Ghetto gourmet

Tacos El Rey gives you cheese you can count on, beef you can believe in, and nachos you can nosh on.

Tacos El Rey gives you cheese you can count on, beef you can believe in, and nachos you can nosh on.

Photo By Todd Upton

Strange as it may sound, a good taco is hard to find in Reno. It seems most Mexican restaurants are Americanized to the point of not even being Mexican anymore. If I see a cheeseburger and fries on the menu at a Mexican restaurant, I know that the tacos aren’t going to be any good. With one exception: Tacos El Rey. Their tacos are damned sumptuous.

As I drove near Tacos El Rey, I heard sedate Spanish phrases passed among the people. I felt like I was a wandering gringo crossing the border into the Mexican barrio in search of something real.

Located in the Chaparral Center on Sutro near Wedekind, with a carneceria and Mexican market next door, Tacos El Rey is about as Mexican as it gets.

When I went in, I was the only gringo there, and the place was hopping—that’s usually a good sign. A mariachi band in blue polyester suits with cowboy boots played in a corner, and multigenerational families sat and ate.

Tacos El Rey is very casual and family oriented—I saw a lot of people bringing their kids. The service is friendly and simple. You order your food at the counter where you pay, they give you a number and then pleasantly bring your food to your table.

The dining room is pretty big. You could seat about 75 people in there and still dance. And the place gets loud—not nasty loud but a kind of happy loud with all the hustle and bustle of a busy restaurant and stridently impulsive Mexican music walling in the background.

I heard from a friend that the al pastor—spicy-pork tacos were excellent, so I ordered five for $1 each and a jarritos mineragua for $1.50.

The food arrived quickly, and I tore into it.

The tacos came on a plate garnished with radishes and lime wedges with fresh cilantro and onions on top. The tortillas were so fresh, they tasted like they made them to order—soft and fluffy with a little chewiness to them. They were nearly perfect.

The meat was tender and juicy. The flavor was a little spicy, but not overpowering—a warm hug rather than the singe of a wildfire.

I think al pastor must be their specialty because this was some of the best I had ever had.

When the food tastes this good, I can keep eating and never feel full—because it stimulates my taste buds so much that my stomach accepts more and more. After I put away five tacos, I felt like I could eat five more, but sensing that I would pay a hell of a price later if I did, I held back on ordering another round.

If all the taquerias in Reno were this good, I would eat nothing but tacos every day. Well, maybe not every day. Maybe every other day.

Normally, I’d head right toward Beto’s at the mention of tasty tacos, but if I have the extra time to drive across town, now I’m definitely going to put Tacos El Rey into the mix.