El Taco Tote – Albuquerque, New Mexico

El Taco Tote on Central Avenue

As we perused the colorful menu hanging on the wall at El Taco Tote, my friends Captain Tuttle, Bob of the Village Of Los Ranchos and I pondered the veracity of images depicting gargantuan tacos brimming with glistening meat and sundry toppings. Could these super-sized behemoths possibly be as large as pictured? Perhaps, as in “objects in the mirror may appear closer than they are,” these tacos only appear large in photos. Captain Tuttle, a semi-regular at Taco Tote, confirmed that the truth is somewhere between the perfectly posed tacos portrayed on the menu and those actually served. He recalled from previous visits, being served tacos with as much as four ounces of meat. That’s as much as McDonald’s vaunted Quarter-Pounder.

Considering most taquerias nowadays tend to prefer (and proffer) small tacos, we wondered if Taco Tote’s largesse was an accommodation to denizens of the fruited plain who crave and expect Brobdingnagian portions. We’re not the only ones who’ve pondered this Jack Handy level deep thought. In an April, 2010 edition of “Ask A Mexican,” a reader asked columnist Gustavo Arellano “why do those tiny little Mexican tacos exist? Does anyone prefer getting 3 tiny tacos instead of 1 good sized one?”  Arellano clarified “It’s in the United States where the taco has been super-sized. In Mexico, and in Mexican communities in los Estados Unidos , tacos continue to be best appreciated small–four bites maximum. A taco is meant to be a snack, a bit, not a full meal. If we wanted something bigger, we’d order a plate or a bowl–or, better yet, order a plate/bowl make our own impromptu tacos.” So there!

Taco Tote Doesn’t Build A Better Taco…You do!

Alas, smaller tacos don’t necessarily translate to smaller prices.  In fact, Arellano has observed that “restaurants always overprice tacos, even when they’re substantially bigger than the small tortillas.”    He laments further that one of his favorite taquerias commits the “cardinal sin of charging more than a dollar for a taco. I don’t care how great or big a taco is–a taco is not worth more than a dollar ever”.  Much has changed–including the hyper-inflated cost of food–since 2010 when he made that declaration.  The price of Taco Tote’s offerings might just send him into sticker shock.  My initial assessment was that the price of tacos is nearing that of burgers, then I remembered just how expensive burgers have become.

With signage boasting “We don’t build a better taco…You do!,” Taco Tote’ operating model differs from that of many of its competitors where tacos are constructed for you.  You truly can have it your way at Taco Tote!  Your way starts with the filling of your choice: sirloin, arrachera (skirt steak), grilled chicken, bistek (inside round beef), barbacoa (cheek meat), fish, adobada pork (pork marinated in traditional Mexican dried chilies and spices), adobada chicken, shrimp, al pastor, carne asada, tripitas (small intestines) and brocheta (sirloin sautéed with green chilies and onions.  There’s only one vegetarian offering, a mushroom and veggie medley sautéed with soy sauce and “special spices.” 

The famous Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos Stands by the Salsa Bar

El Taco Tote celebrates the Mexican tradition of “street food,” a term which usually conjures up images of simple street stands serving up steamy, fresh corn or flour tortillas enveloping seared meats, veggies or seafood topped with sundry condiments and salsas.  As with street stands throughout Mexico, El Taco Tote doesn’t offer a New Mexican style taco with ground beef, lettuce and tomatoes.  These are tacos as authentic as you’ll find in their birthplace of Juarez, Mexico.  Founded in 1988, Taco Tote quickly opened its first branch restaurant in El Paso before expanding to the Duke City.  Today two dozen restaurants grace Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico.

Place your order then saunter over to the condiment bar which is where your taco becomes a “tote” (Mexican slang for large) as you cram it with onions, cucumber, cilantro, grilled hot peppers and more.  Six salsas, all of which pack a potent punch, are also available, but be forewarned, a couple of them might require a fire extinguisher.  The pequin chile talamada isn’t quite hot enough to remove the enamel from your teeth, but it might burn your tongue a bit.  Even the guacamole salsa has a bit of a bite.  You’ll be impressed by the fresh quality of the condiment bar where everything appeared to be homemade.

Chiles Rellenos with Beans and Rice

During our inaugural venture in 2006, my Kim and I fell in love with the pickled red onions which went especially well with the fish tacos.  El Taco Tote’s fish tacos are  akin to those you might find in the landlocked regions of Mexico where the fish is fried then nestled into warm corn tortillas.  It’s then up to you to dress those tacos with the condiments of your choice.  With fish tacos, you have to exercise some caution because unlike some meats, not everything goes well with fish.  Bob enjoyed his inaugural foray into the fish taco arena undressed.  No, not him.  His fish taco.  That’s the beauty of Taco Tote.  You’re free to create…or not to. 

