28 essential taco stops in the Boston area

Where to find al pastor, carnitas, and even grasshoppers wrapped up in tortillas.

Tacos at Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar.
Tacos at Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar. –Tiffany Lopinsky

The next time you hear a West Coast transplant bemoan Boston’s supposed lack of tacos, respond by directing their attention to this guide. Our nearest border may be with Canada, but the Greater Boston area boasts a formidable roster of taco joints, from the remixed flavors of hip urban hangouts to the no-frills authenticity of Eastie taquerias.

1. Anna’s Taqueria
The original Anna’s Taqueria opened in Brookline in 1995, with the intention of providing a local counterpart to the Mexican street food found in San Francisco’s Mission District. Since then, it’s expanded to eight outposts throughout the Boston area, all of which serve a mesmerizing assembly line of generously sized tacos that come with a choice of 10 fillings, running the gamut from slow-cooked lengua (tongue) to spicy chili verde pork. (242 Cambridge St., Boston; 800 Boylston St., Boston; 1412 Beacon St., Brookline; 446 Harvard St., Brookline; 1 Porter Square, Cambridge; 84 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge; 27 Lincoln St., Newton; 268A Elm St., Somerville)

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2. Angela’s Cafe
The two Angela’s Cafe locations in East Boston, one in Orient Heights and one in Eagle Hill, have earned acclaim for the eponymous Angela’s mastery of Puebla-style cooking. The sit-down restaurants make classic chicken, pork, and steak tacos for $2.50 a piece, or for $3 provide house specialties like the adobo-marinated pork árabe or a fried tilapia taco with avocado and chipotle dressing. (131 Lexington St., Boston; 1012 Bennington St., Boston)

3. Cactus Grill
A fixture of Maverick Square in East Boston, Cactus Grill has a wide selection of Central American dishes in a bustling, no-frills cafeteria-style setting. Its overstuffed tacos, which clock in at $2.50 to $3 a pop, are available with the classic filling choices of chicken, steak, pork, beef tongue, and a surprisingly strong vegetarian option that comes with grilled cauliflower and broccoli. The quick pace of ordering and Styrofoam boxes make it an ideal grab-and-go choice when pressed for time. (44 Maverick Square, Boston)

4. Casa Romero
Despite its location in one of the city’s most well-trodden neighborhoods, Back Bay’s Casa Romero is easy to miss. The only clue to its existence is a corner sign on Gloucester Street; venture down the public alley and you’ll discover a tucked-away haunt filled with aztec masks and brightly colored tiles that feels a world away from Boston. On the taco front, you’ll find flavors like steak and cochinita (slow-roasted pork) at lunch time, while the dinner menu offers the tacos de atún (tuna), filled with tuna, cubed avocado, and grilled red pepper. (30 Gloucester St., Boston)

Chilicates
Beef tongue taco at Chilacates. —Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe
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5. Chilacates
Chilacates first opened in Jamaica Plain in 2015, and proved so popular that another location was added to the neighborhood in 2017. The tiny twin taquerias can chalk up that success to their simple but delicious tacos that come on homemade corn tortillas and are filled with chipotle-simmered chicken tinga, sweet-and-savory al pastor, or flavor-packed papas con chorizo. (224 Amory St., Boston; 658 Centre St., Boston)

6. Dorado Tacos & Cemitas
This unassuming corner spot in Brookline stands out among the local taco scene for its focus on fillings from the sea. Its two beer-battered Atlantic pollock tacos take flavor inspiration from Baja and come in spicy or spicier varieties. Beer-battered chipotle shrimp and grilled salmon are also available. Don’t worry — those looking for land-based nourishment can still find it in choices like pork chorizo and spicy portabella mushroom. (401 Harvard St., Brookline)

7. El Centro
The El Centro outposts in the South End, Belmont, Brookline, and Dedham seek to bring a bit of Mexico to Massachusetts, via both the family recipes of Chef Allan Rodriguez and the Mexican objects and artwork that accent the walls. Taco fillings lean on the classic side — carne asada, al pastor, barbacoa (slow-cooked meat) — and come on house-made tortillas. (472 Shawmut Ave., Boston; 66 Leonard St., Belmont; 236 Washington St., Brookline; 338 Washington St., Dedham)

El Pelon Taqueria
Fish tacos at El Pelón Taqueria. —Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe

8. El Pelón Taqueria
El Pelón’s status as a cult favorite is reflected by the decor: Both its Fenway and Brighton locations are festooned with fans wearing their El Pelón gear across the globe. When it comes to tacos, El Pelón provides four varieties to choose from: rajas con queso with black beans and roasted poblanos, grilled-steak-and-guac caramelos, grilled chicken americanos, and the hefty fan-pleasing pescado filled with cornmeal-battered cod and chile mayo. (92 Peterborough St., Boston; 2197 Commonwealth Ave., Brighton)

