Consider the ungarnished tortilla. It is flat, circular, traditionally made of corn, but not infrequently formed of some other grain. It may vary in broadness, thickness, texture, or even coloration, but even given all these distinguishing marks, the untrained eye may regard an unfilled tortilla as simply bland.
However, fill that tortilla with meat, cheese, vegetables, etc., and that humble stretch of flat breadstuff has taken on an entirely new countenance: that of the burrito, the sope, the quesadilla, and of course, the taco.
By itself, a tortilla is bland in the same way a blank page is bland—it’s a building block, the white canvas, the starting point; its an invitation for creativity. As the tortilla is folded, filled, and fried, one may see how the resulting foodstuffs are but formats of the ever-flexible tortilla; the taco is to the tortilla as the sonnet is to the page.
The taco has left the realm of pure potential—the realm of the unfinished tortilla—and become something more concrete, but nonetheless apt for adaption. Asheville’s food-scene thrives on adaption and variation. With the taco being such an icon for these qualities, I would not blame the newcomer for mistaking tacos for Asheville’s local currency. Taquerias sprout up in every nook, cranny, and main-street within the city’s bounds.
Effectively navigating such a plethora of options requires nothing more than a local’s good taste, and for that reason, I invite you to read on, and familiarize yourself with five places where you can find some of the best tacos in Asheville.
1: White Duck Taco Shop
Over time, White Duck has grown from a single taco-slinging waterfowl into an entire flock of locations, and for good reason.
Popular among locals and visitors alike, White Duck pairs an excellent regard for uniqueness with an even better sense of location. At current, the brand bears three restaurants scattered across Asheville, from downtown, to Skyland, to the River Arts District.
No matter which location one finds themselves in, the menu is much the same, sporting such innovations as beef-bulgogi tacos, and lamb gyros, which if one thinks about, are really just Greek tacos. Such offerings would correctly suggest that White Duck is somewhat divorced from one’s traditional tacos, the kind filled with carne asada or chorizo.
Indeed, White Duck’s tacos take many notes from Asian-fusion, using the tortilla as a vessel rather than a ruleset. Therefore, if one seeks the best tacos in Asheville—in terms of nuance and novelty—any of White Duck’s locations offer a convenient solution, although the ordering-line can be somewhat of a wait during the weekends.
For those who would prefer to dine with plenty of elbow-room, White Duck’s Skyland location is the most spacious, while the other two may feel cramped when at their busiest.
Things That Are Not Tacos: As someone who has spent the last week touring Asheville’s taquerias, I must confess that a diet of purely tacos starts off delicious but ends in tears. For that reason, I’d like to dedicate some words to what these taquerias offer other than tacos.
At White Duck for instance, one may procure such side-dishes as sliced watermelon, and house-made kimchi. Although such offerings may seem to irreversibly separate White Duck from the taco’s Latin roots, their Mexican chocolate pot-de-crème constitutes a most delicious peace-offering.
2: Cantina Louie
A relative newcomer to Asheville’s culinary environment, Cantina Louie—much like myself, and many other naturalized Ashevillians—began its life in Florida.
Instinctually, I am suspicious of such foreign-born chains; you never know what they’re hiding.
However, in this case I will make an allowance, as 1) Some good things do come out of Florida, and 2) The food is pretty good.
Whereas White Duck metaphorically storms out of the office of the traditional taco—after flipping the table and stealing some pens—Cantina Louie has a steadier working relationship.
Here one finds carnitas, asada, sriracha shrimp, and grouper in Peruvian sauce. In terms of décor, ingredients, and overall theme, Cantina Louie is aggressively devoted to the taco’s Latin roots, self-styled “Mexican Street Food,” albeit somewhat domesticated and Americanized. What Cantina Louie shares with White Duck—and with all listed taquerias for that matter—is their a-la-carte taco pricings.
Using these magnificent numbers, one could find the holy grail: a meal for less than 10$ in Asheville, obtainable at any of the taquerias mentioned in this article. In this category lies my personal favorite of Cantina Louie’s offerings: two Americanas stuffed with ground beef, queso fresco, and sour cream. They are flavorful, cost-effective, and no more elaborate than they have to be—and for this reason, they are sure contenders for the best tacos in Asheville.
Things That Are Not Tacos: Cantina Louie is not strictly a taqueria, as their extensive menu offers plenty of things that are not tacos.
Among these not-tacos one may find a certain Mexican street-corn. Although only obtainable on the weekends—when Cantina Louie is at its busiest—these unassuming cobs are a must-taste. In short, they are the best preparation of corn I have ever tasted, smothered in mayo, cheese, and chile piquin. I don’t even know what chile piquin is, but I assure you, it takes corn to a whole new level.
