GR’s top tacos auténticos’

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A variety of authentic Mexican tacos. Photo by Bryan Esler.

While there’s nothing wrong with adding shredded lettuce, cheddar, and sour cream to your homemade taco, authentic Mexican tacos highlight the natural flavors of the basic ingredients and are more traditional in presentation. Here are five “taquerias” to try:

TOP TACO IN TOWN
I was introduced to Tacos El Cuñado in 2013 by one of Grand Rapids’ preeminent artists, Roli Mancera, who is originally from Mexico City. His endorsement of the somewhat obscure place served as a stamp of approval. I couldn’t wait to join him and hear about his ArtPrize piece and to sink my teeth into some authentic Mexican cuisine.

Geographically positioned near the 131 Freeway in an area of town bustling with native Spanish speakers at 1342 Cesar E. Chavez Avenue in Southwest Grand Rapids, the vibrant green corner establishment stood out as a beacon. A longtime lover of genuine Mexican cuisine, I was intrigued and couldn’t wait to venture inside.

While indoor seating was limited, the outdoor deck offered ample space to savor the soon-to-be- crowned “best” tacos in Grand Rapids. Served topped with cilantro and onion, with pickled hot veggies and chips on the side, the presentation was reminiscent of one
of my old favorite Venice, Calif. haunts on Abbot Kinney Boulevard (once deemed the coolest block in America). So far, the “authentic” test had been passed and it was time to indulge. In addition to two “lengua” tacos, I opted for a side of guacamole and a cooling cold horchata to wash it all down. It was love at first bite.

The restaurant’s reputation has since spawned several locations. Most recently Tacos El Cuñado put down stakes in East Grand Rapids, where it occupies the former Wok & Mortar, 2151 Wealthy St. SE. Other locations include Downtown Market, Plainfield Avenue, Burton Street, and restaurants in Cascade, and Holland. If you love authentic Mexican tacos, you will not be disappointed!

Additional must-try tacos:

A UNIQUE PEAR-ING
Donkey Taqueria, 665 Wealthy St SE., steals the spotlight with its unconventional yet delicious creations. There might be other places in town where you can find delicious
al pastor or fish tacos, but sweet potatoes, lamb, and Brussels sprouts tacos? I’ve yet
to see them on another taqueria’s menu. Pair your tacos with a prickly pear margarita and soak in the festive ambiance – a quintessential Cinco de Mayo experience.

A SEE-FOOD DIET
7 Mares, 1403 Kalamazoo Ave. SE, is a longstanding unassuming restaurant that offers no-frills authentic Mexican at reasonable prices. As far as tacos go, there are steak, chicken, pork, tripe, seasoned pork, beef tongue, Mexican sausage, shredded beef, shrimp, and fish to choose from. The heavy emphasis on seafood makes it a standout in Boston Square and beyond. Among many traditional Mexican dishes, the menu offerings include oysters in the shell, shrimp soup, fish soup, shrimp cocktail, and octopus salad! Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner for more than a decade, so many exciting choices await those who venture to this rare Southeast Side staple.

BETTER THAN DON PERIGNON
Tacos Don Beto’s, a restaurant located at 2401 Eastern Avenue in trendy Alger Heights, is one of the newer purveyors of authentic tacos in town. With a bright blue facade and a menu brimming with traditional favorites, this family-owned café, in business since 2019, keeps it simple yet satisfying. From classic tacos to tostadas, tortas, and beyond, there’s something for everyone— accompanied by Jarritos or authentic Mexican Coke, naturally.

THE WEST SIDE’S BEST
El Granjero Mexican Grill, 950 Bridge St.NW., serves a selection of traditional tacos like lengua, and bisteca (and now pescado, too). The main draw of this no-frills, affordable Mexican Grill are some of its out-of- the-ordinary delicacies, like grilled cactus and bright pink, sweet Jamaica (pronounced ha-my-cah) juice. My favorite thing to order here, apart from the chicken tacos, are chilis rellenos! Whether it’s desayuno, a lunch special, a large plate, or an a la carte add-on, El Granjero stands out with some of the best Mexican food on the West Side.

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