Taco-lovers visit notable spots, report findings
“An argument can be made that there is no definition of what a taco is,” said photographer and tacoholic Nick Doll.
Tacos can be hard or soft shelled, feature beef or fish or chicken or pork, and can be topped with anything from pineapples to gouda cheese to kimichi to candied walnuts. They cost a few dollars at taco trucks or much more at upscale places where savvy restaurateurs add fancy ingredients like fillet mignon and ahi tuna.
Professor of history at University of Minnesota Jeffrey Pilcher has investigated the origin of the taco for the past 20 years. In his research he found the Spanish word ‘taco’ originated in the Mexican silver mines in the 18th century. Pilcher found the original meaning of “taco” referred to paper wrapped around gunpowder and put in carved holes in the rock face for excavation.
The Mexican rooted simple food has grown to a national phenomenon after in first took the stage in the early 19th century after being featured in cookbooks according to Wikipedia. And then, in the 20th century Taco Bell lead the charge in the United States.
Doll, along with musician Tony Baltimore, charter boat Capt. Jeremy Hackworth, Chris Shultz, Shaun Griffin, Margot Koch and I went on a taco quest around Key West and Stock Island to sample some of the most talked about places. The team sampled 72 tacos in total. Each varied exponentially in composition and flavor.
Photos by NICK DOLL/Nickdollphotography.com
(Mahi Fish Taco)
The Blind Pig
Mahi fish tacos at The Blind Pig (located by Rum Row on North Roosevelt) are both savory and flavorful. The tortilla comes soft and the cheese is melted making it closer to a quesadilla than taco. Perfect for a lunch while sipping a cocktail from Rum Row and lounging by the pool at The Gates Hotel.
(Pastor Pork Tacos)
The taco crew’s consensus was that Kim’s Kuban is the biggest surprise on the list. It became a must-visit after Doll was urged to stop at the spot by a request on social media. We sampled the “al pastor” pork and steak. The pastor pork has a pink color from its marinade and is authentic Mexican style. The steak comes with onions and both have a homemade salsa with fresh peppers. Kim’s Kuban is on North Roosevelt next to Konch Kuts.
(Pineapple Barbecue Glazed Berkshire Pork Cheek Tacos)
death by tǟkö
Everybody said “wow” after taking a bite from the pineapple barbecue glazed Berkshire pork cheeks at death by tǟkö. The sweet pineapple flavor compliments the savory pork. Lemongrass-braised Iowa beef short rib was another the crew tried and enjoyed. The short rib and pork cheek tacos pair well with the craft beer available. The eatery is located on North Roosevelt inside Mellow Ventures.
Shaun Griffin said the tacos make him feel like a kid again, a happy cubby kid. This was one of the few hard shell spots on the journey and the seasoned ground beef is a delectable combination with the creamy queso cheese. The tacos are only $1.50 on Tuesdays at their location next to Sloppy Joe’s and the kitchen closes at 10 p.m.
(Roast Pork Tacos)
Agave 308 Tequila Bar
Slow roasted pork with Kim chi sloth tacos and blackened steak grilled with sautéed onions, green chilis and catijia cheese tacos are tasty from Agave. Aside from being known for having more kinds of tequila than any place on the island it is also know for great tacos, taking pride in two fine gifts from the Mexican culture. The bar is on Front Street in Key West.
(Fried Hogfish Tacos)
Hogfish Bar and Grill
The best part about Hogfish is how fresh the fish is. Jeremy Hackworth traveled Mexico and the US sampling tacos and said it is the best Baja tacos outside of Baja, California. Baja-style tacos feature fresh cabbage, radish and corn tortillas. The best part is enjoying the view of the water while chowing down on them. Hogfish is on Stock Island at the end of Front Street.
Best Coffee In Town
If you thought Sandy’s was the only restaurant in a laundry mat that serves great food you were wrong. Best Coffee In Town has delicious tacos, most notably the chicken. It is cooked to perfection and carries a light crunch that contrast perfectly with the lettuce and soft tortilla. They are located on White Street.
(Chorizo Beef Bacon Tacos)
Everyday, 2¢ features a delectable taco and the one we tried was the chorizo and bacon. Topped with cabbage, the taco is mouthwatering good when the chorizo and bacon blends with the creamy sour cream. It is a must try for any taco connoisseur. The gastropub is steps off Duval Street on Applerouth Lane.
Bad Boy Burrito
The most notable attribute of tacos from Bad Boy is their homemade corn tortillas. Whether trying the fish or duck tacos, their choice ingredients are recognizable in flavor. Wash down a taco or burrito with some of their thirst-quenching refreshments like their watermelon agua frescan, Margot Koch’s favorite drink. Bad Boy Burrito is next to Bottle Cap Lounge on Simonton Street.
Chico’s has hard and soft shell and great salsa to go with the dish. Shredded chicken or ground beef with their sauce make for a great lunch or dinner. The Mexican décor — complete with cacti and Mexican sculptures and paintings— makes the taco experience whole. Chico’s is on U.S.1 on Stock Island.
(Korean BBQ Tacos)
The Korean BBQ Taco is one of Nick Doll’s favorite dishes on the island. Master Chef Eli has an Asian influence on his awarding winning dishes that come out of the food truck parked behind Grunts on Caroline Street. It is a divine combination of marinated beef short rib, napa cabbage, scallions, carrots, diakon, citrus soy dressing, and sriracha.
Southernmost Shell and Cuban Café
Tony Estenoz cooks up a bit of everything at the Southernmost Shell station on Roosevelt, but the tiny eatery is one of Key West’s most Taco-fied tasteries. With Tony, nothing is off limits, including his smoked fish taco with BBQ sauce (Tony recommends a cold fountain Coke with any taco). Oh! And three beef tacos are $5 and three fish tacos are $8.
(Baja Fried Fish, Chicken, pulled pork and Carne Tacos)
Amigos Tortilla Bar
Everything at Amigos is made in house and Tony Baltimore, Nick Doll and Margot Koch agreed all the tacos were fantastic and the place has definitely improved from the past. Key ingredients like garlic, lime and cinnamon set the taste buds on a heavenly journey. They are on Greene Street right off Duval towards Whitehead.
(Blackened Fish Tacos)
Dante’s makes a solid fish taco with melted cheese and a cooked flour tortilla. Probably the best part about Dante’s is the oversized pool to lounge in after. It is a great place to go in the summer months and have lunch and a few drinks. The spot is on 951 Caroline St. in the plaza across from the parking garage.