Tacos are the new pizza, in the sense that America has staked its own claim to the food and any city worth a damn should be able to serve a decent one. With nearly 40% of Providence’s population being Latino, it’s no surprise to find a decent taqueria or two. If you want to experience the taco as Quetzalcóatl intended it, there are plenty of options: Olneyville’s La Lupita (which has attracted national praise), El Rancho Grande, and the little taco stand in the back of Sanchez Market all serve good, old fashioned tacos on corn tortillas topped simply with onion, cilantro and a splash of fresh lime. El Rancho Grande also expands its repertoire to include the flavors of coastal Mexico in its Tacos de Playa, with shrimp, corn, pico de gallo and guacamole. La Lupita: 1950 Westminster St. 331-2444. El Rancho Grande: 311 Plainfield St. 275-0808. Sanchez Market: 802 Atwells Ave. 331-6469.
The taco has so long been ingrained in the food culture of the western states (you know, the ones that used to be in Mexico) that they actually claim an “authenticity” for their own versions. Thus, we have eateries like Mijos Tacos, a self-proclaimed “LA-style taco truck,” or California Taco Shop, which boasts three locations. These represent the taco as LA street food, dressing them up with a hit of salsa (which outsells ketchup in the United States). Poco Loco Tacos, with both a truck and brick-and-mortar shop, brings in a touch of the Southwest with its taco of the same name, filled with chorizo, potato, corn salsa, Southwestern sour cream, onion and cheese. Mijos Tacos. California Taco Shop: 381 Plainfield St. 942-3938; 321 Amherst St. 383-9505; 977 Manton Ave. 369-7557. Poco Loco: 2005 Broad St., Cranston. 461-2640 or mobile truck at 281-YUMM.
Beyond the more conventional versions things start to really get interesting. Southeast Asian cuisine shares affinities with Mexican, including the prevalence of chili peppers, cilantro and lime, and that influence folds nicely into a warm tortilla. Fugo, a food truck specializing in Latin-Asian fusion, serves a Vietnamese Pulled Pork Taco with pickled carrot and daikon, cucumber, cilantro crema and crumbled peanuts. Meanwhile, The Grange takes things about as far away from the basics as possible, turning a traditionally meat-filled Mexican street food into Asian-influenced gourmet American vegan food. Its Korean BBQ Tacos are served in flour, not corn, tortillas and filled with seitan (a wheat gluten-based meat substitute), guacamole and queso fresco. Yet they still manage to be delicious and un-fussy, which is what you really want in a taco. Fugo: 678-9270. The Grange: 166 Broadway. 831-0600.
Johnston’s One More Taco represents perhaps the culmination of the taco as American food: an old Italian sausage shop where Latino-by-way-of-California chef Ramon Martinez makes tacos with New England-sourced ingredients. He even has a taco called The American: beef brisket, garlic crema, lettuce, pico de gallo and Narragansett Creamery queso fresco. 751 Hartford Ave., Johnston. 280-6815.