Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions
645 159 LINKEDIN 13 COMMENTMORE

Cinco de Mayo, a minor Mexican holiday with growing popularity in the USA, is a great time to go out for tacos. The once-humble street food is on the menu at some of the nation's trendiest restaurants. "Regardless of the type of cuisine, restaurants are making a point of having a taco on the menu," says Alfredo Sandoval, who helped pioneer the upscale taco at Mercadito restaurants in New York, Chicago and Miami. He shares favorites with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.

Grilled Shrimp Tacos al Carbon
El Vez, Philadelphia
This taco starts with a homemade tortilla and keeps getting better. "It's really a well-made taco," Sandoval says "It was well-balanced, a little bit spicy with sweetness. The textures and flavors are right on. A great meal." 215-928-9800; elvezrestaurant.com

Fish Taco
Mermaid Inn, New York
Although this restaurant specializes in American seafood, Sandoval loves what it does with tacos. The fish can be ordered grilled and not fried, and the mini versions are particularly popular during happy hour. "It's not a traditional fish taco — it's not spicy. But they do a great job at it." 212-674-5870; themermaidnyc.com

Pork Carnitas Tacos
El Gallo Giro, Santa Ana, Calif.
When Sandoval lived in Southern California, he used to hit this Mexican mini-chain at all hours for a taco fix. "The tortillas were literally being made as you placed your order," he says. The seasoned pulled pork is prepared Michoacán style, over mesquite, seasoned with orange peel and Fanta soda, which provides sweetness. Then it's fried and served moist on double tortillas and topped with grilled onions, cilantro and salsa. 323-726-1246; gallogiro.com

Charred Tuna Wonton Taco
Zengo, Denver
This culinary mash-up has become a favorite in the Mile High City. It starts with deep-fried wonton wrappers cut into circles. "They shape it into a shell so that it looks like a hard taco," Sandoval says. Then it's filled with sushi rice, charred tuna, mango salsa, guacamole and pasilla chile peppers, providing just enough heat to keep it interesting. 720-904-0965; richardsandoval.com/zengodenver

Tacos de Carnitas
Talavera Cocina Mexicana, Miami
This stylish Coral Gables eatery serves traditional Mexican tacos, three to an order. Handmade corn tortillas are topped with pulled pork, onion and cilantro and served with salsa verde and a side of a smoky chile sauce. "This is a traditional taco from Mexico," Sandoval says. 305-444-2955; jaguarhg.com/talaveraspot

Chorizo Taco
La Taqueria, San Francisco
When Sandoval lived in the Bay Area, this was the place he would revisit. "The pork sausage is complemented with different red spices. It's very simple, served with raw onions, limes and tomatillo and tomato salsa on the table in squeeze bottles. There's a lot of flavor." 415-285-7117; facebook.com/LaTaqSF

Beef Tacos
Taqueria Canonita, Las Vegas
In a city that has built a reputation for great dining, Sandoval says this eatery in the Venetian hotel and casino is the go-to spot for tacos. Although the restaurant says it specializes in Mexican soul food, "their take on tacos is more high-end with high-quality ingredients," he says. "It's a little bit more fine dining, a little bit more elaborate." 702-414-3773; canonita.com

Arabicos Taquitos
La Condesa, Austin
These small venison tacos may use a lean meat, but they get their richness from a bacon-fat tortilla. "The best tortillas, in my opinion, have a little lard," Sandoval says. The taco's finished with pickled cucumber, spicy chipotle harissa chile, fennel pollen yogurt and cilantro. "They add brightness to the dish." 512-499-0300; lacondesa.com

Kalbi Wrap
Sunda New Asian, Chicago
Sandoval is crazy about this Korean spare rib taco on the dinner menu. It comes on roti prata, an Asian flour pancake that reminds him of naan, the Indian flat bread. The meat is marinated in a sesame-soy blend and topped with scallions, sprouts and gochujang, a spicy red chile condiment. "It's one of the best tacos I've had in a long time. It was unbelievable with those traditional Asian spices," he says. 312-644-0500; sundachicago.com

Tinga Poblana con Puerco
Oyamel, Washington, D.C.
This poplar menu item starts as a stew with sautéed Shenandoah Valley pork, chorizo and chipotle peppers. It's then strained and served on handmade corn tortillas. "You put on a slice of avocado and a little bit of lettuce to give it crunch," says Sandoval, who also likes the version made with shredded chicken. 202-628-1005; oyamel.com

645 159 LINKEDIN 13 COMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://usat.ly/1gWW35g