RICHMOND, Va. — Do you want to know where the best tacos are in Richmond? Ask the Taco Police.
Ben Steelman, Richmond’s self-proclaimed Taco Police, grew up in Harrisonburg, Virginia then moved to Richmond. Here, his best friend’s family took him in and raised him as their own. His friend’s mother is from Mexico City, his father from a small town in the state of Zacatecas called Florencia.
“[Mexican food] it just has something I can’t describe. It’s comforting food. It’s a genuine love for what’s going on the plate. I can name multiple meals I’ve eaten in Mexico that for me are probably more valuable memories than the three Michelin star restaurants,” Steelman said when asked about his qualifications for being the Taco Police.
Here are Ben’s taco recommendations for Richmond:
“Tacos México is a no-frills taqueria on Jefferson Davis Highway with a high population of Mexican immigrants. Typically if the surrounding residents support the taqueria and they know tacos, that’s a good sign you are likely to find delicious tacos inside!
Don’t worry though, there are plenty of English-speaking customers that come to Tacos Mexico as well, so Spanish is not a requirement! Lengua de res (beef tongue) has a soft texture with a deep and unique beefy flavor, and Tacos México treats it well, frying it just a bit to crisp it up.
Their Barbacoa (soft, juicy shredded beef) is also worth the trip.”
“Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant is an expression of the Mexican heritage of owners/founders Paulo and Nelson Benavides coupled with an American sense of casually modern, approachable style.
The result is a modern and welcoming option for the American customer who may find more typical Mexican fare a bit intimidating —high quality food made with high quality ingredients. Their carnitas (slow cooked pork) are the best in Richmond; the recipe comes from the Benavides’ hometown of Degollado, Jalisco by way of their uncle.
Try it with their Chile Verde dish, making your own tacos with tortillas on the side, but the carnitas tacos are also excellent. The chorizo (spicy Mexican sausage) is made in house and is also delicious.”
“Taqueria El Tacorrey is another excellent option for traditional tacos, while also offering a “con todo” (with everything) option. In many authentic taquerias “con todo” will mean that they serve your taco with the typical combination of cilantro and white onion.
At El Tacorey, con todo means you will get a mashup of tomato, cheese and sour cream. Order spicy chicken or spicy pork,”regular” (cilantro and onion) or “con todo”, and relax at the covered outdoor seating directly next to the taco truck.
Don’t forget to squeeze the lime over your tacos before digging in! That’s a universal taco law; if you do this already you know why, and if you don’t, you’ll understand once you do!”
Rey de los Tacos
Rey de los Tacos (not to be confused with Taqueria El Tacorrey) is the spot on this list that you are most likely not to know about. This non-descript taco truck is located near the intersection of Walmsley Blvd and Hopkins Road.
If you are at the white truck across the street from El Toro Nightclub and Restaurant, you are in the right place. The lengua de res (beef tongue) is soft and savory, and the bistec (chopped steak) strikes a balance between crispy and tender that seems to be very difficult for competing taco establishments. [Owner] Veracruz native Maria Gomez informed me they are open from 4 p.m. – 11 p.m. six days a week, with Monday off.
That’s plenty of time to find out what you’ve been missing!
Taquería Panchito is a name you may have seen around Richmond by way of their taco truck, but you’re better served checking out their brick and mortar restaurant with their full menu selection.
The cabeza (beef from the head of the cow) is juicy and fall-apart tender. If you’re worried about unknowingly eating brain, don’t be – that would be a taco de sesos. The main attraction at Panchito is the tripa (small intestine, usually pork when used in tacos). You’ll find the tripa to be coarsely chopped, fried crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, nicely seasoned with deep savory flavor.
You’ll be served your tacos at Panchito with a double tortilla, normally fine, but in the case of Panchito’s tortillas one is strong enough to keep your taco together.
Other taco tidbits
We also asked Steelman what he thought was missing from Richmond’s taco scene:
Buche (pork stomach) is one of my favorite types of Mexican meat, and I really wish I could find it at taquerias in Richmond, especially mixed with carnitas for a complex pork character with great texture variance,” he said.
“More restaurants should utilize trompos (vertical spits). If you have seen shawarma on a spit, you can picture how al pastor looks, and that’s for good reason: al pastor was introduced to Mexico by Middle Eastern immigrants largely from Syria and Lebanon in the 1900s. Real al pastor isn’t just “marinated pork” as many places would like you to believe. That’s not to say that the marinated pork isn’t delicious, it’s just not al pastor.
Tacos al Vapor. Tacos al vapor are a relatively simple concept that makes an excellent product. It simply means that you hold the cooked meat you are using and the warmed tortillas in steam, which keeps them warm and moist.
Where is your favorite taco? Did Taco Police, Ben Steelman get it right? Let me know!