During my undergrad and graduate college days, I got to spend a fair amount of time traveling in Mexico, including spending a summer in Oaxaca. While I'm no expert, I've been lucky to experience a wide range of Mexico's regional cuisines, from Norteño tacos and burritos to Yucatán specialties like pipil. Some of my favorite Mexican food memories come from time spent in Puebla, where I got my first taste of chiles en nogada—an amazingly complex dish that is as delicious as anything I've ever eaten. Closer to home, I've been visiting two relatively new Mexican eateries that have impressed me. Both are easy on the budget but huge on flavor.
A few months ago, Taco Taco opened in the space adjacent to Cannella's Italian Restaurant, previously occupied by the short-lived Amore Pizza & Gelato. The new eatery is a joint venture by Cannella's and their longtime chef, Alberto Higuera Calderon. It's pocket-size, with just a handful of tables, a few counter seats and added outdoor-eating options in warm weather. It's "walk up and wait" service; walk up to the counter, order your food and wait—but not for long: It'll be delivered pronto.
The menu isn't extensive—about the range of items you'd expect from a taco cart—but it packs a punch. And, unlike at taco carts, you can get Mexican cervezas like Tecate ($3), Negra Modelo ($5), Pacifico ($5) and Corona ($4), as well as cocktails and killer margaritas. The bulk of the menu consists of tacos ($2.50-$2.75), quesadillas ($8-$8.50) and burritos ($8-$9), plus sides like rice & beans, chips & salsa and a few kids' items.
Tuesday is a particularly good day to drop in on Taco Taco. That's when all tacos are $2 each. But I'd enjoy the tacos here any day, especially the chicken mole negro taco: tender pieces of boneless chicken bathed in a rich, dark red mole with queso fresco sprinkled on top, all in a warm, thick corn tortilla. The zucchini-blossom tacos are also excellent, and a good choice for vegetarians.
However, my favorite item from the Taco Taco menu is the carne asada burrito. I initially balked at the $9 price tag. However, the burrito is muy grande, a mammoth thing that is a force to be reckoned with. So far, I've yet to finish more than half a Taco Taco burrito at one sitting. It's a large flour tortilla stuffed—and I mean stuffed—with heaping amounts of tender, flavorful, slightly salty morsels of grilled beef along with white rice, corn and black beans. I love the simplicity of the tacos and burritos, all of which can be adorned with a variety of garnishes and sauces—jalapaños, cilantro, radish, cabbage, pickled onion, etc.—from the salsa bar. However, I like my carne asada burrito "naked," with nothing more than some hot sauce drizzled on top. I'll go so far as to say it is Salt Lake City's best burrito.
Counter service at Taco Taco is super-friendly, and the music selections always eclectic. One afternoon, I heard Agnostic Front blaring from the speakers. No mariachi music here!
And, speaking of the friendly factor, Tamales Tita is hard to beat. During my visits, my dining companions and I have been made to feel more like family than customers. And, with Tita's low prices, you feel like you're getting some sort of family discount when you dine there. Believe me, this place is well worth a trip to West Jordan.
A woman named Alin is the owner, but her mother, Tita, "is the boss," says Alin. Alin patrols the dining room making sure everyone is happy and well taken care of. And, how could you not be happy with Tita's tamales? They're the main draw. And, just as Tacos Tacos has the best burrito, I'll go out on another limb and say that Tamales Tita serves the best tamales around.
The restaurant is minimalist in décor, but maximalist in sabor. Obviously, tamales are the big draw. They're housemade from scratch and come in a wide assortment of flavors, including savory tamales like chicken, pork, jalapeño & cheese, chicken with mole, bean & cheese and vegan (bean or oatmeal). There's also a selection of sweet tamales like corn with cinnamon, pineapple, and a sweet tamale with cream filling, plus a breakfast tamale with bacon, sausage, egg & cheese. Tamales are $1.75 apiece or $16.75 per dozen. I always get a dozen to take home when I visit.
You might know Tamales Tita from their presence at various farmers markets. A couple months ago, they finally opened their first restaurant, which features not-so-typical Mexican fare. There are no burritos on the menu, for example, and the tacos aren't standard, but rolled tacos dorados filled with chicken, ham & cheese, or beans.
The tamales are about 50 percent larger—with a thicker masa exterior—than what you're probably used to. So, the enchilada-style tamales ($5.99) are a generous plate of two tamales of your choice, smothered with your choice of verde, rojo or mole sauce and topped with queso fresco, onion, shredded lettuce and drizzled sour cream.
Other tasty dishes include excellent chiles rellenos and a dish called albondigas: three large meatballs swimming in a smoky-tasting chipotle sauce. The meatballs are ground beef encasing a hard-cooked egg. They're a tad dense for my taste, and I'd prefer a mixture of pork and beef rather than just beef, but they're still badass meatballs.
So, if you're looking for Salt Lake City's best burrito and best tamale, get your butts to Taco Taco and Tamales Tita.