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World Dish: Dollar tacos around the city

World Dish with Gene Lee

World Dish with Gene Lee

Many years ago while traveling through Central America, my companions and I stumbled upon a lady selling tacos by the side of the road.

Her hands were stained blue from preparing tortilla dough with blue cornmeal, which she formed into flat discs then slapped onto a comal (griddle) propped over a small fire. Minutes later, she removed the bubbly tortillas, stuffed them with grilled beef and raw onions and distributed them to me and my hungry friends in exchange for a handful of centavos (Guatemalan coin currency). That was the first time I had tacos prepared this way.

Luckily for us, we can find many Latin American establishments here in metro Atlanta offering tacos similar to that cheap, roadside version I sampled years ago.

I culled a shortlist of places scattered around town where you can go get your taco fix and for around a dollar each. However, there is a caveat to the price: All establishments offer these dollar tacos as miniature versions. Two corn tortillas measuring about 3 inches in diameter come topped with your choice of meat, seafood or beans, and sometimes additionally dressed with nothing more than cilantro and onions.

So many tacos to choose from at Alvarado's

So many tacos to choose from at Alvarado's (photos: Gene Lee)

Alvarado’s on Buford Highway sells larger tacos, but they are also pricier. The restaurant does not advertise the miniature versions well, but ask for them; they do exist and are only 99 cents each. And if you are a night owl, you also can make use of Alvarado’s drive-thru, which is open 24 hours a day, every day.

My companions and I sample tacos filled with carne asada (steak), carnitas (marinated pork), fish, bean and lengua (tongue). The crunchy, fried fish taco paired with a mild jalapeno cream sauce stands out as a favorite, as does the soft, tender lengua that dissolves in the mouth (no pun intended). Unfortunately, I have to drown the dry and lackluster carne asada and carnitas tacos in salsa from the restaurant’s salsa bar to urge any flavor out of them.

Tacos La Villa

Tacos La Villa

Things pick up at Smyrna’s Tacos La Villa off Cobb Parkway. The taqueria previously ran in the back of a nearby Hispanic market, Super Mercado La Villa, but it eventually took over a defunct Quiznos a few stores down.

Meat, chorizo sausage and offal tacos ($1) come hot off the griddle and undressed, but Tacos La Villa’s small salsa bar holds a variety of salsas as well as chopped onion and cilantro that you can add on your own. The kitchen also cooks the tortillas on the griddle for a few minutes, which removes more of that raw corn taste and imparts a welcome crispiness to them.

A few bites of the fatty cabeza (beef head) and beef barbacoa (barbecue) reveal deep, lingering flavors and fall-apart texture in both tacos. I particularly like these with just a fresh squirt of lime juice. The carne asada taco contains more char and depth of flavor than Alvarado’s version, and the spicy al pastor (marinated pork) satisfies even though the kitchen prepares it on the griddle as opposed to the customary vertical rotisserie introduced to Latin America by Middle Eastern immigrants.

The Taco L1000000 truck

The Taco L1000000 truck

Head west for about five or six miles and you will stumble on a taco truck, Taco L1000000. The “meals-on-wheels” has been around for years, but as far as I know has never moved from this outpost. The truck dishes a small, cash-only menu of tacos ($1), quesadillas, tortas (sandwiches) and burritos from its cozy accommodations, which diners can enjoy in its attached shelter.

Just like the experience at Tacos La Villa, the savory cabeza and barbacoa tacos drip with juiciness, and the rich, spicy flavors of the carnitas taco meld with the sharp onion, herby cilantro and fresh juice from a wedge of lime. I do find the truck’s staff can be heavy-handed with the salsa, so ask them to leave it off and apply your own amount from the salsa bar inside the shelter.

You can find a pretty satisfying meal in tacos whether you are south of the equator or here in metro Atlanta, and with money you can probably find lurking underneath your sofa cushions.

Alvarado’s

Dining room: 8 a.m.-midnight Sundays-Thursdays, 8 a.m.-1 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays, drive-thru: 24 hours daily. 5499 Buford Highway, Doraville. 770-455-6987. $. Discover, MasterCard, Visa.

Tacos La Villa

10 a.m-9:30 p.m. Mondays-Sundays. 2415 Cobb Parkway, Smyrna. 770-951-0415. $. All major credit cards.

Taco L1000000

10 a.m-midnight daily. 2084 Favor Road, Marietta. $. Cash only.

23 comments Add your comment

reds

February 23rd, 2012
8:21 am

I recently was able to try the Mr. Taco on the corner of Northpoint Pkwy and Old Milton in Alpharetta. They have $1 and some change tacos. Full sized, and dressed with cilantro and raw onion. Very tasty. They also deliver, which is a bonus since it’s close to my office :) They also have a stellar Guacamole Salsa… it’s like… salsa verde mixed with guac. it’s delectable. :)

RK

February 23rd, 2012
9:38 am

Gene, have you had tacos al pastor in Mexico? How do these compare? I swear that they won’t let the recipe out of the country; I cannot find any as great as those in DF.

Gene Lee

February 23rd, 2012
9:58 am

@reds – sounds muy sabrosa!

