Celebrate National Taco Day with some of the most interesting tacos in the country.
Last year, Americans consumed 4.5 billion tacos—which, when added up, weighs nearly the same as two Empire State Buildings. This comes as no surprise, since Taco Tuesday has become as much a weekly staple as Sunday brunch, and Cinco de Mayo is fêted in the States with as much vigor as our own Independence Day. While you could indulge in a classic taco (can you really go wrong with freshly ground corn tortillas?), why not step outside of your comfort zone and celebrate the sort-of-real-holiday National Taco Day—which falls on October 4—with a more unexpected spin on this Mexican fave. From grasshopper-crusted shrimp to tempura-battered avocado, here are eight spots across the U.S. where the taco fillings are wonderfully weird.
Takumi Taco: Sapporo beer-braised short ribs taco with wasabi crema (New York)
It was only a matter of time before Asian fusion seeped its way into Mexican cuisine with tacos that go beyond typical tuna tartare. New York food hall favorite Takumi Taco (which calls spots like Chelsea Market and Williamsburg’s Smorgasburg home) blends the best of what’s happening in modern Japanese and Mexican fare, presenting taco-stuffed bento boxes with fillings like poached shrimp, edamame, Thai basil and charred corn—served up inside a crispy gyoza shell. Our top pick: Sapporo beer-braised short ribs topped with Napa cabbage, Japanese mustard and wasabi crema.
Velvet Taco: Fish n' chips taco (multiple locations)
The tagline says it all: tacos without borders. With locations scattered around Texas and Chicago, Velvet Taco has earned a rep for its expansive selection of over 20 globally-inspired flavors. How to narrow it all down? Start with your meat, veggie or fish of choice and then make your way through options that could easily double as sandwiches, from the Cuban pulled pork to the falafel with tahini crema. While the ahi poke pays tribute to the current Hawaiian bowl trend, our pick is inspired by pub fare from the other side of the pond. The Fish n' Chips packages all the elements of the English dish—from beer-battered Atlantic cod to malted French fries and curry mayo—into a neatly wrapped flour tortilla.
The Black Ant: Grasshopper-encrusted shrimp taco (New York)
Chef Mario Hernandez is known for adding elements of his Mexican upbringing into the modern Latin cuisine at The Black Ant in the East Village. Don’t be surprised to find traditional ingredients like herbs and insects thrown into some of the more whimsical fine-dining fare, with namesake black ant sea salt topping guacamole and yucca-Manchego grasshopper serving as stuffing for croquettes. Tacos are just as inventive, with insects once again making an appearance in dishes like the grasshopper-encrusted shrimp Enchapulinados.
Domo Taco: Kimchi falafel taco (New York)
Looking to pan-Asian recipes as inspiration, Nelson Miu first launched his Asian taqueria in New York City in 2011 inside an old halal food truck. Now with two brick-and-mortar spots in Brooklyn, the taqueria has become known for playful ingredients like General Tso’s Tofu, braised five-spice pork and perhaps one of its best fusion fillings: kimchi falafel, which pairs beautifully with a side of Japanese tater tots coated in nacho cheese.
Goa Taco: Tofu bánh mì taco (Santa Barbara)
Named after the Indian state, Goa Taco plays up its home country’s cuisine with tacos that use flaky Indian flatbread, or paratha, as a shell. Instead of using this layered buttery beauty to sop up traditional curry, the bi-coastal eatery (with locations in Santa Barbara and New York City) folds the bread in half and throws in everything from housemade chicken chorizo to five-spice confit duck with sweet soy and sesame. While the flatbread itself is Indian inspired, the rest of the menu pulls from flavors found around the globe, transforming a Vietnamese tofu bánh mì sandwich into a taco topped with shiitake mushroom pâté, crunchy vegetables and peanuts.
Coyo Taco: Pulpo frito taco (Miami)
The two-year-old Miami taqueria, whose flagship sits in Wynwood, runs on the philosophy of “todo fresco” or “everything fresh,” ensuring that its protein and produce are locally sourced and naturally raised. While the fare teeters on the side of traditional Mexican street food (thanks to Coyoacán native and co-founder Alan Drummond), the fillings are all Florida-focused. Citrus slaw garnishes seared Gulf shrimp and roasted pineapple is a welcome addition to the pork and pollo. Mexican Modelo beer-battered Florida grouper is one way to get your seafood fix, but another item that really pops is the pulpo frito, crispy masa-crusted octopus that’s drizzled with spicy aji amarillo aioli.
Jajaja: Hemp-battered "fish" (chayote) taco with chipotle almond butter (New York)
Healthy is not typically the adjective you’d use to describe Mexican fare served in America, but Jajaja in the Lower East Side has taken the plant-based food craze and applied it to tacos. Tortillas are crafted from turmeric or blueberry and flax seed, and stuffed with veggie versions of traditional fillings. Hearts of palm and jackfruit replace pork in carnitas, and sweet potatoes take on a smoky chipotle touch. Perhaps the most inventive, though, is the “fish” taco, with chayote squash moonlighting as seafood, battered with hemp and flax seed and topped with chipotle almond butter and pickled red onion.
Willy Taco: Crispy avocado taco (Spartanburg, S.C.)
Willy Taco started in Spartanburg (a.k.a. the Hub City), South Carolina and takes its Southern heritage to heart. Tacos sport names like "Southern Tide," and Applewood smoked bacon seems just as standard a taco stuffing here as queso. While you’ll find a fair amount of beer-battered fish and pulled pork on the menu, one of the house specialties doesn’t involve meat at all. Think of the crispy avocado as the taco version of regional staples like fried green tomatoes, battered in tempura, swathed with sweet chili sauce and topped with shaved cabbage and toasted sesame seeds.