21 November 2017: Despite the promise of titanic tacos, Captain Tuttle and I fell prey to Taco Tote’s clever of point-of-sale-marketing ploy.  When we got to the cash register, we espied a poster touting Taco Tote’s latest offering, Hatch chiles rellenos with refried beans and Spanish rice.  We just had to see for ourselves if these rellenos were as appetizing as the poster was appealing.  We should have stuck to tacos.  The rellenos were more than a bit on the mushy side, a result of having been fried in grease that just wasn’t hot enough.  Your intrepid blogger could barely finish one of the two rellenos on the plate.  Thankfully the tortillas and beans were quite good.

Unadorned Fish Taco

El Taco Tote’s corn and flour tortillas are made by hand, ostensibly the way they’ve been made in Mexico for hundreds of years. You can even watch these magical orbs being crafted thanks to the restaurant’s open kitchen design. Refried beans have a slight aftertaste of lard which also holds true to Mexican tradition. The Spanish rice is a bit on the dry side, but as regular readers know, Spanish rice rarely receives praise on this blog. Three aguas frescas–horchata, jamaica and melon) are available to wash down your victuals.

El Taco Tote describes itself as an “all fresh” restaurant, everything–from tortillas to its distinctive salsa bar–is made fresh every day, with no preservatives and with the best quality in produce, meats and ingredients.  In that salsa bar you’ll find everything you need to create your tacos your way.

El Taco Tote
4701 Central, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 265-5188
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 21 November 2017
1ST VISIT: 2 June 2006
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Fish Tacos, Horchata, Tacos Al Pastor

El Taco Tote Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

8 comments

  • Bummer

    I was lucky enough to join our intrepid food blogger and the irrepressible BOTVOLR for lunch today at Taco Tote. Great company always makes for an enjoyable lunch.

    As luck would have it, they added chile rellenos to the menu, so I had to try them. Let’s just say the place is El Taco Tote, not El Chile Relleno Tote…

    On the bright side, the manager – who was trying to impress Roberto – offered up some tamale samples, and they were pretty good.

    All in all, get the tacos – and maybe the tamales.

    • BOTVOLR

      Well now, an ebullient noon meeting with this ducky fellow who actively lurks as a long term (chronic), albeit welcomed contributing Commentator under various pseudonyms/non de plumes!
      First off, let me say, given this is my first visit to this long lasting venue, Taco Totes has a nice, clean, colorful buffet of common/uncommon salsas and other accompaniments for your Tacos. Next, their kitchen is set up so that Newbies from, e.g. Back East, have an educational view of what is only now being experienced back there…”Mexican cuisine”. While it is counter-ordering, Servers bringing your entrees, are most accommodating.
      – Indeed the Chica we presumed as the Manager was out there engaging the noon time crowd. While waiting for Bummer to arrive, I took advantage of the delay to engage her RE her take of the Dif between Mex and New Mex cuisine to reaffirm my perception of the use of “Chiles” vs Jalapenos; additionally NM tends to smother, while Mex tends to infuse (if I remember correctly). I have a bias that Mex, tends more toward featuring fish vs “us”, albeit that can be locale dependent.
      – Alas, per being with Gil, one might feel compelled to venture; as such, my choice was my first, untraditional taco, El Fish Taco! Indeed, I enjoyed their version… “delicately breaded in our original mixture, and golden fried to perfection,”… and, after a first bite, chose to leave it bare nehkkid. My side of smashed beans made my self-make combo….Muy Sabrosa! OK OK! they do have a choice of ‘ice emerged” cervezas to accentuate flavors.
      – Given Bummer brought it up: I love Chile Rellenos. IMHO, the Best are no longer available ala my 2/19/09 notation http://www.nmgastronome.com/?p=1779#comments
      – Lo, lest you are really really fussy re “location/location”, there are several multi-boothed Antique Shoppes across the way to browse if you are into Christmas/Holiday gift giving to peruse!

    • Has it really been eleven years since my last visit to El Taco Tote? Eleven years ago I wasn’t photographing the restaurants we visited. We’ll visit soon and will remedy that.

      • Count me in!

        I love Taco Tote, so if you decide to go for a taco lunch, let me know! So far Wed/Thurs/Friday work best for me this week.

  • Rich Sanche

    First visit today, I will go back. Good review, thank you Gil.

  • lucy

    me encanta la comida del tacotote lo conosco desde juarez chih.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *