Growing up in New Mexico made me a taco connoisseur, so National Taco Day is almost like a religious holiday for me. But where do these tantalizing treats come from? According to anthropological evidence, the original tacos date back to before the Spanish had arrived in Mexico, and were introduced to the conquistadors by indigenous tribes in the Valley of Mexico.
As for the name, taco historian Jeffrey M. Pilcher tells The Smithsonian Magazine that the Spanish word “taco” goes back to 18th century Mexico. Silver miners used to refer to explosive charges as tacos. “These were pieces of paper that they would wrap around gunpowder and insert into the holes they carved in the rock face.”
Put some hot sauce on your chicken, wrap it in corn, and bam! You’ve got some dynamite for your mouth.
Tacos originally acted as a way for Mexican citizens to separate themselves from the colonizing Spanish, who primarily used wheat not corn tortillas. In the early 20th century, however, Mexican immigrants started to introduce tacos to the southwest. Thus New Mexico and Colorado have given America two if it’s favorite things: tacos and legal weed.
The original taquerias were found in working class neighborhoods. With industrialization bringing people together from disparate parts of the country they were a meeting point to sample the countries different flavors — and chiles.
Today, when we think about delicious Mexican food, tacos always take center stage. They remain a mainstay of Mexican street cuisine. For decades, tacos have also given many brilliant young chefs a start in the culinary arts, allowing them to own their own business in the form of taco bars and taco trucks. These trucks are a great introduction to the deliciousness of tacos — they were for me when I drunkenly walked out onto Labrea Avenue when I lived in LA. Know what was there waiting for me? A taco truck and its delicious tacos.
In a time period where President Trump wants to build a wall separating the U.S. from Mexico, it’s food that bridges the cultural gap and brings us together. And while National Taco Day might seem like a silly holiday, it also recognizes the origins of a culture which has influenced and changed the U.S. for the better.
So at this stage you’re probably wondering where to get your hands on some delicious tacos. Have no fear — we at RVA Mag have got you covered.
Free and cheap taco deals for National Taco Day:
Chuy’s (W. Broad St, Short Pump): Get a taco for a dollar with the purchase of any entree.
Taco Bell (all over town): Get a “National Taco Day Gift Set, featuring a crunchy taco, and one each of the three Doritos Locos Tacos flavors (Nacho Cheese, Cool Ranch, and Fiery), all for $5.
Tijuana Flats (Willow Lawn): Two tacos with chips and drink for $5.99. (This one isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s apparently better than the normal price.
Cold Stone Creamery (W. Broad St near VCU and several other spots around town): For one day only, Cold Stone is selling waffle tacos with ice cream — get the shell dipped in chocolate if you really want to do it up.
On The Border (Woodbridge): Sure, their nearest location is an hour and a half north of Richmond, but On The Border is offering all-you-can-eat tacos for $8.99 today, and that might just be worth a drive.
Other delicious tacos around Richmond that are worth your while:
La Milpa (Hull Street Rd): Where Richmond tacos are concerned, La Milpa is the best-kept secret in town. But between its delicious tacos, its affordable prices (three beef or chicken tacos will run you $6), and the unbelievable fact that it’s open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, it won’t stay quiet for long.
En Su Boca (N. Boulevard, Scott’s Addition): They offer tacos in nearly a dozen different styles, from super-traditional (slow roasted citrus pork shoulder) to delicious new-school twists (the Sloppy Joe tacos with jack cheese). All of them are delicious, and four of them will cost you $11. Can’t beat that.
Bandito’s (Patterson Ave in the Museum District): From 3 PM til 7 PM on weekdays, Bandito’s has dollar tacos. Need I say more?
Tio Pablo (E. Franklin St, Shockoe Bottom): Their 100 percent gluten-free menu and wide-ranging choices for taco fillings (beef tongue, cactus, fried mahi) make this the go-to taco spot for Shockoe Bottom.
Jalapenos Mexican Grill (Carytown): This new spot down the block from Sweet Frog has people talking, and is stepping in to fill the void left by Don’t Look Back’s move to Scott’s Addition. Speaking of which…
Don’t Look Back: Triple (W. Broad St, Scott’s Addition): After losing their Carytown location to a fire, this well-beloved taco spot has returned with a vengeance — and they still serve their excellent tacos until 1 AM, so it’s the perfect late-night stop.
Image by Lindsay Eastham. Additional reporting on taco specials by Marilyn Drew Necci