In the old days, one had to go to Homestead to get a taco — and a basic one at that.
But these days, Mexican street-style tacos have exploded on the dining scene in Miami. You can find some of the hottest ones at the taquerias listed here, with none costing more than $9 for two and most going for about $3-$4 a pop.
All have different approaches to the ground-corn masa dough that is the backbone of a good taco, but all succeed in transporting a diner to a street stand or roving vendor in Mexico.
Coyo is named for Coyoacan, the bohemian neighborhood of Mexico City that once was wilderness — the name means “place of the coyote” in Nahuatl.
Chef-partner Scott Linquist is a native of Los Angeles, where he worked at Border Grill and then ran several Dos Caminos Mexican Kitchens in New York before coming to Miami to become part of 305 Concepts with Alan Drummond and Sven Vogeland.
The masa dough is made by a company in Hialeah and hand pressed in-house and heated on a griddle until slightly puffed, creating a pliant vehicle for fillings. Sit inside at the communal table or outside at a wood table painted the same cobalt blue as the Frida Kahlo house in Coyoacan (the color is said to ward off the evil eye).
The menu at Coyo offers a dozen tacos that can be converted to a burrito or salad bowl. Here’s what to order: carnitas de pato, bringing crispy shreds of duck confit with serrano salsa; al pastor “shepherd-style” roast pork and pineapple; cochinita pibil or Yucatán-style slow-roasted pork shoulder with achiote, pickled onions and fresh cheese; sauteed shiitake and cremini mushroom (hongos) with truffle-like huitlacoche (corn smut grown from spores in galls on Florida corn) with crumbles of hard, salty queso cojito and seared Gulf shrimp in a flour tortilla with citrus slaw, guacamole and chipotle aioli.
There are also quinoa and cheese “falafel” fritters with strips of grilled nopales cactus and tender octopus tentacles that have been blanched, grilled and charred on a plancha and cut up and tucked in a corn tortilla with pickled jalapeños. Wash it down with a sweet lemon and chia seed drink. There’s a “secret” lounge and bar with a DJ at night in back.
Bodega Taqueria y Tequila
Bodega is as famed for its tacos as it is for its “hidden” nightclub with a full bar in the back (notice a trend here?). There, you can order cocktails such as the Midnight in Paradise or a shot called the Fuego with overproof bourbon infused with cinnamon and chile de arbol.
The kitchen in this hipster place is in an airstream food truck decorated with Day of the Dead skulls. Culinary director Bernie Matz and director of operations Robert Pereira traveled the United States and Mexico, tasting tacos to come up with the menu.
The tortillas are made in a small mom-and-pop plant in La Belle and are soft and pillowy but hold up to the fillings and sauces. Tacos are sold here singly, except for the flame-broiled chicken and pork from vertical spits tenderized with pineapple juice that come as a deuce.
Other tacos to try are the Texas pulled pork with charred onions, fried jalapeños and sweet hickory barbecue sauce; shrimp po’boy with small, lightly breaded crustaceans with Sriracha remoulade; and Mexican chorizo with stewed tomatos and peppers with skinny fried onion rings and refried black beans with avocado and red chile crema. The taco special is lengua (tongue) that is slow-braised and comes in crispy shreds reminiscent of short rib, smothered in spicy ranchero salsa.
Taquiza is named for a taco party, buffet-style, where guests help themselves to fillings and fixings. Chef-owner Steve Santana was a web developer until attending the first class of the Miami Dade Culinary Institute in downtown Miami and doing stints at Eating House and the Broken Shaker.
Santana is now into the ancient Aztec technique of nixtamalization, meaning he soaks heirloom dried blue corn he buys from farmers in Michoacan, Mexico, in an alkaline solution of water and dried limestone powder until the outer skin breaks down, making it easier for the body to absorb nutrients from the maize. The softened kernels are then ground into masa between two rotating volcanic stone wheels and are hand-pressed into dark bluish-purple tortillas.
Tacos to try in the open-air patio here: rajas (charred strips of poblano peppers) cooked with onions, Mexican oregano and marjoram topped with jalapeño crema and cojita cheese; pork carnitas with sour orange, achiote, cinnamon and cloves; earthy huitlacoche corn fungus mixed with corn off the cob and Fresno chile; and the chapulines, grasshoppers from Oaxaca toasted with lime juice and chile powder on a bed of guacamole.
Best to pair a taco here with Victoria cerveza from Mexico.