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Taco Crawl

Who doesn’t want to go out on a random Friday night in January to eat at several different taco places? Well lucky for me I had 7 volunteers to “crawl” along with me to test the waters for my first official “food crawl.” The first victim… Tacos.

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My friend Morgan and I were out to lunch one day feasting on tacos. While devouring our meal, we started talking about how Des Moines has a little niche for tacos. There are several places around the city that have been established for decades which have a loyal following. I was thinking how fun it would be to go on a food crawl.. a taco crawl. The idea was born. Well not the actual idea of a “food crawl”, but the idea of our own local specific food crawl. I follow several blogs and the idea of the food crawl isn’t new to the blogosphere, but it was new to us.

Fast forward a few months when our league bowling teams received a few nice cash refunds because of our awesome performance, near the bottom, in our fall league. Out of many options we all decided we wanted to put our money towards this “Taco Crawl” to be followed by drinks afterwards.

The Plan

Seven of us would eat our way through 6 selected taco spots in Des Moines.

The restaurants were all surveyed on the following criteria; Ambiance, Service, Presentation, Taste, & Quality. While all of these factors were considered, it was the overall taste of the taco which held the highest weight in the overall rankings. The rankings were based on the beef taco, on our groups overall experiences and opinions on this particular night.

The Results

tasty taco store east grand des moines

First Stop: Tasty Tacos, East Grand

Taco: Original Flour Taco (Ground Beef)

Tasty Tacos Des Moines Original Flour

Tasty Tacos is a very popular local eatery here in Des Moines. Started in 1961, it’s still going strong after 50 years with 5 locations located throughout the metro. When I first moved to Des Moines I was trying to figure out the best places to eat in the city. When I interviewed some of my staff, a lot of them would tell me that they loved Tasty Tacos. I guess the name said it all. I had to try it. I was not disappointed. Since those days, I have found that I do enjoy the occasional Tasty Taco. It was a must to include it as the start to our crawl.

Tasty Tacos Des Moines

Our Thoughts: Tasty Tacos offers a great original beef flour taco. This taco is a real crowd pleaser among the masses. The fluffy flour shell accompanied by seasoned beef, beans, lettuce and finely shredded cheese. Offering whole beans mixed with the beef.

Taco Crawl Rank: 5th Place

PROS: fluffy shell, great value for the money, quick service, beef is seasoned, whole beans, great for takeout, tasty taco is better with the sauce, Des Moines institution

CONS: beef is a little overdone, tables were messy and we needed to clean them upon arrival

TIPS: Use the sauce, try an original flour with steak, or try an original burrito. Yum! Closed Sundays.

Los Laureles Sign East Grand Des Moines

Second Stop: Los Laureles

Taco: Carne Asada

Great Tacos East Grand Des Moines

Los Laureles is a taqueria located just past SE 14th Street on East Grand in Des Moines. They are known for their authentic Mexican tacos and are a great spot to eat late night.

Lengua Taco Los Laurales Des Moines East Grand

Our Thoughts: Los Laureles was a great a great stop. They were flexible and accommodating after understanding we were a group that only wanted a few drinks and some tacos. The tacos here were very authentic and had the best presentation. The carne asada tacos were hot, fresh, and full of flavor. However, we went out on a limb and tried a few more including lengua (beef tounge), chorizo (spicy sausage), and the carnitas (pulled seasoned pork). All of these tacos were amazing, but the standout was the lengua. This taco might normally scare you, but there is a reason it is so popular. It is wonderful. Beefy and tender like a nice roast beef. Grill this to perfection and serve on tortillas with all the fixins… It was heaven.

Taco Crawl Rank: 1st Place

PROS: I liked the radish, great carnitas, the plants around the restaurant were real, candy after dinner was cute, carne asada was beefy, chorizo was flavorful and spicy, accommodating and flexible with our crawl, presentation was great, muy bueno, yummy, great tomatillo sauce, very authentic, citrusy margarita

CONS: too much raw onion, too much cilantro

TIPS: TRY THE LENGUA! Try the chorizo! Al fresco dining in the summer. Solid margarita and Mexican beer options. They can handle groups of 10 easily. Open Late!

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Third Stop: Taco King by Taqueria Jalisco

Taco: Carne Asada

Tacos East Grand Des Moines Jalisco

Taco King is making me want to “move on up to the Eastside.” Well not really, but it would definitely make me stop over at this little shop on East Grand for some great tacos and some killer accompanying sauces.

Taco King East Des Moines Iowa East Grand

Our Thoughts: Taco King by Taqueria Jalisco is just one of those things that you need to go out of your way to visit. Yes, West Des Moiners, Ankenians, and Waukeegans. I say, “Go East” for great tacos. Taco King might be one of those places that you would see on Diners, Drive In’s, and Dives as it does fit the latter the best. It is certainly unpretentious and not at all fancy, but what you will find is some great service and some great tacos. I really like the tacos man!

