Everyone loves tacos! Combine flavorful seasoned meat, a tortilla, and some form of salsa and you are generally in business. But wait - not all tacos are created equally. In fact, some are total crap whereas others are delicious. Some feature meat that comes out of a microwave. Some feature smack-yo'-mama good animal parts prepared with loving tender care. Some are made for suburban yuppies, and some are made for actual, you know, Mexicans.
But how to tell the difference between a chain outpost of mediocrity and the real thing?
1. The taco has off-pink rice in it.
This is very bad, especially when combined with a fish taco. You are eating a taco on tortilla. There is no need for additional carbohydrates. There is especially no need for tasteless crumbly carbohydrates that will spill on your shirt. Move on.
2. The taco has cheese on it, and the server will stare at you blankly if you request it without.
Real muy authentico taquerias do not put bright-orange cheese on their tacos. Real tacos are topped with a chopped mixture of white onion and cilantro, which is very tasty indeed. Cheese generally won't be making much of an appearance unless you either a. Ask for it, or b. Are down with eating crumbly, white queso fresco, which is nothing whatsoever like orange government cheese (and is much tastier.) Also, avoid lettuce. Lettuce is both not authentic and also is just not good on a taco.
3. There is a variant on Spicy Mayonnaise Glop on every single menu item on offer, including the supposedly healthy ones. This is billed as "zingy."
Spicy Mayo Glop seems to have been pioneered by Bobby Flay or someone equally evil. Someone's grandmother from Chihuahua definitely did not pioneer it. Avoid if you value your arteries, though admittedly it can be pretty good on fried fish tacos. But still, think of the arteries.
4. There is no meat on offer but ground beef and grilled chicken you are fairly sure came out of a plastic bag.
Bad sign. Real taquerias often feature a variety of meat, some you may be unable to identify if you don't speak any Spanish. There's a world of interesting taco fillings out there beyond beef and chicken - try lengua (tounge) or cabeza (scrapings from a cow head.) Both are much more delicious then they might initially appear.
5. The staff are all bored looking hipsters, shoveling out rice while listening to drippy indie music.
This is generally a terrible sign indicating total apathy to the food. This is mitigated if said hipster kids are forced to wear stupid outfits. This would also apply to Chipotle, which while not half bad for what it is is not the Real Thing.
6. There are fifty varieties of veggie, bacon, and god knows what else quesadillas on the menu, a "Mexican pasta," "Mexican egg rolls", and inexplicably an Asian salad.
Completely irrational menu choices for a Mexican establishment generally indicate either desperation or shameless yuppie ass kissing. Please do not indulge them. Also, I'm not sure if you've noticed but off-brand egg rolls are generally agents of Satan. Caesar salads, by the way, actually did originate in Tijuana and are thus fair game.
7. There isn't a corn tortilla in the place.
Corn tortillas are generally de riguer for your standard real California taqueria, not flour. Extra points lost if aforementioned flour tortilla comes out of a bag and is icy cold.(Hello, Taco Bell!). There are exceptions though: flour tortillas are definitely a real Mexican speciality and not something a USA PR department dreamed up. I just haven't been served them before at any really awesome taqueria in our beautiful and accomplished state.
8. They make you pay for chips and salsa.
Okay, this isn't technically a death knell, but what kind of cheap bastard makes you pay for chips and salsa? And the free chips and salsa are always way better then the kind you pay for anyway. Don't let them gouge you! Resist!
9. There are no TV screens showing soccer games in an endless loop.
This indicates the restaurant is being run by pseudo-Mexican robots. Almost every good taqueria has a TV screen playing soccer which guys drinking beer will periodically yell at. It's just natures way, like crocuses in spring.
10. The guacamole comes out of a box.
Run away screaming. Then write a letter. This is never ever permissible and should be illegalized. I personally advise death.