Charles (Chuck) Bryant has opinions about tacos. The Stuff You Should Know podcast co-host even dedicated an entire episode to the food. Over the course of 56 minutes, he and co-host Josh Clark discuss the taco’s flavor-packed history, various iterations of tacos consumed in the United States, fillings from al pastor to Old El Paso, and the best places to find tacos. As a native Atlantan, Bryant gives a shout-out to local bartaco and mentioned Atlanta boasts at least 50 taco places (17 of them within just a few miles from his house). Hungry to know more, we asked Bryant to share what stuff we should know about Atlanta’s tacos, plus his expert picks for five places to chow down in the city.
Chuck Bryant’s Guide to Atlanta’s Top Tacos
Sometimes you want to grab something from a great taco, hole-in-the-wall spot, and sometimes you want to take a group out for a fun dinner. That’s why I included No Mas Cantina on the list. The tacos themselves are good, but the overall experience of dining is a lot of fun. The restaurant is located in the artsy downtown community of Castleberry Hill, with its converted loft condos and art galleries, just a couple of minutes from Mercedes Benz Stadium and State Farm Arena. This makes it a convenient stop for a pre-show or pre-game lunch or dinner (though it does get VERY busy on event days).
Their menu is full of Tex-Mex standards, and the tacos can be ordered à la carte or as a two-taco combo with refried beans and rice. This gives you a nice chance to try two different proteins.
They also feature a taco-of-the-day special. The day I dropped in, that selection was the carnitas on corn tortillas with red onion, cilantro, and an orange sauce that packed a spicy punch. The carnitas had a ton of flavor but weren’t quite as crispy as I like it to be. Overall it was delicious (and HOT). They were kind enough to pair the taco-of-the-day as part of the combo, and I went with the good old-fashioned beef soft taco. Sometimes you want something like you might get on a street corner stand in Oaxaca, and sometimes you want something your mom might have made at home in 1987. This was the latter. Having said that, the flavor was outstanding, and it was clear the dry spice on the beef wasn’t from a grocery store packet like mom’s was. The flour tortilla had a nice crisp to it, and the diced tomatoes and shredded lettuce were the perfect addition to make this a great “house-style taco.”
Birria tacos are all the rage these days and for good reason: They’re delicious! There are quite a few Mexican restaurants around town that feature them as menu items, but if you want to go somewhere that specializes in these delights, head to Birria El Gordo in Marietta. It’s not close to where I live, but I find reasons to be in the area just so I can grab lunch there.
For the uninitiated, birria tacos are various kinds of stewed meats served in corn tortillas that have been dipped in birria consommé and fried on a griddle. So the tortilla cooks in the rich broth that the meat was cooked in, giving it a crispy, rich flavor and texture. The savory cherry on top is that the same consommé is served on the side as a dipping sauce (and drinkable “soup”).
Birria El Gordo is a no-frills place that does what they do extremely well. You can’t go wrong with any of the meats or broths here; they are all outstanding. I recommend you go with some friends and get all of them to sample something different among the group. The consommé is so good you’ll want to (and should) drink it down after the tacos are long gone—it eats like one of the best soups you’ve ever had. One last thing to keep in mind before you make the drive, birria tacos are FAR superior when you eat them fresh. They have specific instructions for re-heating to-go orders, but it is highly recommended that you dine in at their order-at-the-counter joint.
So this is on the list for a couple of reasons. One: The Inman Park location is always a fun vibe for a sit-down meal with friends. Two) They did an exceptional job during the height of the pandemic with tacos to-go. bartaco is a mini-chain with locations in 12 states and four right here in Atlanta. Is it the most authentic Mexican street taco you can find? No, but it’s really tasty and there are a lot of options to please anyone in your group: Baja fried fish? Check. Chorizo? Check.
They also have their own spin on the street taco, with roasted duck, crispy oyster and a few vegetarian options to choose from (the cauliflower one is quite nice). But when I go to bartaco, I can’t wait to dive into the sesame ribeye and the glazed pork belly. The ribeye has wonderful spicy kimchi and the pork belly is nice and crispy with a spicy arbol chili sauce.
So now for the to-go part. During the stay-at-home days of the pandemic, I still wanted my tacos. But tacos aren’t the best food to get and eat 30 minutes later at home, and heating them up is always problematic with food that is assembled from both hot and cold items. bartaco came along and solved this issue with their taco kits. The parts are all separated, and you assemble them yourself at home. Just reheat the protein and tortilla, then add your sauces, cilantro, onions, or whatever else comes on it. It’s a very satisfying experience and worth a try.
If you’re in the mood for great Korean taco spots and also the best french fries in Atlanta, then pop over to the wonderful hole-in-the-wall that is Hankook Taqueria. There is also a Dunwoody “Takorea” but the original Hankook is the place to go. Get there before noon because the lines get long, and for a good reason. The tacos are outstanding. The chicken, shrimp, and fish are all super crunchy and their signature Korean barbecue sauce adds a great spicy kick.
While these are great options, for me, the beef “bulgogi” is the way to go. It’s marinated in a pineapple-soy sauce and is incredibly flavorful. All of the tacos come with lettuce, green onion, green cabbage, cilantro, lime, and jack cheese. You will want to stuff your face with them, they are so good.
The place itself is a counter-order joint, no frills, served in a basket, and tables are first come, first served. But people don’t linger, so be patient. And even though this is about the tacos, they also have great burritos, bowls, and their sesame fries are among the best fries I’ve ever eaten anywhere. On their menu, it says they’re “tossed in sesame oil, seasoning, and red pepper flakes.” Somewhere in this combination a kind of magic happens. Trust me.
No Atlanta taco journey can be complete without a trip to Buford Highway. Most people know about this otherwise unremarkable stretch of road, but if you don’t, it’s a few miles of some of the best international eateries (and groceries) that Atlanta, or I would argue ANY city, has to offer. Buford Highway is well-known for culinary delights from countries all over the world—Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, Chinese, Guatemalan, Korean, etc. If you can think of a food from another country, it’s probably represented on Buford Highway.
The Buford Highway has a lot of great Mexican food. There’s an entire Mexican mall, Plaza Fiesta, which is a great place to grab lunch or a cool pair of cowboy boots. As far as taco spots go, you probably can’t go wrong with any of them. Arguing over which has the best taco spots is a bit like splitting hairs, as they’re all very much authentic and pretty similar in pricing and presentation. But for this, I went to El Rey Del Taco.
ERDT is one of many restaurants on the stretch that occupies some former fast food chain’s home. They serve up quick and delicious Mexican food and drinks in a non-fancy atmosphere. You come here for the great food, not the ambiance, although it is quite lively and fun.
For lunch, I got four mini street tacos. They come served traditionally, on two small soft corn tortillas, and can be eaten in a few bites (two if you’re a real pro). Like most street tacos, they come with some diced onions and cilantro, a lime wedge, and nothing more. Because who needs it when the meat is so damn good? This time I got barbacoa, carnitas, al pastor, and asada. These names can mean different things in different places. Here, the barbacoa is a delicious mixture of beef and goat. The pastor is a blend of Boston butt and steak, the carnitas is pork (of course), and the asada is grilled chuck steak. The meats were melt-in-your-mouth soft and out-of-this-world, flavor-wise.
As I said, you probably can’t go wrong with any of the taco spots along Buford Highway, but give El Rey a shot. You won’t be disappointed.
Check out the Stuff You Should Know podcast for everything you want to know about your favorite Tuesday treat.