Sure, there are variations, but the basics are the same. The going rate is a buck a taco, give or take. Similarities aside, the quality of fare differs between taco carts. The epicenter of the Salt Lake City taco universe is on the periphery of the Sears parking lot at 800 South between State and Main. There are four established carts staked out on respective corners, although occasional interlopers come and go too.
At Taqueria “El Paisa,” the clear winner, I sampled the carnitas roasted pork, a bite of carne-asada-grilled steak from my companion’s plate, and was shamed into ordering la lengua: beef tongue cut into healthy-size cubes and roasted in a rich and flavorful sauce.
Kelly Peterson—my guide and Webmaster of SLCTacos.com—bantered with the cart’s operator in slangy Spanish about how white folks tend to stick with safe bets like chicken and the afore-mentioned asada. So I felt obligated to defy stereotype and try something more “authentic.”
What really separates El Paisa from the pack is the care taken with the individual dishes. I couldn’t help but notice how other vendors tended to use lowquality meat, chop it too finely, and mask it in a vague sauce that makes chicken indistinguishable from pork al pastor. El Paisa uses only tasty, identifiable cuts and manages distinct seasonings along with fresh home-style salsas and veggies.
As with most culinary quests, the adventure and excitement is found in the search and the chase—in this case, for the perfect taco. Many tacos are made, but few are chosen. Rest assured, the quest continues.