Taco Crawl Rank: 2nd Place

PROS: great service, Tomatillo!, the ceviche on another table looked amazing, hole in the wall, killer sauces, horchata, muy authentico, smokey chipotle sauce, attentive, very authentic, no frills, grilled onions, jalapenos, and radish served on the side, delicioso

CONS: did not like the tortilla, restaurant temp was cold, TV’s loud and could be distracting

TIPS: Ensure to use the great sauces. Next time try the ceviche.

Taco Truck Des Moines East Grand

Fourth Stop: La Esparanza Taco Truck

Taco: Carne Asada

East Grand Des Moines Taco Truck

Cabeza Taco East Grand Des Moines

Our Thoughts: We went rogue on this trip for La Esparanza. It was a case of the right time and the right place. This was the only one of Des Moines’ many taco trucks at which we stopped.

Taco Crawl Rank: 4th Place

PROS: a wonderful side treat, I would love to visit again, great variety, great prices, tasty, tender, staff accommodating to take a picture, cabeza (beef head meat/cheeks) and lengua (tounge) were great

CONS: avoid the tripe, tripe was greasy and tasted a bit like barnyard, ran out of napkins

TIPS: CABEZA! Juicy, tender, and full of flavor. The drinks can be accessed from the outside of the truck. Ensure to zoom camera out before giving to young staff to take picture.

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Fifth Stop: Henry J’s Taco House

Taco: Flour Original Taco

Southside Des Moines Tacos Institution

Rumor has it that if you are from the Southside of Des Moines, then you have been to or swear by Henry J’s tacos. Amongst the pizza aficionados they say you are always comparing other pizzas to the pizza you grew up with… Well I think the same can be said about tacos. This is another one of those Des Moines institutions that has been around for years. I have been told it is in a new location, but still serving up great tacos on SW 9th.

Henry J's Taco Southside Des Moines

Our Thoughts: Henry J’s can be spotted by its green awning over the door. If you have passed the noodle shop and Virginia Ave, you have gone too far. It is a dive, but it is serving up some interesting and flavorful tacos amongst other things. The original taco is a flour shell fried to crispy perfection and then opened up to be filled with some meat, refried style beans, lettuce, and cheese. The beans are in higher proportion here than compared to Tasty Tacos. A great taco to some, but taco perfection to others.

Taco Crawl Rank: 3rd Place

PROS: tasty, very warm, velvety, so yummy, crispy shell, peppery, crispy deliciousness, Rock on!, great flavor, Des Moines institution

CONS: needs more beef, too much bean and not enough beef

TIPS: If you just get tacos ensure to buy a small sauce. Sit at a table facing the lovely velvet paintings. Try the Fideo. Try an orange float. Take a local with you so they can tell you how they love these tacos and you can reminisce about them eating these tacos in the 80’s with their feathered hair.

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Sixth Stop: Taqueria Sonora

** UPDATE ** Taqueria Sonora has closed as of January 2014 – So long, farewell…

Taco: Carne Asada

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Our Thoughts: Taqueria Sonora is close and has a killer margarita. Fresh lime juice is the secret. You can also go with different top shelf tequila’s, but we find the basic is just as good. Service, music, and ambiance are great. The carne asada taco fell way short and the chips that used to be housemade tasted like they came out of a box. Unfortunate. However, the fish tacos have never disappointed.

Taco Crawl Rank: 6th Place

PROS: tasty margarita’s, fish ceviche tostada, yum!, music, ambiance, personal service, owner poured our drinks, salsa selection.

CONS: bleh beef tacos, bruto, beef tacos overcooked, fatty, and dry, I want to love you, but I only use you for your fish tacos and margarita’s or msrgari’s.

TIPS: Des Moines’ Best Margarita! Beef Tacos fall way short. Fish tacos have always been excellent. Stick with the margarita’s and fish tacos/tostadas when you visit.

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Seventh Stop: Abelardo’s – Ingersoll

Taco: Crunchy Beef Taco

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Our Thoughts: Abelardo’s is a new addition to Des Moines in the last few years. It is a small chain based out of Omaha, Nebraska. They have become a place to stop in the metro for great burritos and horchata at any hour.

Taco Crawl Rank: 7th Place

PROS: quick, fast, green spicy sauce, salsa bar

CONS: fast, blah beef tacos, flavorless, not as crunchy or fresh as in prior visits, tasted burnt grease, shell fell apart, weird odor in the air

Honestly, I have had a lot better food at Abelardo’s. The first time I had a hard shell taco from the Grand Ave location it was killer. I don’t know what happened on this trip, but there is something to say about consistency. They still have great food like pasole and chorizo burritos. They’re awesome. Too bad they didn’t place better in our taco crawl, but someone has to be last. I would still give it a try. I know we’ll be back.

TIPS: Come hungry. The avocado sauce and pickled vegetables are amazing. Drive Thru Open 24/7!

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There are several other taco joints we could have stopped on for this crawl, but these stops happened to be the lucky ones on this day to be graced with our presence.

Until the next crawl….

Hmm, what do you think it should it be?

Participate in the poll or leave me a comment with your thoughts. 

2 comments on “Taco Crawl

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