The Great American Taco Challenge
by Elizabette Guecamburu
Dec 05, 2013 | 1932 views | 0 0 comments | 352 352 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I love tacos. My adoration is so consuming that when someone says the word 'taco' my mouth reflexively begins to pool with saliva. I suppose you could compare me to Pavlov's dogs that were famously trained to salivate at the sound of a bell. But, thankfully, I have fewer fleas and don't drink water from a toilet.

Lucky for me, Patterson has many local spots to fill my taco cravings. For years, my high school friends and I have been debating about which hometown tacos truly are the best. We are an opinionated bunch, so we finally decided to put this idea to the test. We coordinated our schedules, mustered our appetites, and gathered together at my home one recent Saturday afternoon for — what we amusingly dubbed to be — The Great American Taco Challenge. Some friends traveled back home to Patterson from as far as Sacramento and the Bay Area for this taco experiment— yet, we were committed… Tacos would be eaten. Tacos would be judged.

While there are several other great places for tacos in Patterson, we bought our samples from only six locations — Ernie’s Taqueria, El Portal, Ricky’s Taqueria, El Paisa, Taqueria El Mexicano and Taqueria Zamora. We were exceedingly organized — we mapped out the spots and divided the route to ensure the tacos would arrive back with maximum freshness and temperature. To certify the integrity of our experiment, we wrote the names of the locations under the plates —that way we wouldn’t know the origin of each set of tacos until after we had eaten them. Then, we created a chart to document our individual thoughts and findings.

For consistency, we ordered the same style of taco at all locations — carne asada (which is our favorite). We judged on several criteria — presentation (we even took photos!), flavor, texture, moistness, spiciness, tortilla quality, and the availability and quality of side condiments, like grilled onions, peppers, limes and radishes. We were quite proud of the thoroughness of our endeavor — never have scientific and statistical principles been applied to such yummy effectiveness.

Six rounds later, we had our results.

The hometown winner, with a total combined score of 26.25 out of 30, was El Paisa. The taco scored well in all categories and one friend noted, “It was a flavor party in my mouth!” Following closely behind the winner was El Portal, with a score of 24 out of 30. An all-around great taco, we deemed El Portal the “juiciest” of the bunch. Conveniently enough, both El Paisa and El Portal are located on North 1st Street, just yards from each other. If, like many people, you prefer a taco with some heat, the award for “spiciest taco” went to Taqueria Zamora. One friend commented, “It’s got good kick!”

Despite all of that, our results were purely informal. We could only fit so many tacos into our stomachs, so I know there are other delicious hometown spots that we didn’t get an opportunity to try. I welcome emails from readers with suggestions and feedback. My friends and I had so much fun with The Great American Taco Challenge that we are already discussing our next hometown food challenge.

So, stay tuned and happy eating!

Elizabette Guecamburu, volunteer columnist for the Irrigator, is a writer and a native Patterson resident. She can be reached at

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