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The 25 Best Tacos

Let’s not get hung up on authenticity. The taco—that ergonomic marvel of tortilla folded over a filling and eaten by hand—has been translated into many different cuisines. We tasted every one we could get our lime-dribbled hands on to round up this list of the 25 best in town, from the traditional onion-and-cilantro varieties to all the gussied-up beauts served tequila-side. Make it a combo with a users guide to DIY taco night, a primer on corn versus flour tortillas, suggestions for which salsa goes where, and some Hoosier love for the much-maligned, often side-eyed walking taco. Because if ever there was a food designed to have a little fun, it is the taco. And we’re game.

 

Alambre | Heat Scale: Mild
El Maguey 3920 N. High School Rd., 317-280-8650

Chunks of bacon enhance the umami flavors of grilled beef, peppers, and onions—all deliciously congealed in melted cheese and topped with more bacon drippings. The mixture is eased onto warm flour tortillas and served three per order. A good squirt of lime cuts through the richness. $8.75 for three

Arabe | Heat Scale: Medium
Ixca Mexican Kitchen

Tender strips of pork marinated in oregano and cumin are swaddled in a chewy, warm flour tortilla and topped with just a drizzle of peppery red sauce. The simplicity of the construction allows the Lebanese-influenced flavors in the marinade to shine—think shawarma meets taco. Plan to order more than one. $3

Lengua | Heat Scale: Mild
El Palenque

Cubed beef tongue is slow-cooked to a nearly silky texture, then seasoned and seared on the restaurant’s diner-style flattop until the meat crisps slightly at the edges. The warm bits are tucked into double tortillas. $2.99

Carnitas Supremos | Heat Scale: Mild
El Calamares 420 S. Sherman Dr., 317-356-2112

Tender, shredded slow-braised pork is ladled on thick, soft corn tortillas and topped with lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and cheese. Grab extra napkins and lean over the plate—this is one deliciously messy meal. $2.94

Campechano | Heat Scale: Mild
Chris’ Ice Cream 1405 E. 86th St., 317-255-2156

Cubed steak is mixed with chorizo and served on doubled-up warm corn tortillas and topped with cilantro, onion, and shredded lettuce. Get the layer of queso between the tortillas for added flavor and structure, and put the squeeze bottles of  spicy red and mild verde salsas to good use. $3.19

Labio | Heat Scale: Mild
Birrieria Ocotlan 2720 Southeastern Ave., 317-916-2942; 4040 N. High School Rd., 317-820-5858

If you’re feeling adventurous, the labio (that’s Spanish for lip) tacos at this buzzing lunch spot are filled with buttery pieces of braised beef richer than Louis XIV. Traditional onion, cilantro, and lime toppings lighten the heavy flavors. $2.25

Short Rib | Heat Scale: Mild
Bakersfield Mass Ave

The tiny handmade corn tortilla can barely contain all of the toppings: crumbles of queso fresco, slivered onions and radishes, and a final flourish of crema. But the meat’s beefy flavor is itself a condiment, elevating this cute tequila-chaser to a prime bite. $4

Eduardo | Heat Scale: Medium
Sangrita Saloon

A rare standout in the fried-taco field, the Broad Ripple tequila bar’s crema-topped cruncher has a savory filling of chorizo melded with sweetly wilted poblano peppers. A stretch of queso blanco is the integral ingredient in every bite. $5.50

Trap Taco | Heat Scale: Medium
Chef Oya’s The Trap

With boiled and “butta”-smothered shrimp as the base for grilled pineapple, cilantro, and red onions, this foil-wrapped Taco Tuesday special is best described as a full-face experience. That moist towelette tucked in with your paper napkin and plasticware comes  in handy, even if you take the Styrofoam container back to the  office instead of digging into it right there on the single picnic  table outside this walk-up Florida-style seafood-boil stand. $2

Pastor | Heat Scale: Mild
Tortas Guicho 641 Virginia Ave., 317-658-0735

Pork is marinated in pineapple juice and then tossed in a tangy, pineapple-infused red sauce. Once the mixture is dolloped onto warm, doubled-up corn tortillas, it is topped with freshly minced red onion and cilantro. $2.50

Chorizo | Heat Scale: Mild
Los Chilaquiles

Finely ground Mexican sausage bursts with flavor. The texture pairs well with the crunch of a hard corn tortilla shell that definitely didn’t come out of a box. $2.20

T’s Chipotle | Heat Scale: Mild
MOFOCO

Heaped into double corn tortillas, the seared cod, chipotle aioli, cabbage, pico, and guac of this taco have such subtle, balanced flavors that the whole thing benefits from a splash of the fire-roasted salsa served on the side. They arrive in an aluminum tray for a reason—they’re messy. $11 for two

