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Uninterested in basketball? What about 'Taco Madness'?

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

While everyone catches their breath after the first weekend of the NCAA basketball tournaments, there is another competition out here in Southern California, and it's just heating up. The 15th annual Taco Madness contest is back. Thirty-six taquerias in greater Los Angeles are placed into brackets, and the winners are decided by readers of the food publication L.A. Taco. And on this Taco Tuesday, editor Javier Cabral is here with us to talk more about the contest. Welcome.

JAVIER CABRAL: Hi there.

CHANG: Hi. OK, so the first round results are in. Who are the top contenders remaining at this point?

CABRAL: So for the first round we have Tacos Los Cholos, which are - so they're actually the first seed because they won last year. And they're up against Birrieria San Marcos. So Taco Los Cholos - in a nutshell, they specialize in a bougie-to-budget taco approach. So when you go get their carne asada with them, you can choose between prime wagyu or just choice. And with Birrieria San Marcos, I mean, you know, we all know about the birria craze...

CHANG: Oh, yeah.

CABRAL: ...Happening around the country right now. But these guys are pioneers, and they have a very, very devout following. So, yeah, it's asada versus birria for this first one.

CHANG: All right - next.

CABRAL: Next up we have our No. 9 seed versus our No. 8 seed. Our No. 9 is Macheen. He does a very unique gourmet-style taco. So, you know, think of everything from, like, beets on a taco to Korean barbecue on a taco. Like, he's just - he is not afraid of experimenting on tacos, versus Mariscos Jalisco, which Mariscos Jalisco - probably the best daytime seafood taco in all of LA. It's a fried shrimp taco, crispy. It's iconic. If you come to LA and you only have time for one taco, I recommend this taco. So both these taqueros have actually - are both past Taco Madness champions.

CHANG: Well, I mean, there are so many different taco styles and taco flavors, taco techniques in this one contest. Is it even fair to pick the definitive best tacos among all of these different varieties? What do you think?

CABRAL: Yeah, that's one question that I - people always ask me, obviously, as the editor in chief of...

CHANG: (Laughter).

CABRAL: ...The only taco-based publication in the country.

CHANG: Right.

CABRAL: But, you know, I always like to say that, really, like, the best taco is the one right in front of you when you're hungry. We've experimented, and we've done different categories of tacos. But, you know, our readers don't - they just like the absolute chaos of it. They just love a good David and Goliath story, which has happened already. You know, in this last round, you know, Ditroit, which is a taqueria opened up by Enrique Olvera, who's arguably, like, the most prolific Mexican chef in Mexico...

CHANG: Yeah.

CABRAL: You know, he was dethroned by a much smaller taqueria. So, you know, it's all about passion.

CHANG: God, my stomach is growling so much right now. And I'm also sure the stomachs of many of our listeners are also growling. And there are a lot of listeners who don't live in a major city relatively close to Mexico. What is your advice for finding a good taco place where they live?

CABRAL: So look for either the name of a region or a city 'cause that usually shows some kind of regional pride. So they may have some tacos that are only unique to that area in Mexico. For example, like, Taco Sinaloa, Tacos Acapulco - that usually is a good sign that the flavor of those tacos will stand out against the rest of the more homogenized style in the U.S. Another thing to look for are the names of people. So if - you know, if you're going to attach your name to, like, a taco shop - you know, it could be, like, Tacos Con Gustavo or Tacos Pancho or Tacos, you know, whatever. You know, like, who is that mythical person that the tacos are named after? So look for regional names, and look for, you know, the name of someone who is that passionate about tacos that they're going to open up their own taco shop about it.

CHANG: I love it. That is the editor of L.A. Taco, Javier Cabral. Thank you so much, Javier.

CABRAL: Thank you so much. And see you out there in the streets. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Gurjit Kaur
Gurjit Kaur is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. A pop culture nerd, her work primarily focuses on television, film and music.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
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