And don’t shy away from the cabeza taco, featuring irresistibly rich meat harvested from the cow’s skull.
Notice the boom in Prince William taquerias lately? There’s two within a block of each other in Old Town Manassas alone. Not to mention those serving meaty, cheesy masterpieces in grocery stores, random parking lots and local bars. What does that mean? It’s time to hit the streets for a budget-friendly taco crawl.
Similar to a bar crawl—a day hopping from bar to bar for shots and shots—we’ve curated, instead, a day dedicated to tacos. After researching (internet, friends, internet friends), hitting the ATM and following Google Maps, we’ve created a path to find the best tacos along a nine-mile stretch.
Each restaurant includes two recommendations: a favorite taco and, if you can open your wallet for a few more bucks, another must-try. Buen provecho!
Round 1: Taqueria Tres Reyes
A shelf opposite the cashier stand is outfitted with a portrait of the Virgin Mary, fresh flowers and votive candles. A wall-mounted TV cycles through sports, telenovelas and outlandish game shows. The digital jukebox in the back spits out an endless stream of salsa tunes and folk ballads.
Those gathered inside this cherished neighborhood restaurant wouldn’t have it any other way. Over the years, Tres Reyes has garnered a reputation for shunning outsiders. And while regulars are predominantly Latino, it’s no longer uncommon to see a gringo (or two) planted at one of the booths lining the main dining room.
Tacos run $2.50 each. They are double wrapped in corn tortillas and accompanied by grilled onions, sliced radishes, cucumber, cilantro and lemon. Spice things by dipping into a condiment caddy stocked with dueling hot sauces and pickled cabbage slaw (curtido). // 8562 Mathis Ave., Manassas; 703-335-6663
Barbacoa taco ($2.50) summons succulent goat perfectly complemented by zesty curtido, crisp radishes, fiery salsa roja and medallions of cooling cucumber.
Cuero taco ($2.50) features lusty, skin-on roast pork smothered in diced onion and curls of cilantro. A dash of salsa verde dials up the intensity without frying the taste buds.
Next Stop: 10 minutes, 2.6 miles
Round 2: Taqueria Yazmin
A constellation of colorful pinatas commemorating everything from beloved Disney characters to renowned soccer clubs dangle overhead as one enters the Fresh World supermarket. The real prize, however, resides back beside the bakery counter.
That’s where the proprietors of Taqueria Yazmin cheerily chop vegetables and grill meats while world music wafts over the store’s PA system. Seasonal offerings and daily specials round out a menu including mixed proteins served inside tacos, tortas (overstuffed Mexican sandwiches) and burritos.
Most tacos are $2 a pop, save for those featuring beef tongue or carne asada ($2.50 each). All tacos come double wrapped in warm corn tortillas and arrive dressed with diced onion and cilantro. Sliced radishes and lime wedges serve as garnishes. Salsa verde is the mildest condiment; an orange-colored salsa sports a garlicky kick; salsa roja delivers a steady burn. // 9540 Liberia Ave., Manassas
Al pastor taco ($2) summons remarkably juicy rotisserie pork sweetened by a sliver of pineapple. Chopped radish adds bite.
Campechano taco ($2) marries meaty brisket with zesty sausage.
Next Stop: 8 minutes, 2.4 miles
Round 3: El Rulas Tacos
Everyone, from extended families with fidgety youngsters in tow to grizzled construction workers squeezing in a hearty meal between gigs, fits right in at this gorgeously decorated strip mall gem.
The modest restaurant boasts brightly colored walls and ornate furniture emblazoned with breathtaking scenes of life south of the border. Honey-voiced troubadours fill the charming space with the peppy sounds of yesteryear.
Customers order at the front counter, then take their seats. Attentive servers drop off orders shortly thereafter. Kitchen staff knocks it all out on massive griddles, one covered with slightly curled corn tortillas, while another is layered with meats hissing as they hit the sizzling-hot surface.
Tacos run from $1.96 to $2.50. They are served in double wrapped tortillas and dressed with cilantro and onion. // 10456 Dumfries Road, Manassas
Cabeza taco ($1.96) features irresistibly rich meat harvested from the cow’s skull that easily edges out regular beef.
Cesos taco ($2.50) summons seasoned cow brains smacking of creamy scrambled eggs. A squeeze of chipotle sauce injects smoke and heat into subsequent bites, while just a few drops of the red sauce packs a pepper-powered punch.