3: Mamacita’s Taco Temple
Located shortly north of downtown, Mamacita’s Taco Temple marries their dishes to a residential feel.
One has the sense that this is a place frequented by regulars—as opposed to irregulars—and locals—as opposed to nonlocals.
From 1pm to 7pm daily, one may frequently find Taco Temple on the verge of inundation, but luckily, a little foreknowledge may mitigate this obstacle.
First off, forgo Taco Temple’s cramped parking lot, and instead use that of the nearby Fuddruckers, located within a few yards jaunt. Although of questionable legality, this tactic will save you the complication of backing out directly onto one of Asheville’s main streets.
Secondly, capitalize on Taco Temple’s in-house, anti-frustration features. They take to-go orders, and in a twist, they have a drive through, as if masquerading as fast-food. Mamacita’s is about as different from fast-food as you can get, verging on dare I say, slow food.
Their tacos, although minimalist, are made with care, relying on seasonings rather than toppings, and covering just about any pallet, from the fish-lover, to those in search of an egg-rich breakfast taco. It is this care and variety—this devotion to the taco as if divinely charged—which earns Mamacita’s Taco Temple consideration for the best tacos in Asheville.
Things That Are Not Tacos: As a decidedly non-morning person, I understand better than most that any activity that takes place before 12 noon can be somewhat of a drag. Luckily, Taco Temple’s morning menu includes churro-tots and Mexican hot chocolate, which are sure to enliven your pos-dawn activities.
4: Taco Billy
Visitors may be led to believe that downtown is the cultural heart of Asheville. This is not entirely the case.
As any local knows, West Asheville harbors the city’s spirit to a greater degree, mainly because Ashevillians actually live there.
Taco Billy lies in West Asheville, not too far from the River Arts district, and the story of its founding involves an organic family farm, Earthships, and a period of residence in Mexico. As one may guess, Taco Billy is a local favorite, and any tourist who finds themselves there will be treated with a genuine Asheville aesthetic.
The ordering line often stretches far out Taco Billy’s doors, especially from 11 to 12, and one’s first impression may be “Where are all of these people going to sit?” Be consoled: Taco Billy’s seating areas—much like its tacos—are of surprising dimension.
Their tacos truly go all the way, ranging from egg-and-bacon, to fried chicken with mango slaw, all ingredients are well-curated, and well combined, striking a great balance between protein and garnishments. Its no wonder Taco Billy is one of the busiest taquerias in town; it offers some of the best tacos in Asheville, and the most Ashevillian at that.
Things That Are Not Tacos: Three words: Buchi brand Kombucha. Buchi is a local business, and more importantly, they sell the best Kombucha out there. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Kombucha is fermented tea, and its an acquired test, but well worth acquiring. Furthermore, it doesn’t pair too badly with tacos.
5: Sonora Cocina Mexicana
There is a street in downtown Asheville known as Patton Avenue. It is my personal theory that this particular street is located along some kind of antediluvian ley-line of potent mystical powers. It is the influence of this ley-line which attracts so many restaurants to this tiny stretch of downtown, and it is that same influence which makes them unassailably chic.
Sonora offers Pattonian tacos; tacos made delicate, balanced, and exquisitely gourmet through the magic of Patton Avenue. And even though Sonora lies along downtown’s culinary artery, one may still find a-la-carte tacos for a moderate price.
However, Sonora does possess relatively small collection of tables, and they do not take reservations. For this reason, I suggest one avoids the restaurant through the busy weekend, and instead capitalizes on Sonora’s weekly Taco Tuesday discounts. Tacquerias in Asheville follow a certain rule—they reflect their environs.
Taco Billy’s tacos taste like West Asheville, Sonora’s tacos—formed of crispy corn shells, and a variety of salsa/meat combinations—taste like downtown. If that seems abstract, I’d simply advise that Sonora has some of the best tacos in Asheville.
Things That Are Not Tacos: Sonora’s elote—the counterpart of Cantina Louie’s street corn—bears such a delicacy and nuance in flavor that one cannot help but have a go at food-criticism, saying things like “culinary timbre” and “delectable.” They’re worth a try, truly.
White Duck River Arts District
388 Riverside Dr, Asheville, NC 28801
White Duck Downtown
12 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC 28803
White Duck Skyland/Arden
16 Miami Cir, Arden, NC 28704
Gerber Village, 2, Gerber Rd, Asheville, NC 28803
Mamacita’s Taco Temple
132 Charlotte St, Asheville, NC 28801
201 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC 28806
Sonora Cocina Mexicana
89 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC 28801