Good tacos; great pozole

The chile rellenos are good too.

The chile rellenos are good too.

Photo by becky grunewald

Good for: Lunch, dinner and breakfast served all day
Notable dishes: Tacos de lengua, tejuino, ceviche de camaron, pozole

Cuco’s Taqueria

4720 Mack Rd.
Sacramento, CA 95823

(916) 391-2197

My culinary territory typically extends from downtown south on Stockton Boulevard as far as Mack Road. There’s no real reason I stop at Mack except that my 10-minute drive bleeds into 15 minutes at that arbitrary border.

A February Vietnamese Tet celebration set up in a parking lot on Mack clued me in to the existence of Cuco's Taqueria, which is housed in a moribund strip mall at the back of said parking lot. I've never heard anyone recommend Cuco's, but the Yelps looked OK and revealed that it's been open over seven years—definitely worth a visit.

The exterior is painted and posted with a variety of intriguing looking specials, including an unfamiliar one: “tejuino.” I Google it and discover it's a cold, fermented masa drink flavored with piloncillo (unrefined brown sugar). It's not every day or even every month I get to try a new dish locally—I restrain myself from skipping through the door in glee.

The sludgy, brown tejuino ($4) is tart and sweet and tastes of tamarind. The thick texture is off-putting at first but by the second time I order it on a subsequent visit, I'm fully onboard. The jauntily captain's-hatted chef emerges from the kitchen to inquire if I've had it before, proudly mentions how rare it is on local menus, and shares that they ferment it for two and a half days.

Cuco's bills itself as a taqueria, and their taco game is moderately strong. The tacos ($1.89) are large, but can be picked up in one hand (big pet peeve—tacos too heaped with meat to eat as God intended), with supple tortillas surrounding. Best taco of the five I sampled: the tender, beefy tacos de lengua, which are well worth the 50-cent additional price. Worst: the carnitas. Carnitas are all about the crispy bits and these were flabby.

Cuco's also serves an equal number of seafood dishes, most centered around shrimp. The tostado de ceviche de camaron ($4.85) is a new local favorite of mine, and is served topped with a generous portion of avocado and tasting of zingy lime and strong cilantro. The ceviche rancheros plate ($12.50) exhibits plump pink shrimp bathed in a thin, garlicky tomato sauce.

I've been on a bland pozole streak. It's gotten so bad that I've questioned if I ever even liked pozole that much, and I haven't had time to get to Alonzo's to snap myself out of it. Well consider me officially snapped by Cuco's hominy-heavy, meaty version. I lamented the lack of dried oregano as an offered topping, but that was quickly forgotten when I flavored the broth with the bright orange, ridiculously fruity four-chili salsa (habanero, cayenne, chipotle, serrano) that was served on the side. There was at least a pound of tender pork shoulder in the one bowl, and the stew tasted even better warmed up the next day.

Cuco's is super cute inside, with a mural of Jalisco taking up one wall and tables covered in bright, striped blankets under grandma-style sheets of plastic. It's open long hours, seven days a week and serves breakfast all day. On each of three visits there was only a trickle of customers, even at peak times. Maybe nonlocals are put off by the farflung location, as I usually am, but Cuco's is worth the trek.