An Exploration of What Makes an Authentic Taco, Ending in a Defensive Cheeseburger Recommendation

I’m a pretty simple eater—when I dine out, I’m always the guy asking to remove at least one item from a dish (relax, I’m talking no lettuce on a sandwich or no chickpeas on a salad…I’m not the jackass who’ll ask for no garlic in my tomato sauce). When I make tacos for myself, it’s similarly a pretty simple affair—tacos are what I make when I don’t feel like spending time in the kitchen. My go-to taco is grilled chicken, shrimp, or steak with some salsa or taco sauce, wrapped in a tortilla and topped with cilantro and a squeeze of lime. 

The other day I made myself some chicken tacos for dinner that were damn delicious. I picked up a delightful new “carne asada” spice rub, courtesy of local, artisanal spice purveyors McCormick & Schmidt, and finally found some hot taco sauce (the damn supply chain has only made mild available for months) courtesy of local, artisanal taco sauce purveyor Olde El Paso. I grilled the chicken, put it in the warmed tortilla, threw on some sauce, and plated both tacos up on the brand new Fiesta dishware my mother got me for Christmas. I did not top this particular taco with any fresh cilantro as my patio garden is dead. I did top it with a squeeze of fresh lime and a dash of flaky sea salt because the Food Network tells me that’s what trendy cooks do. Trendy cooks also photograph their meals for social media, so I did thusly and posted the following picture, along with the clever caption “taco party for one,” to my Instagram story. 

I expected maybe one or two clapping emojis…maybe one heart-eye if someone was feeling particularly generous. 

I didn’t expect to be brutally attacked.  

“Like my mouth is dry looking at that,” a supposedly close friend wrote. “Get some shredded lettuce and sour cream and cut it out.”

“That’s just chicken,” another supposed friend, one with whom I’d just shared what I thought was a very nice New Year’s Eve weekend, replied.

“Where is all the other taco stuff?”, “Those are sad tacos,” “Why post that?”, “Frozen chicken on a tortilla doesn’t count as a taco,” and “That’s the saddest taco ever, brother,” were just some of the other attacks I endured (the last comment coming from an old coworker I legitimately haven’t spoken to or thought about in three years).

Here’s what I have to say to all the naysayers: maybe my taco was on the plain side, but it has more in common with authentic Mexican street tacos than whatever Taco-Bell concoction you envisioned when you tried to take me down via DM. 

Don’t believe me? According to a 2015 Food & Wine article that appeared when I Googled “What’s an authentic taco?” authentic tacos don’t involve lettuce, tomato, or shredded cheese and are made from seasoned stewed, fried, or grilled meat. “Authentic Mexican tacos are not topped with cheese like most American versions. Instead, they are topped with fresh cilantro and finely diced white onion,” the article reads.  Another article from wideopeneats.com says, “Tex-Mex tacos are filled with shredded cheese, lettuce, diced tomatoes, and sour cream. If you try a street taco in Mexico, chances are it’ll only be topped with fresh cilantro leaves and finely chopped onions.”

I think I rest my case. And being as benevolent as I am, I won’t be holding this against those who viscously came for me because they probably don’t know any better…most Americans don’t. 

If you search “tacos in Asheville” on Yelp, the two highest-rated are  White Duck Taco Shop and Taco Billy, which tracks as I’m fairly confident if you asked most Ashevillians where to get tacos, one of these two locations will come up. 

White Duck Taco has a location downtown, but the one I always go to is right on the banks of the French Broad River and a great place for a casual afternoon lunch. White Duck is also a fan of the more-is-more ethos most Americans take when it comes to tacos—the menu includes such items as the Bahn Mi Tofu Taco, Buffalo Chicken Tacos, Lamb Gyro Tacos, and a taco whose name I forget but that I always have to ask for without pickled watermelon rinds. I’m less familiar with Taco Billy, having only had take-out from there once right when I moved to Asheville. Still, a quick perusal of their menu tells me that most tacos come with shredded Monterey-Jack, lettuce, tomato, and even chipotle creme. 

Now, if you ask anyone in the know what the best, authentic tacos in Asheville are, they’ll tell you Taqueria Munoz, which I can’t link to because they’re so old school they don’t have a website, but can be found at their shop on Patton Avenue near Rocky’s Hot Chicken or their permanent food truck at Zillicoah Brewing. Taqueria Munoz’s tacos are just meat, onions, and cilantro, and I’d hazard a guess that had I photographed them and put them on Instagram, they might be attacked the same way my homemade tacos were. 

That all being said, Taqueria Munoz tacos are not my favorite tacos in Asheville. C’mon, did you think a middle-class white man named Pat with a J. Crew Factory fetish would gravitate towards the most authentic street tacos in town? 

I love the shrimp tacos from The Grey Eagle Taqueria, just inside the River Arts District, largely because of their simplicity: just shrimp, onions, cilantro, and some sauce. A bonus is that it’s never very crowded unless there’s a show. However, my favorite tacos are from the Zia Food Truck, which lives at Olde London Road, a short walk from The Grey Eagle. I’m not even sure if the Zia Food Truck tacos are my favorite tacos in Asheville either or if they’re just from my favorite food truck in Asheville. Either way, I can’t believe I haven’t discussed my love for the Zia Food Truck yet. It’s genuinely one of Asheville’s hidden gems. 

I love the Zia Food Truck. I drive there at least once every two weeks to grab something to eat, even if I’m not going to the bar, and even though it’s not necessarily a quick and easy drive from my apartment. Their tacos are phenomenal (my favorite are the fish). For my money, they have the best quesadillas in Asheville. However, their crowning achievement is their double cheeseburger with hatch green chili sauce, which mixes seamlessly into the cheese for what’s one of the most pleasing, non-diet friendly but wallet-friendly meals you can have in Asheville. I highly recommend it (and wager that if I posted the Zia Food Truck cheeseburger to IG, I’d get “this is just a cheeseburger” comments because Instagram has tricked us into thinking how food looks is more important than how it tastes). 

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