Next Stop: 4 minutes, 1.3 miles
Act like you’ve been there.
• Adobada: beef, chicken or pork marinated in an herb-laced chile sauce
• Al pastor: citrus-spiked pork paired with tangy pineapple
• Barbacoa: barbecued beef or goat
• Bistec/Res: grilled steak
• Buche: pork stomach
• Cabeza: roasted meat harvested from the cow’s skull
• Campechano: combination of brisket and chorizo
• Carnitas: slow-cooked pork
• Cecina: salt-cured, thinly sliced steak
• Cesos: cow brains
• Choriqueso: spiced sausage mixed with melted cheese
• Chorizo: spiced sausage
• Cuero: chunky pork skin
• Frijol: savory black beans
• Hongos: mushrooms
• Labio: beef lips
• Lengua: beef tongue
• Nopales: prickly pear cactus pads
• Ojo: beef eyes
• Pollo: chicken
• Queso: typically a stringy, mozzarella-like cheese or crumbly cotija
• Suadero: chopped beef
• Tinga: chipotle pepper-flavored chicken
• Tripa: beef stomach
• Trompa: pork snout
Round 4: El Garage
Part retail operation, part community hub, El Garage virtually begs to be explored.
Stepping through the front door spurs immediate decision-making: take stock of the salty snacks and assorted sweets stacked in neat little rows for impulse buyers, or gaze longingly at the daily specials displayed at the central steam table.
Inside the main dining room mugs of tangy-sweet fruit drinks (tamarind water, anyone?) and blended rice concoctions outnumber commercial sodas. Keeping a milky beverage handy is highly recommended if indulging in the punishing pepper medley found at the fixings bar. Chopped habaneros and jalapenos fire things up immediately, while raw red onion and fresh lime tweak the senses in their own special ways.
Tacos run $2.50, save for the nopales ($3 each). They are served in single corn tortillas that are hot to the touch from the grill, and arrive on Styrofoam plates. // 9636 Grant Ave., Manassas; 703-331-0111
Tinga taco ($2.50) summons shredded chicken soaked in a zesty pepper sauce. The slow-cooked bird is topped with caramelized onions and salty crumbled cheese.
Borrega taco ($2.50) delivers fork-tender beef enrobed in smoke. Folding in the habanero-jalapeno pepper medley turns the meal into an endurance challenge with a pulse-quickening payoff.
Next Stop: 8 minutes, 2.7 miles
Round 5: Tipicos Los Reyes
Hola, chicos!” a bubbly waitress chirps as she drops off menus at this welcoming eatery. Soccer fans camp out early here, tables already crowded with hearty soups and crunchy tortilla chips.
An army of women working in the glass-enclosed kitchen keep dine-in customers well fed. They also cater to the steady stream of patrons who swing by to retrieve carryout orders, belching steam when opened for inspection. A cooler fully stocked with fizzy refreshments (Mexican Coke, booze-free sangria and fruity Jarritos drinks) beckons to soda junkies, while a cozy bar cranks out tequila drinks and imported beers.
Tacos run $2.75 to $3.50. They are served in a single corn tortilla and dressed with cilantro, onion, avocado and lime. // 8441 Irongate Way, Manassas
Lengua taco ($3.25) reveals hunks of tender beef tongue enhanced by buttery avocado.
Carne con queso taco ($2.95) weds grilled steak to the same stretchy white cheese the kitchen crew stuffs inside pupusas. Add diced tomato and a dash of El Yucateco smoked habanero sauce to really rev things up.
Winners only (five tacos): $12.21
Combined tab (10 tacos): $24.66
This month’s cover story features the very best cheap eats in the region—including our fave tacos. Contributor Warren Rojas ate his way through Manassas, where it feels like there are more taquerias than Starbucks. Revel below in what it took to bring you this delicious tour.
- Taco budget: $60
- Distance traveled: 26.6 miles
- Most taco options on a single menu: 21
- Tacos eaten: 30
- Time spent: 7 hours, 47 minutes
- Futbol games viewed: 4
- Taquerias visited: 7
- Taquerias scouted, aka research before eating: 20
This post was originally posted in the New Cheap Eats feature of our May 2019 issue. Craving more food content? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.