It began as a whimsical proposal: Let's drive around the central San Joaquin Valley to find the best tacos.
After thinking about it for a year, we finally took that taco journey. We endured a tummy-twisting tour of taco trucks, cook shacks and holes-in-the-wall. We wanted an adventure, so we nixed fancy restaurants. Boy, are we happy we didn't get food poisoning.
Maybe we were out there because the annual Great Taco Festival, usually held in downtown Fresno, disappeared last year. Maybe it was because Joan loves exploring food and culture. Maybe it was because Mike always hunts for hidden taco spots. Maybe we just really like tacos.
Something led us to navigate highways and dusty roads, looking for the best carne asada taco in the Valley.
Why carne asada (grilled beef)? Well, it's the chocolate ice cream of tacos, the least common denominator with which to compare taco stuffers.
Here are our top 10 tacos, and a nod to others we tried.
Tacos Mi Casita
Details: Three locations: 222 E. Houston Ave., Visalia. 1400 W. Houston Ave., Visalia. 266 Farmersville Blvd., Farmersville. No phone numbers.
Joan: The East Houston Avenue location has plenty of reasons to boast. The tender chuck roll was spicy and salty and had toppings of cilantro, onions and a kicky red salsa. But the store-bought tortillas kept it from ranking higher.
Co-owner Antonio Alvarado wouldn't reveal the spices, but he says these tacos are typical of Michoacan, Mexico. You also can try the green salsa, guacamole or pico de gallo. Rating: 7.75 out of 10.
Mike: My friends in Visalia rave about this place, and with good reason. It's a buzzing, lunch-hour hangout for people who know quality tacos.
The meat was tender, and the taco had a nice helping of cilantro. But it's the salsa that makes the taco great not too hot, with plenty of flavor. Add some crisp cabbage, and it would rank higher. Rating: 8 out of 10.
Details: Selma Flea Market, 10951 E. Mountain View Ave., Selma. No phone number.
Joan:Who knew taco heaven was a little blue truck? Visitors can top spicy, tender chuck roll with yummy red salsa, pico de gallo, green salsa, cabbage, onions, cilantro, lemon or chopped tomato.
Go for the red salsa. The synergy between it and the meat elevated this meal to near nirvana. For an even better experience, ask for freshly made tortillas.
Alma Rodriguez, the chef from Brownsville, Texas, dished on the seasonings. Paprika, New Mexico chili and seasoning salt adorn the beef. The red salsa is a blend of garlic, salt, cilantro, Japones chili and fresh tomatoes. Rating: 8.5.
Mike: This place might be hard to find, but it's worth it. On weekdays, it's the only one at the flea market, but on the weekends, it's one of many.
This is the rico taco done to perfection. (Rico tacos are smaller-size tacos.) The meat is potently flavorful, the salsa is great, and the synergy between them as Joan so aptly put it is like peanut butter and chocolate. Plus, it's open 'til midnight. Rating: 8.5.
Raisin City Market
Details: 6234 W. Bowles Ave., Raisin City; (559) 264- 7645.
Joan: This was the heartiest taco, with lots of spiced chuck roll flavored with orange juice. It also had a red salsa that complemented the meat well. Japones chilies and green tomatillo are the secret to the sauce, says Abdusalam Ali, whose family owns the market.
Since there's so much meat, toppings of cilantro, cabbage, onions and lime may be inadequate. Ask for more if you need it. Rating: 7.5.