More and more restaurants are defying expectations of what a taco can be, and that’s a very good thing. Forget any memories you have of ground beef and iceberg lettuce in a crunchy shell. Area chefs are introducing uninitiated diners to the regional flavors of Mexico and experimenting with unexpected sauces and fillings. We discovered three tacos from local eateries that will make you see this humble street food in a whole new light.
EL REY’S SPICY PEANUT SHRIMP TACO
This boisterous downtown cantina is more than just a pit stop for thirsty Kings fans on their way to the game. El Rey serves up some fine tacos that show genuine imagination in the kitchen. The peanut sauce in the shrimp taco has just the right balance of smoke and heat, while the drizzle of cilantro crema serves as a tangy contrast to the sweetness of the shrimp. 723 K St.; (916) 400-4170; elreyonk.com
MESA MERCADO’S TIERRA MADRE TACO
Ernesto Delgado’s latest venture at Milagro Centre in Carmichael proves that the restaurateur is on a mission to expose local diners to the many facets of modern Mexican cuisine. The Tierra Madre taco, a blue corn tortilla filled with grilled spinach, onions, mushrooms, roasted poblanos and avocado, is a delicious option even for dedicated carnivores. And the chile-sprinkled mango chunks served gratis before every meal are a refreshing departure from the same ol’ chips and salsa. 6241 Fair Oaks Blvd., Carmichael; (916) 283-4081; mesamercado.com
NIXTACO’S COMBINATION TACO
If you find yourself flummoxed by the array of tempting choices on Nixtaco’s menu, fear not. The combination taco at this casual Roseville eatery brings together the most enticing fillings in one hefty taco: sauteed shrimp, roasted poblanos tossed in house-made crema, and diced chicharron (pork belly), all doused with a bright peanut chipotle aioli. Don’t miss the carrot habanero sauce at the salsa bar. 1805 Cirby Way, Roseville; (916) 771-4165; nixta.co