you do it falls apart. And two, it is that tasty: refreshingly citrusy and enjoyably creamy. The squid ink doesn’t add flavour, but does add to the presentation, although it doesn’t look like much with all the darken yam strand obscuring everything under it.
You have until May 29th to try them all and vote for your favourite at https://vancouverfoodster.com/taco-challenge/