Growing up, I ate some tacos. Not a lot of tacos, just some. They came in one variety. Ortega hard corn shells stuffed with ground beef that had been mixed with some taco seasoning. Then some shredded cheddar cheese and shredded lettuce and maybe, just maybe, some diced tomatoes. I didn’t like tomatoes until adulthood, and I still can’t eat a large raw piece of stand-alone tomato, so it seems to me as though I wouldn’t have added the tomatoes then, either. These were our tacos, and they were pretty good. So good in fact that Taco Bell built an empire around the recipe. Norwegian-German kids from Williams Bay loved their mother’s tacos and they loved their Taco Bell.
But these are not tacos. There is no seasoning called “taco”. Taco is not a flavor, no matter what Dorito’s and Ortega would have you believe. My first real taco showed up sometime about 15 years ago, but I didn’t enjoy them then the way I enjoy them now, which is to say, too much. Tacos now are authentic, made with just corn tortillas and some meat and some scratch-made salsa. Maybe some hot sauce of Mexican origin. Maybe some sour cream. Onions and Cilantro, that’s it. These tacos are real tacos. They’re good tacos, and fortunately for you and for me, they’re everywhere around Lake Geneva.
Mexican Restaurants in Lake Geneva are not like Mexican restaurants in Chicago, at least not like the ones we’ve all heard of. Xoco is fine. Big Star is, too. Antique Taco, good stuff. None of our taco places are like those taco places. Our taco places do not smell the best. They smell like raw meat and the exterior of avocados. There’s an imported smell in these taco stands, and it’s not one you’d bottle if you had a choice. They say food looks and tastes better when served on a white plate, in a green room, with the smell of something neutral in the air and dimmish lights. This is not what you’ll find in our taco establishments. What you will find is authentic Mexican fare, cooked by Mexicans, eaten mostly by Mexicans, and if you’re lucky enough to wander into one, you’ll find simple tacos that stand up to anything Rick Bayless can turn out.
If you drove around Lake Geneva, Walworth, Elkhorn or Delavan, these taco places, excepting one (Los Agaves), wouldn’t stand out. They don’t say TACOS on the sign, with some hipstery font and old timey graphic. They just say something in Spanish, and there’s a store front that’s typically stacked with so many things you can’t see inside. Middle shelf, refried beans by the can. Top shelf, pots and pans, bottom shelf, rendered lard. In between, some swim shorts and maybe a small guitar, the kind tourists strum when vacationing beachside in Cozumel. There is no real effort here to make you want to come inside the shop.
But you must. Because inside is a grocery store and a restaurant, mixed together carelessly, but purposefully. There might be four tables, maybe three, maybe 12. The sound of a griddle griddling will greet you at the door, along with that aroma that you’d rather not meet. But this is just the subterfuge, and this is what keeps vacationers out of these establishments. What out-of-towners don’t know is that if they pass these up in favor of another burger joint, the joke is on them. Just like Pier 290’s scene justifies the visit, the taqueria’s food makes up for the lack of scene.
With that, and in honor of Cinco de Mayo, the Lake Geneva area’s best Mexican restaurants:
UNNAMED MEXICAN GROCER. I don’t know what this place is called. It’s on Broad Street, a few blocks north of downtown, right next to RRB Cycles. Tacos are best, with burritos a close second. The Pastor and Steak, mexican style with avocado is the best call.
Tienda El Racho. This is on Elkhorn Road, north of town, across from Geneva Auto Body. It’s good.
La Mexican, on the square in Walworth. In addition to serving terrific tacos out of their restaurant, this is the best Mexican grocer in the area. Lots of fresh produce, and like all Mexican grocers, somehow they sell limes 10 x $1. They’re lime suppliers are the best, and cheapest. If I’m making Mexican food at home, you can bet I’ll be shopping at La Mexicana first.
Lucke’s is not a Mexican restaurant, no matter the menu. It’s fine, but that’s not the sort of place I’m talking about.
There are many taquerias here, but only one favorite. The grocery store Supermecado is very good, very complete. I get their Pastor to cook at home sometimes. But the taco place I prefer is Los Agaves. It’s more of a restaurant than the others on this list, and that makes it more approachable. The chicken tacos served Mexican style with their house salsa is the way to go. Don’t do something stupid and order a quesadilla. Both are on the main brick-paved drag downtown Delavan.
Supermercado is at 28 South Washington. It has the same name as the place in Delavan, but I have no idea if it’s the same owner, or just a geographic coincidence. This place has burritos that are my favorite. Opt for the chicken or steak.
Dining out this summer? Don’t be silly and fear the unknown. Hit up Lake Geneva’s authentic taquerias, and you’ll be pleased.