@RK – I have not. Many years ago, I dabbled with some tacos al pastor around the Cali Bay area (sans pineapple), and they were VERY good.

Daniel Dishwater

February 23rd, 2012
10:07 am

Mr. Taco rox, especially the original location on Holcomb Bridge

Joe

February 23rd, 2012
2:03 pm

Tacos La Villa is tied for my favorite lunch spot (along with Heirloom Market BBQ, yummo!) Fabulous (Korean) special sides! Have you tried it yet, Gene?

FoodFan

February 23rd, 2012
2:40 pm

Big fan of Taqueria Los Rayos, in the old Dairy Queen on Clairmont between Dresden & Buford Highway (used to be over by the airport). Their tacos run $1 and some change, but the chorizo, barbacoa, goat, carne asada & al pastor are all great there. They come with a sprinkle of onion & cilantro, and they’ll add cheese if you want for like another quarter. Squeeze of lime & then they have these two great salsa’s that come with it – one red, one green – a little of each of those…three great tacos can be had for about $5.

Wino

February 23rd, 2012
3:07 pm

I second Los Rayos. Best in town.

PJ

February 23rd, 2012
3:16 pm

My favorite is Taqueria San Pancho in Roswell. Regular-sized tacos are $1.10 each on double corn tortillas with onions, cilantro & a bit of salsa. There is a small toppings bar with peppers, hot sauce, radishes & limes. We almost always the only gringos in there. Our family of 4 can eat there for around $18 including Jarritos sodas for the kids. The meat there is perfectly seasoned – my 7-year-old once asked for just a plate of carne asada. We’ve road-tripped around Mexico & driven around every country in Central America (except El Salvador – heading there this summer) & these tacos take us right back to the roadside, mom & pop shops we’ve visited.

Kar

February 23rd, 2012
3:54 pm

Aw man. Any place with good barbecoa and I’m there. Still miss the taqueria inside the old Mercado De Puebla, best I’ve ever tasted.

janet

February 23rd, 2012
4:02 pm

Great tacos in the small restaurant in the back of Tres Hermanos grocery store in Roswell.

Rupricht

February 23rd, 2012
4:16 pm

Went to Tacos La Villa last Saturday with my wife and daughter. They had the smaller beef tacos, while I had a Cabeza & Lengua burrito. The burrito was quite good, being accompanied by various sauces off of the salad bar. The tacos were dry though and there wasn’t much to offer from the salad bar to help out. I asked for cheese from the staff and they were more than happy to assist from the kitchen. Perhaps it would be best to inquire about toppings upon ordering at the counter.

Rodolfo J

February 23rd, 2012
4:25 pm

I have searched all over Atlanta a place for the best tacos al pastor, but I have not found any , which is more like It is “La Taqueria El Zocalo” and the best tacos in the world in La Colonia Tacubaya in Mexico City in “El Borrego Viudo” (The Widowed Lamb).

Drea

February 24th, 2012
10:42 am

Bacchus

February 24th, 2012
11:15 am

Taqueria del Sol is a given, but for a bit more adventure, go to Doraville or Chamblee.

Taqueria El Rey in Doraville (Buford Hwy) is a good one – a little easy to miss since it’s small, but they’ve been there for years and cater to a almost exclusively Mexican clientele. Heard it’s good for latenight too…

Taqueria La Perla on Piedmont has $1 tacos on Mondays. Usually barbacoa, chicken, and tilapia. They change the flavors slightly every week and have a good salsa bar. Tip: they don’t serve alcohol but you can bring your own beers. Dinner for less than $10.

Gene Lee

February 24th, 2012
11:57 am

@Joe – Love Heirloom

Dawn

February 24th, 2012
12:51 pm

For people living in Cobb County…don’t forget Don Pedro’s near the Marietta Civic Center. They have a location on Buford Highway, too! Great stuff for a great price!

Justin E

February 24th, 2012
1:05 pm

I work in Smyrna so i can confirm that both what my friends and i call “QuizTacos” is unbelievable but comes in second to the one and only “Taco Truck” that we have also been patrons of for several years. Do yourself a favor and partake in the taco’arama at QuizTacos and Taco Truck! Also good is Taco T’s on Windy Hill!

Justin E

February 24th, 2012
1:30 pm

Whoever continues to comment about other places being good for tacos, you can SHUT UP because you’re obviously a neanderthal and wouldn’t recognize good tacos if they were outside dancing on the hood of your car! Taco Truck for LIFE!!!!

GadgetGeek

February 25th, 2012
10:18 am

Alvarado’s has a second location in Snellville now John, Same bat deliciousness, same bat prices, same open-all-night drive through.

Cosmo

February 27th, 2012
10:55 am

Taqueria Oaxaquena II on Marietta Rd in Canton

Billy Joe Bob

February 27th, 2012
3:44 pm

The best tacos are at the Moe’s in Duluth. No other place can touch their quality of tacos.

Kar

February 27th, 2012
10:39 pm

For novices who want exposure to non-franchise taco’s, I would also suggest the food court and food stalls at Fiesta Plaza. You can try al pastor, chicken mole, etc six different ways within a few steps.