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Word on the Street: On the hunt for street-style tacos
by Nora Mounce
In typical behind-the-redwood-curtain style, Humboldt County has quietly accumulated places for delicious and pocketbook friendly street tacos. From Fortuna to Trinidad, our apps are peppered with red dots representing tacos trucks, taquerias and arguably the best gas station fare in the land. Whether you’re already deeply committed to hot, fresh tortillas stuffed with the holy trinity of meat, white onions and cilantro, or wondering what the fuss is about, here is a roadmap leading to your perfect Humboldt taco.
Now for any foodie worth his or her hot sauce to recommend a good taco, quality is first and foremost with creativity close on its heels and a nod to anti-corporate leanings. So while everyone appreciates a No. 6 platter on occasion, true street taco aficionados can’t be bothered with rice and beans and melted cheese on top. That said, size matters. Maybe it's just for the coupon clippers among us, but a $5 taco lunch that leaves you pleasantly full, yet ready to get back to work while Tweeting about the “best taco in Humboldt” might be your biggest victory ofthe day. As we’ve established that quality, size and price are critical to successful taco hunting, going forward, we’ll refer to sizes as Small, Large and the JRT (just right taco), while value will be represented as the PTD (per taco damage).
Chatter on the wire about La Costa in Fortuna puts this brick and mortar restaurant squarely in the running for “best Mexican food in Humboldt” — no small claim. Devotees crow about the authenticity of slow-cooked, real-deal refried beans, the carne cabeza taco, thick-cut tortilla chips and local IPA’s on tap. Also in the Friendly City is Taco Loco with its thick, homemade tortillas as the base for JRTs with grilled meat, onion and cilantro for a PTD of $2.89.
Esmerelda’s, tucked away in Henderson Center at 328 Grotto St., is quietly serving some Eureka’s most delectable tacos. Size is consistently JRT, but the PTD varies depending on how many tacos you order, generally falling around $3. Key to Esmerelda’s deliciousness are the house-made tortillas, which you’ll sample in the rustic, warm chips served on arrival. The fresh corn flavor shines even more in the two corn tortillas wrapped around perfectly cooked carnitas, al pastor, carne asada, fish or chicken. If plenty of chips and Esmerelda’s smoky salsa are involved, two tacos will keep most happily satisfied, but if you’ve been out hiking all morning, throw in a third and, hey, they might cut you a deal.
Speedy Taco keeps the most consistent hours of any taco truck around and sometimes on a rainy Martin Luther King Day, that can mean the world. The friendly faces at Speedy’s, parked at 1223 Broadway beside Sport & Cycle in Eureka, crank out fresh JRT’s for a killer $1.65 each. At this price, quality is not spared, but if you’re feeling flush, upgrade to a Speedy Taco for $2.60 and they’ll top off a Large with lettuce, diced tomato, cheese and sauce. I recommend sitting with a pair of the tasty base models and ordering a whopping side of guacamole for $2 to go with those salty chips.
Arcata is prime taco truck turf and competition is fierce. Undergrads depending on tacos for survival follow the migrational patterns of four local taco trucks like well-seasoned hunters: Taco Faktory, La Barca, Pepe’s and La Chiquita. Relying on the hours reported online can be dicey, so for your best bet, seek out taco trucks midday Monday-Friday or call in. Taco Faktory, which of late parks at J Street and Samoa, has cooked up a loyal following with its legendary Asian fusion tacos, filled with Korean barbecued pork or beef, playing that sweet savory card so right. Traditionalists needn't fear, as the truck supplies classic JRTs for an easy two buck PTD. La Barca, another strong contender for the “best taco in Humboldt,” keeps irregular truck hours off the plaza at Ninth and G streets, but more often than not, shows up late to feed the bar crowd. In addition, another La
Barca truck handles the lunch biz up at 1762 Myrtle Ave. in Eureka, and there's a brick and mortar restaurant off Guintoli Avenue at 5201 Carlson Park Drive, as well. Great service, fresh tortillas and delicious tacos are keeping the people happy, though the PTD is a touch higher than the other trucks at around $2.50.
Pepe’s, a relative newcomer to the Arcata taco truck scene, is dependably open behind Pacific Outfitters at 724 G St., replacing Alma’s in 2014. For a PTD of $3, the tacos are decidedly small, so if you’re after more than snack, follow HSU students lead and order a burrito.
Don't laugh. The eats from Aztec Grill are a thing. Housed in gas stations in Fortuna, Eureka, McKinleyville and Trinidad, the Aztec Grill is the last $1 taco outpost standing. Local surfers frequent the Trinidad location at 101 Main St. for incredibly tasty tacos that can be downed in two bites. Hey, they’re a dollar. Following an epic surf sesh at Moonstone, climb back up from the beach, load up on three or four tacos. Burrito sampling comes highly recommended, as well. If you’re dining in, don’t mind the patrons stocking up on giant slushies and corn nuts around you, the gas station proprietors keep their facilities cleaner than, well, the average gas station dining room. Good luck finding your very own perfect taco Humboldt, because it’s a long drive to Tijuana.