Tandori Taco with Chicken Tikki | Heat Scale: Medium
Spice Box

Take everything we love about Indian cuisine, give it a fun crossover presentation, and City Market’s Spice Box has a breakout hit with its tandori tacos: roasted chicken marinated in curry spices, wrapped in roti (think naan tortillas) and combined with garbanzo beans, crunchy red onions, and basmati rice. Spring for the “spice rice” dollar add-on. Just make sure to have that mango lassi at the ready for heat control. $9 for two

Asada | Heat Scale: Hot
Taco & Burrito Place 4102 N. Keystone Ave., 317-546-3420

Nestled in a small strip of secondhand-furniture shops and auto-parts stores sits this barebones joint with a limited menu and neighborly staff. The highlight here is the savory steak taco, wonderfully delicate and served atop two corn tortillas. Ask for limes to squeeze over the meat. $2

Vietnamese Tacos | Heat Scale: Mild
Chao Vietnamese Street Food

Playing up the striking yin/yang of Vietnamese cuisine, Chao’s softly wrapped tacos place pickled daikon and carrots, cilantro, spicy mayo, and avocado cream sauce over caramelized pork belly. The plate is as pretty as it is delicious. $4.25

Suadero | Heat Scale: Mild
Paco’s Taqueria — 4390 N. Keystone Ave., 317-377-4132

The humble taco should celebrate comfort food, making the most out of the least, yet exuding flavor and love. No taco blends this philosophy better than the braised-pork variety from Paco’s Taqueria. Here, pork is given a smooth, velvety texture (akin to juicy pulled pork) thanks to a long, slow braise that ends up on a pair of corn tortillas looking like a Sunday roast with a touch of heat on the finish. $2.49

Al Pastor | Heat Scale: Mild
Pancho’s Mexican Taqueria

Upon retrieving your tacos from the counter, you might be tempted to hurry off to one of the dozen or so tables to devour the meaty morsels stacked high on double corn tortillas. This would be a mistake, cheating yourself out of the fun of a toppings bar that offers up diced onions, cilantro, red radishes, limes, and salsas from the mild pico de gallo to the XXX hot salsa habanera. The real treat is the sweet pineapple goodness that accompanies the chili-marinated pork and onions, all of which have been cooked on a spit, shawarma style. $2.99

Lengua | Heat Scale: Medium
Gil Tacos 1665 S. Lynhurst Dr., 317-992-9046

Dressed in the traditional style of onions and cilantro, the tongue tacos at this 10-seat establishment tucked inside a former Dairy Queen are unbelievably flavorful and packed with soft, sensual tenderness. $2.75

Mole | Heat Scale: Mild
Indy Tacos

Rich mole chicken sits atop two corn tortillas, smothered by a mix of cilantro, onions, rice, and fresco cheese. The plate also includes bits of cucumber, radish, and a couple of slices of lime. $3

Tesla Taco | Heat Scale: Mild
Roscoe’s Tacos

The combination of a crunchy corn shell and ribbons of succulent, slow-cooked shredded beef places this unapologetically no-nonsense version of the Mexican snack squarely in the American canon. Add a splash of one of the six house hot sauces, offered in ascending order  of firepower—from the sweet Cincinnati City Slicker to the esophageal-scorching Lava. $3.29

Pork Belly | Heat Scale: Mild
Livery

This sophisticated layering of fatty-crisp slips of pork, pickled carrot, stashes of poblano crema and hot chipotle barbecue sauce, and a smear of black bean purée all contained in one warm, sturdy corn shell is well-worth the serious side-chomp. $13 for two

Jackfruit | Heat Scale: Mild
Tlaolli

Vegetarians have warmed to the unripe flesh of this tropical fruit that, when cooked, has the texture of pulled pork. At this tiny Mexican cafe just east of downtown, the jackfruit “meat” is tossed in a barbecue-like sauce and folded into the soft shell with avocado and pickled red onion. $

Tacos Vegetarianos | Heat Scale: Mild
Festiva

A harvest of roasted veggies fills this well-composed taco threesome brought out on a paper-lined metal tray. Luscious nibs of achiote butternut squash meld with cauliflower, corn, pumpkin seeds, and seasoned rice. The flavor is punctuated with habanero salsa and pickled onion, and softened asadero provides the requisite cheesy stretch. $15 for three

Coco Cabana | Heat Scale: Medium
Salty Cowboy

Toasted coconut puts an exotic spin on the far-north hangout’s fried-cod taco that gets an added layer of flavor from sweet chili sauce. Pineapple-jalapeño salsa kicks up the heat. $5.50

Salmon | Heat Scale: Medium
Nook

Clean eaters gravitate toward the almond-flour tortillas that encase the tacos at downtown’s source for Paleo-friendly foods. The fillings range from lamb to Angry Shrimp, with this version plump with a hunk of gingerly cooked salmon dressed impeccably with avocado, cilantro, Napa cabbage, and pico. Avocado crema pulls all of the flavors together. $12

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