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9. El Potro Mexican Bar and Grill
El Potro debuted in 2006 with a location in Somerville’s Union Square, and most recently opened a larger space in Malden. Each is a riot of color and filled with hand-carved furniture painted with scenes of Mexico. While each serves a simple taco selection — think: pork abobada on scratch-made corn tortillas — El Potro offers much more atmosphere than your typical mom-and-pop. A live mariachi band regularly plays, and a lively karaoke scene takes over on weekends. (156 Highland Ave., Malden; 61 Union Square, Somerville)

10. Felipe’s Taqueria
Two bustling floors of seating, a rooftop, and cheap margaritas have made Felipe’s Taqueria a student fixture in Harvard Square. But no student ID is required to enjoy its tacos, which are priced at $4.25 for two and finished with such fillings as chorizo, steak tips, and lightly battered shrimp or haddock. (21 Brattle St., Cambridge)

11. Herrera’s Mexican Grill
Herrera’s operates two brick-and-mortar locations just blocks away from the Boston Common, plus another two food carts in Downtown Crossing. That’s good news for any taco lovers in that square mile, who have ample opportunities to nab a roast pork or fried codfish taco. Those with ambitious a.m. appetites can also partake in breakfast tacos, which come loaded with scrambled eggs, refried beans, cheese, ranchero sauce, ham, homefries, and chorizo. (11 Temple Place, Boston; 10 Park Plaza, Boston)

12. La Cancún
Another fixture of the Maverick Square taco scene in East Boston, La Cancún whips up Mexican-Salvadorian food in colorful, cramped, and sometimes even chaotic quarters. It’s all worth it for inexpensive tacos that come in twin tortillas, smothered in a homemade hot sauce. La Cancún serves the authentic standards, from lengua to carne asada, but the truly adventurous can opt for beef-brain carnitas. (192 Summer St., Boston)

13. Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar
Loco isn’t making a play for pure authenticity. This rowdy South Boston hangout from the group behind Lincoln and Cappo offers up eclectic varieties like General Tso’s, buffalo chicken, and cola pork carnitas. But it’s not all inventive madness: Traditionalists will be sated by tried-and-true classics like carne asada and chicken tinga. (412 W. Broadway, Boston)

Tacos at Lolita Cocina & Tequila Bar.
Tacos at Lolita Cocina & Tequila Bar. —Lolita Cocina & Tequila Bar

14. Lolita Cocina & Tequila Bar
Lolita’s Back Bay and Fort Point locations may be best known as dim-lit tequila bars with vibrant nightlife scenes, but the margaritas the restaurants dish can be mopped up by tacos with non-traditional fillings like fried chicken with mezcal molasses and crispy cauliflower with green-chili pimento cheese. Somewhat surprising for the swanky settings, each location offers an astoundingly good deal on Mondays: With the purchase of a drink, you can devour all the ground beef or chicken hardshell tacos you can eat for only $10. (271 Dartmouth St., Boston; 253 Summer St., Boston)

15. Lone Star Taco Bar
Neither the original Allston nor the newer Cambridge location of Lone Star Taco Bar accepts reservations, but the often-considerable wait time shouldn’t be a turnoff to true taco devotees. Once inside, you’ll find selections like beef barbacoa, house-made chorizo, and Dallas spicy beef on fluffy homemade corn tortillas. While each of the evergreen options are sure to please, don’t overlook the daily and often experimental taco specials (or better yet, check them out on Lone Star’s Instagrams beforehand).(478 Cambridge St., Boston; 635 Cambridge St., Cambridge)

A taco at Naco Taco.
A taco at Naco Taco. —Kate Kimball for Caviar

16. Naco Taco
Central Square’s funky Naco Taco opened in 2015 to give the Boston area something it was sorely missing: an outdoor patio setting with strong party vibes, beers by the pitcher, and tacos. The tacos are built with house-made tortillas and served with everything from traditional al pastor to duck confit with pomegranate molasses. (297 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge)

17. Olé
Cambridge’s Olé is no mom-and-pop taco shack. It’s a sit-down affair with white tablecloths, floral arrangements, and inventive taco entrees like chimichurri-marinated ahi tuna and beer-braised short ribs with mole barbecue sauce, all plated on homemade tortillas. That’s not to say that every part of Olé is fancy — it also features the restaurant-within-a-restaurant Olé to Go, which provides simpler tacos filled with carnitas or battered baja shrimp. (11 Springfield St., Cambridge)

18. The Painted Burro
The Painted Burro is a Davis Square sit-down affair that boasts a selection of 100 tequilas and an airy dining room full of rustic woods and striking Día de Los Muertos-inspired decor. Those amped-up production values translate to its 10-strong taco menu, particularly a short rib “double-stack” that piles beef atop a corn and flour tortilla, finished off with a red wine and Mexican cola mole. The restaurant also provides some of the best local taco options for vegetarians, in the form of roasted cauliflower and a hot chili and tamarind-glazed crispy tofu. (219 Elm St., Somerville)

