Who doesn’t love tacos? While there isn’t a taco truck on every corner (yet), Madison, WI has an array of notable taco options. They range from “authentic” (meat, lime, onion and cilantro only) to innovative (kimchi and lamb with crispy rice). And regardless of authenticity, many of them are quite delicious.
Recently my husband and I, along with a group of friends, decided to go on an informal taco bike tour. I call it research. Because seriously who doesn’t love tacos (I know, I already asked that question), and Madison is pretty much one of the best biking cities anywhere. And perhaps one day soon, I’ll offer a taco tour by bike.
On this tour, we stopped at 4 places – Mercado Marimar, Taqueria Guadalajara, El Sabor de Puebla and Ohio Tavern, starting on Madison’s south side and heading east. We wanted to be closer to home before we started drinking margaritas.
First up, Mercado Marimar on S. Park Street, a wonderful Mexican grocery store complete with a butcher counter, fresh produce and their claim to fame, fresh made corn tortillas. My husband and I biked from the Emerson East neighborhood via the Capital City Trail through the Wingra Creek Parkway, about 6 miles. The bike path took us almost all the way there which was pretty awesome. Though there was no bike parking at the market, we managed to find a few street signs to lock up to. We arrived hungry.
The tortilla press was churning out fresh tortillas accompanied by a metallic squeak. About eight small tables fill one side of the market, and on weekends, it is packed. On the tables are homemade avocado tomatillo and roasted red chile salsa. On weekends they make fresh carnitas and tamales, which people order by the pound and dozen, along with the fresh tortillas. We ordered our tacos to stay. Carnitas all around, save for one vegetarian, served simply with onion, cilantro and lime. Smitten.
We headed a few blocks north on Park Street to Taqueria Guadalajara.
We leaned our bikes in a small alley alongside the building, and headed in. Taqueria Guadalajara offers some unusual options such as tripe, tongue, and intestine tacos. Believe me, it sounds much more appetizing in Spanish. “Tripa”, “Lengua”, “Intestino”. Anyway, I chickened out and got carne asada, but a friend ordered tripe and it was pretty good, with a smooth texture and a liver-like flavor. My husband was happy to order a beer with his taco, and some people cheated and got sopes with their tacos.
Next up, El Sabor de Puebla on Willy Street.
We headed around the West Shore of Monona Bay to John Nolen, up Jenifer Street, left on Ingersoll, right on Willy St., and there we were. A bit full, but still in our game. El Sabor de Puebla offers pretty standard tacos, and I got the cecina, a thin sliced, dried beef. But don’t let the word dried fool you. It was succulent and tender, served with onion and cilantro and a housemade red salsa. One thing I love about El Sabor is that the brother of the owner is an organic farmer at the Farley Center in Verona. Many of the vegetables used in the restaurant are grown on his farm. Farm to table Mexican!
Finally, a few tacos and beers later, we crossed Willy St, headed down E. Wilson St. to the bike path following Eastwood/Atwood.
The rain started to come down, but we all agreed that summer rain beats spring rain. Wet and not super hungry, we parked our bikes at nearby racks and headed in. Finally a margarita! Ohio Tavern offers delicious and innovative tacos, as well as beer, cocktails and a super fly east side vibe in a historic tavern. And they are conveniently located near the Chocolate Shoppe which one of the group members opted for over tacos (Your Bike Benefits sticker will get you a waffle cone upgrade!). I enjoyed sharing an Old Boy taco with my husband. It features kimchi, carnitas and crispy rice which I topped with plantain-poblano salsa, one of their five delicious homemade salsas.
In a moment of brainstorming, we thought that if only Ohio Tavern or Chocolate Shoppe offered a homemade version of the Chaco Taco, that would have really been cool. Alas, we drowned our disappointment in one more margarita before heading home.
Overall we enjoyed all of the stops for different reasons, but there was one clear favorite amongst our group–Mercado Marimar. I ranked all the stops according to my preferences.
The informal and subjective grading rubric included accessibility by bike, overall taste, the tortilla quality, the salsas, bike parking, and accompanying cocktails.
#1 Taco – Mercado Marimar
2102 S Park St, Madison, WI 53713
Homemade tortillas fresh of the press made these stand out above all others, as well as the flavorful meat. The delicious carnitas and accompanying red and green salsas just added to the experience. Excellent homemade salsas. $2.50 each. Lacks bicycle parking.
#2 Taco – Ohio Tavern
224 Ohio Avenue, Madison 53704
Great selection of tacos for everyone, including lentil, carnitas with bacon and pineapple, and lamb barbacoa. Flavorful and fun with great salsa options. $4/each. Ample bicycle parking.
#3 Taco – El Sabor de Puebla
1133 Williamson St, Madison, WI 53703
Great taco selection, local organic produce grown by a Latino farmer and outdoor seating make this a great option. Good homemade salsa. $2.00/taco. Bicycle parking nearby.
#4 Taco – Taqueria Guadalajara
1033 S Park St, Madison, WI 53715
Great selection of tacos that you won’t find everywhere such as tongue, etc. The salsa lacked flavor. Overall very good. $2.00/taco. Lacks bicycle parking.