Concord, CA

Concord's Taco Trail never grows cold

Clay Kallam

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Quesabirria tacos from Tortilleria El MolinoClay Kallam

So a couple years ago, the folks at VisitConcord – who are charged with drumming up business for Concord merchants – had a brilliant idea. Instead of promoting what every other city promotes (downtown restaurants, concerts in the park, etc.), they realized they were sitting on a culinary gift of the gods. The Taco Gods, to be exact, who had bestowed 40 or so family-run taquerias on the city, taquerias that almost always deliver the best of Mexican food at friendly prices.

Thus the Taco Trail was born, a quest made for foodies with limited funds. There’s no need to compare notes about Commis and Gary Danko when debates about the merits of the quesabirria at Tortilleria El Molino as opposed to the cochinita pibil at Taqueria Autlan are available for a tiny fraction of the price.

Haven’t heard of cochinita pibil, you say? It’s pork shoulder, often cooked in an achiote paste, and is more common in the Yucatan – which is another gift of the Taco Trail. The families who run the restaurants have roots from all over Mexico, and they like to add their local favorites to the menu. So maybe you don’t find cochinita pibil at El Yahualica, but there, lengua is an option.

OK, you’re sold – how do you get on the Taco Trail? Do you need a map, or a guide, or some special password?

None of the above. All you need to do is get on 680 North and take the Monument Boulevard exit. Turn right at the light, navigate the narrowing of the lanes, and let the Taco Gods take over. There are taquerias up and down Monument, on both sides of the busy street, inside grocery stores and dotted in strip malls. When you feel the urge, locate a taqueria, pull over, park, and head inside.

Yes, there’s usually a lot on the menu, and some of the words are unfamiliar – so when in doubt, just go for the specials, which are often recipes from the home state of the family that runs the place. Soon, you’ll have a couple tacos, some chips and sauce, and even a bottle of Coke if you want – and you will be in Taco Heaven.

And after you wipe away the last bit of sauce from your chin, you’ll sit back and realize two things: 1) That was really, really good; and 2) there are 39 more places just as good you have yet to try.

* * * * *

While we’re on the topic of Mexican food, a couple other notes:

*There are taquerias everywhere in Concord, not just on Monument Boulevard, and VisitConcord has a map.

*Rico Rico Taco is in an unlikely location for excellent tacos, in the middle of the trendy Grand Lake district, but don’t worry – you’ll walk away happy.

*Sometimes you’re in the mood for a good margarita and a little upscale Mexican food, so why not indulge? We like Lafayette’s Rancho Cantina and Danville’s Cielito (a great space).

*Cholita Linda splits the difference, with its Temescal and Alameda locations offering fast-casual service plus beer and wine.

*And no article about East Bay Mexican food could be complete without a nod to what just might be the best of them all, the New Mecca in Pittsburg. It’s on Railroad Avenue, right by the water, and after years of long lines, the restaurant took over the space next door, and it’s much easier to find a table. That said, though, if you can score a spot in the narrow original space, with the dark wood and long counter, old-timers can tell you about how original owner Guillermo Muniz would sometimes visit a table and serenade the occupants a cappella – whether they wanted to listen or not.

Guillermo is, sadly, no longer with us, but he’s undoubtedly up there with the Taco Gods, enjoying a plate of guisada and guiding newbies to just the right taqueria on the Taco Trail.

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Clay Kallam is a lifelong East Bay resident who spent several decades in local journalism -- and still writes for Diablo Magazine (among others). Over the years, he has covered just about every aspect of life in the Bay Area, from rock-and-roll to the arts to political coverage to food to sports. On the food front, he does not claim to be a critic, but rather someone who enjoys a good meal, a well-made drink and a nice red wine. As for sports, he has written for national publications (including Sports Illustrated and Slam) and covers girls' basketball across the nation for MaxPreps. He is a high school coach and a serious fan of the local teams -- and savored every minute of the Giants' and Warriors' championships. He graduated from Acalanes, UC Santa Barbara (ancient history) and Cal (philosophy). He lives in Walnut Creek with his wife Maggi, who takes many of the food photos. He appreciates his readers and is always happy to talk about anything he's written. His food experiences can be found at #dishdining on Instagram, and emails can be sent to claykallam@gmail.com.

Walnut Creek, CA
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