For many of the nearly 20 years I lived in Los Angeles before moving to my mother’s hometown of Baltimore two years ago, I was a food writer, editor, and recipe developer—which meant I spent most of those two decades eating Mexican food. This mostly came in the form of tacos, often sought out and consumed with the late restaurant critic Jonathan Gold—whose gravestone, in Hollywood Forever cemetery, is chiseled with the words “Tacos Forever,” a motto many of us continue to live by.
So, when I came to Baltimore, the first thing I did was look for tacos.
Not only was I hungry, but life without them would have been unimaginable. (This is not hyperbole; ask my Angeleno children.) I didn’t have to reload the U-Haul, as this town has excellent taquerias and taco trucks, many centered near the Upper Fells Point neighborhood where I now live. Exploring with my dog has been my way of imprinting, and the afternoon I found the Tacos Jalisco truck—and sat on the steps of the church where it’s parked with a paper plate of tacos al pastor, extra sauce, and gorditas—was the day I decided Baltimore was, indeed, home.
As a further exercise in imprinting, here are the six taquerias and two taco trucks within a two-plus-mile circuit from my front stoop—plus a few more that are absolutely worth a short drive.
Owner Valentino Sandoval is originally from Puebla, Mexico, so not only is there a spectacular trompo—the vertical rotisserie spit that looks like a conical pork lollipop—stationed just behind the bar at this cozy Fells Point taqueria, but he sometimes puts his fantastic tacos árabes (a regional specialty) on his menu. He also has daily taco specials, hosts World Cup soccer games, and offers an excellent dessert menu. The tortillas and sauces are made in-house, and he puts interesting things on his menu, like mole specials, flan with amaranth, and a ridiculously good quesadilla filled with huitlacoche and truffled sour cream.
During the warmer months, the truck from the Charro Negro Mexican restaurant parks on Eastern Avenue, across from the Bmore Licks shop edging Patterson Park. This was a happy time for park dog-walkers, especially those of us who sometimes order an extra al pastor or barbacoa taco for their dog. The tacos here come with cilantro, lime wedges, sliced cucumbers, and charred whole scallions, as well as very good green and red chile sauces, a tiny personal Christmas. The camarones tacos are splendid, and there’s always ice cream afterwards. (They also park at Bromo Art Walk.)
Walk through this nondescript Mexican market on Eastern Avenue in Little Italy, past a deli counter, cases of refrigerated and frozen food, shelves of groceries, then another room with more shelves (bottles of hot sauces, rows of chiles, herbs, and spices) and you’ll finally find the restaurant. It’s a windowless dining room, very homey, with another counter, some tables and chairs, a massive Marian shrine—Do tacos taste better under the watchful eye of the Virgin Mary? I think they do—and some of the best tacos de birria in town. Maybe pick up some chicharrónes and some dried chiles on the way out.
Even before I moved here, my cousins told me about the tacos at Lane Harlan and Carlos Raba’s Remington restaurant, an upscale mezcaleria that offers a great deal more than the booze that earned them a James Beard nomination (Raba has one, too). It’s a nixtamaleria as well, which means they nixtamalize—the traditional process of preparing maize using an alkaline solution—their own corn, so anything made with the masa is unreasonably good, including all the tacos: cochinita pibil, lamb barbacoa, huitlacoche, lengua, and a great shrimp iteration called an al gobernador. Get the queso fundido so you can put it on IG for a cheese pull, but do not leave without ordering the aguachile, a Sinaloan variation of ceviche, which is spectacular.
Rosalyn Vera’s family-run Fells Point taqueria is one of the centers of the Baltimore taco universe. Whether they’re built around chicken tinga, al pastor, birria, rajas, cochinita pibil, nopales, or really anything listed on the menu, her tacos are magnificent. They’re tucked in made-to-order tortillas, handmade with Masienda corn, that you can also get to-go (order a dozen). There’s also a fine oregano-heavy pozole, tortas, burritos, mulitas, churros, and plenty else, including phenomenal tamales which you can also special order by the dozen.
Parked on Sherwood Road in the Idlewylde neighborhood, this truck serves burritos, a Bmore quesadilla stuffed with shrimp and lump crabmeat, and some of the best tacos in town. But the best of the best might be the birria tacos, which come in a box the size of a license plate, filled with tacos that have been stuffed with birria and cheese, then fried. There’s the accompaniments—onions, cilantro, limes, sauces—and an enormous cup of the consomé that traditionally accompanies the birria. Do not take this hot and crunchy marvel home, as tacos are at their best eaten as quicky as possible after their construction. Find a seat to eat—in your car or on the nearest bench, stoop, or sidewalk.
The Costilla family has parked their Tacos Jalisco truck on Broadway in front of St. Patrick’s Catholic church for the last two decades. (It’s a block south from Cochina Luchadoras, which is extremely convenient if you’re doing a crawl.) Both family and recipes are from Jalisco, and the menu includes not only tacos (green chile pork, cheese and peppers, potatoes and chorizo) but tamales and outstanding made-to-order gorditas. They also feature various dishes during the week, including fantastic pozole, the chile-spiked pork stew made with massive hominy and all the accouterments.
Perched on the corner of Eastern and Linwood, this taqueria gets its name from the park it overlooks, and so is a marvelous pitstop for those of us who routinely—and hungrily—circumnavigate it. The lamb barbacoa tacos alone are worth a walk, but there are a lot to choose from: tripe, cabeza, lengua, carnitas, pollo, carne asada, al pastor, nopales, chorizo, and more, mostly variations on pork. They also have a full breakfast menu, tortas, chiles rellenos, burritos, pozole, birria, tostadas, and more—you can even get chicken nuggets and hamburgers, flan, and chocolate cake. Good thing the dining room is spacious, as you’ll need room for all the food.
A tiny family-run shop a block east on Baltimore Street from the northeastern corner of Patterson Park, Tijuana is little more than a counter fronting a busy kitchen. If you know what you want, call ahead, or just hang out while they make any of the traditional tacos, including carne asada, carnitas, al pastor, chorizo and lengua. There are chilaquiles, antojitos, flautas, sopas, chalupas, cemitas, tostadas, flan, and tres leches cake, plus a very good rendition of tortilla soup. And because that’s too much deciding to do, they’re open seven days a week.
About 200 feet down Eastern from Bmore Taqueria sits this longtime taqueria, which has been making excellent tacos and more for over 20 years. The tortillas are all made in-house, hence the name, and you can get them by the kilo or half-kilo, after you’ve had your fill of al pastor, barbacoa, lengua or other sorts of tacos. They also sell fillings by the pound, if you want a home party, as well as soups, tamales, and chips, also by the kilo.