19. Papagayo
Painted with bright colors and stocked by a formidable library of tequila, the Papagayo locations in Downtown Crossing and Assembly Row make strong plays for the post-work margarita crowd. Papagayo’s menu of street tacos, dished up on soft flour tortillas, hew on the inventive side with selections like a chili tempura cauliflower vegetarian taco, and a “trailer park taco” stuffed with crispy chicken skins and chili con queso. (15 West St., Boston; 331 Great River Road, Somerville)

20. Rincón Mexicano
Featuring bright red walls and a hodgepodge of Mexican objects, East Somerville’s Rincón Mexicano is a warm, welcoming space that places a premium on authenticity. To that end, Rincón offers tacos with fillings North Americans may not be as familiar with, such as lengua, cabeza (beef cheek), and cow tripe. Of course, you can always fall back on the familiar, like carnitas and slow-cooked pork. (99 Broadway, Somerville)

21. Taco Loco
Tucked away in far East Somerville, Taco Loco is a simple cafeteria-style spot that serves its generously sized fare in Styrofoam boxes for instant carryout. Its five taco choices — chicken, steak, vegetarian, adobada, and beef tongue — can be ordered a la carte or grouped together as a three-taco combination plate for just $9. (44 Broadway, Somerville)

Taqueria El Amigo
A taco at Taqueria El Amigo. —Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff

22. Taqueria El Amigo
Authentic taco seekers are often told to trek to East Boston, but a jaunt to Waltham will turn up pure gold in the form of Taqueria El Amigo. The tiny taco joint takes “no frills” to a whole new level, and seating consists of only a handful of tables, making non-takeout waits brutal. That said, you’ll be rewarded with inexpensive flavor-packed tacos topped with fresh-cut strips of whole avocado. For those looking to indulge — and accept the nap it will later induce — opt for the rich, fatty cabeza tacos. (196 Willow St., Waltham)

23. Taqueria Jalisco
Located within walking distance of the Blue Line’s Airport stop, Taqueria Jalisco has become a favorite of frequent fliers and those looking for an authentic taco fix. The tiny counter-service restaurant has only a handful of booths to offer, but once seated, you’ll be treated to an underpriced selection of traditional tacos served with a trio of flavorful salsas. (291 Bennington St., Boston)

24. Tavitas
Train stations aren’t typically known for their tacos, but South Station proves an exception to the rule thanks to Tavitas. This irreverent spot from the restaurant group behind Tavern in the Square is filled with Mexican-inspired street art and corrugated steel, making it feel a world away from the drab commuter scene outside. Its six taco varieties range from the expected carne asada to the roasted corn truffle huitlacoche (corn fungus). Each is served on a house-made corn tortilla and can be topped with four increasingly spicy salsas. (650 Atlantic Ave., Boston)

25. Tenoch
Local chain Tenoch may be best known for its tortas, but tacos are also on the menu at its three locations. Tenoch offers a whopping 14 varieties, such as campechano (chorizo and carnitas), placero (crunchy pork skin), and carne asada. For an extra accent of flavor, each taco is served with guacamolillo sauce, a delectable combination of avocado and tomatillo. (3 Lewis St., Boston; 24 Riverside Ave., Medford; 382 Highland Ave., Somerville)

Spicy shrimp tacos at Tico. —Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

26. Tico
Renowned local chef Michael Schlow’s upscale Back Bay restaurant may draw influence from all across South America and Spain, but tacos are not neglected. They also tend to be on the more inventive side, such as one with fried chicken with spicy buttermilk and baby Brussels sprouts with pork fat aioli. A longtime standout has been the two-texture beef taco, which earns its name by combining strips of juicy braised beef with other strips made crispy by pan-frying. (222 Berkeley St., Boston)

27. Tu y Yo
Somerville sleeper Tu y Yo is located just north of Davis Square and provides seriously un-Americanized Mexican fare — some of its recipes date back decades, even centuries. Case in point: Tu y Yo has earned notice for its unabashedly authentic grasshopper tacos. (858 Broadway, Somerville)

28. Villa México Café
Villa México Café was once a cult burrito spot located within a Beacon Hill gas station that was forced to close with the gas station in 2013. However, Villa México was resurrected three years later with a standalone location of its own in Downtown Crossing. Though best known for its burritos, the restaurant also makes tacos in flavors like carnitas, chorizo, and shredded chicken with mole poblano sauce, each of which comes with a side of house-made salsa. On Tuesdays, you can order two tacos with the “works” and receive a third gratis. (121 Water St., Boston)