Adobada tacos from Taqueria Los Puñales

Image: Michael Novak

What goes into a great taco? Every component has to be on point. The filling, from slow-cooked cochinita pibil to seared carne asada to veggie guisados, must be flavor-packed and texturally sound, the tortillas perfectly griddled (and many of them handmade), and the salsas tangy and lively. Together, they add up to something special that’s more than the sum of their parts. From Southeast Portland to Beaverton to Gresham and Vancouver, these are our top tacos.

Birrieria La Plaza

Glenfair

A few years into the birria boom, Birrieria La Plaza’s beefy quesabirria tacos still reign supreme in Portland. At other birrierias, a bomb of grease and cheese often masks the tacos’ flavor. That’s not the case here, where the long-simmered beef marinated in guajillo and pasilla chiles is the star of the show, and the cheese and crispy tortillas are there as supporting characters. Be sure to ask for spicy salsa on the side, plus a cup of consome for dipping (though this one is a little on the oilier side, so you won’t want to drink the whole thing). 600 SE 146th Ave

La Tehuana

Overlook

Come for a straightforward selection of tacos on thick handmade tortillas, ranging from juicy carnitas to charred carne asada to tongue-tingling spicy pork. Garnish them with a stoplight-like collection of red, yellow-orange, and green salsas, and the agua fresca of the day made with fresh fruit is a must. 1341 N Killingsworth St

La Tía Juana

Rockwood

This former fast food joint is now home to a host of Tijuana-style treats. Our go-tos are the spit-roasted tacos al pastor garnished with pineapple and avocado salsa on a thick, fresh handmade tortilla using masa from La Milpa in Sandy, or the super-juicy tacos al vapor that trade crisp-edged meat for fatty, steamed meats like lengua or cabeza. 18488 E Burnside St

Little Conejo

Esther Short, Vancouver

This taqueria is one of our go-to restaurants in Vancouver, particularly for its standout oyster mushroom tacos. The garlic-roasted mushrooms are super juicy and tender, blended with a touch of melted cheese that helps bring out their flavor. Look for other veggie tacos like brussels sprouts and nopales, too. On the meaty side, this place makes one of the area’s better al pastor tacos, where the meat is actually roasted on a trompo (spit); the suadero is also a must-try, and the battered and fried mahi-mahi tacos rank among the top fish tacos, too. Everything comes on toasty Three Sisters Nixtamal tortillas. 114 W Sixth St, Vancouver, Washington

Loncheria Los Mayas

Beaumont-Wilshire/Cully

Tacos (plus a bonus cochinita pibil panucho) from Loncheria Los Mayas

Image: Michael Novak

It doesn’t get better than these handmade tortillas, thick and golden yellow, super fluffy with crisp browned edges and a couple leopard spots, and with a hint of extra salt to bring out the toasty corn flavor. The cochinita pibil is a must-order—Yucatan-style slow-braised pork cooked until almost buttery in a velvety achiote-orange sauce, topped with pickled onions and crunchy cabbage. The carnitas are on the opposite end of the spectrum, super-crisp like porky potato chips. 4212 NE Prescott St, 503-754-3059

Los Francos

Hazelwood/Mill Park

Carne asada lovers, look no further: the carne asada tacos from Los Francos are top-tier. How they manage to make the edges crispy and caramelized and the inside so juicy is a culinary mystery; add plenty of tangy green salsa for best results. Round out your order with the chorizo, which melds into a crisp, porky force field, and the juicy carnitas. 12051 SE Stark St, 503-473-7066

Matt’s BBQ Tacos

Richmond

I’ve never been to Texas, but if this is what Texas barbecue–meets–Tex Mex tastes like, then it sounds like a delicious place. The same slow-smoked meats served at N Mississippi sister cart Matt’s BBQ, from pork belly to brisket, make an appearance atop chewy handmade flour tortillas. Each taco gets its own accoutrements, from pickled onions and guacamole to iceberg lettuce, shredded cheese, and tomatoes. Plus, breakfast tacos are served all day, from the tortilla-scrambled egg migas to the Hot Mess with sausage, egg, queso, and smoked jalapeños. 2216 SE 50th Ave

Taco Gang

Buckman

This cart, run by mother-and-son team Anna and Leo Mendoza, serves up classic tacos done right, with a homestyle spin of handmade tortillas and a neighboring beer cart that makes visiting this pod feel like a backyard taco party. Favorites include the smoky-spicy chorizo and the tender carnitas, and the al pastor is delicious (and complete with pineapple) albeit a bit saucier than most versions we’re accustomed to. Keep an eye on Taco Gang’s Instagram page for specials like chicken tinga or birria. 2623 SE Belmont St

Tacos El Patrón

Cooper Mountain-Aloha North, Beaverton

Shrimp and suadero tacos from El Patrón

Image: Michael Novak

Blocks away from TV Highway’s car dealerships lives this gem of a cart, which Efrain Abarca opened in 2019 to re-create the flavors of the tacos he ate growing up visiting his grandma in Tijuana. Few other taquerias can match the range of styles encompassed here, all served on toasty, fragrant Three Sisters Nixtamal tortillas. Get the Tijuana-style steak tacos with steak, guacamole, and onion; the grilled shrimp tacos with a blanket of crisped cheese melded on to the tortilla; the fatty-crisp suadero (brisket) tacos; or the ubiquitous but very well-made quesabirria tacos complete with beefy, hearty consomé. Also not to be missed: the creative aguas frescas, from strawberry horchata to celery-pineapple-lime. 21460 SW Tualatin Valley Hwy 

Taqueria Los Puñales

Sunnyside

Tacos guisados—tacos filled with stews and braises—are the name of the game here, with dozens of types to choose from, all served on handmade corn tortillas. We go for the standout chicken tinga in smoky chipotle sauce, the salty-spicy pork adobada, the super-tender lengua en salsa verde, the juicy barbacoa served Jalisco-style in a crispy tortilla, the melt-in-your-mouth carnitas, or the bistec con papas (steak and potatoes) in savory tomato stew. But the vegetarian and vegan options here are not to be overlooked, from grilled panela cheese with sour cream to calabacitas with corn and onion to soy curl mole. Wash it down with a textbook-perfect pint glass-sized margarita, amped up with habanero or mezcal or aguas frescas like strawberry or mango if you so choose, or a refreshing michelada. 3312 SE Belmont St

Tienda y Taqueria Santa Cruz 

St. Johns

In the back of a St. Johns market, this taqueria serves up some of the city’s finest super-tender lengua, crispy tripa, and fatty, melt-in-your-mouth cabeza tacos. 8630 N Lombard St, 503-286-7302

Tortilleria y Tienda De Leon

Gresham

This self-described Mexican deli and tortilla maker serves some of the best carnitas tacos in Portland, point blank—juicy hunks of meat with crispy bits, with one of three homemade salsas on top (smoky, mild red, herbaceous green, or creamy orange habanero). It also excels in the stewier side of things with its guisados—try the mild, melt-in-your mouth steak in the bistec a la Mexicana or the spicy puerco y nopales stew, either in a taco or as part of a combo plate. 16223 NE Glisan St  

Sahuayo Taqueria

Laurelhurst/North Tabor

This Glisan Street corner store is also home to a counter-service taqueria with a massive menu that ventures far beyond tacos into enchiladas, pozole, menudo, and much more. The star taco here is the birria de chivo—fragrant slow-cooked goat in a chile-kissed broth—and it’s further heightened by opting to have your taco served on one of the massive homemade tortillas. Carnitas are also a go here, topped with avocado salsa and pico de gallo. 4438 NE Glisan St, 503-719-5374

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