Exploring the Springdale Taco Tour
Outside, sidewalks radiate shimmering mirages, distorting a distant group of bikers into a watercolor painting. Inside, there’s a light cloud of smoke wafting off a similarly radiant grill as all manner of meats sizzle and pop against the heat. A couple in the corner booth add a pinch of cilantro and squeeze lime onto their tacos, conversing over the telenovela playing in the background.
Taquerias across Springdale are filled with such scenes. Authentic tacos are becoming a link among diverse communities in Springdale thanks in part to the Springdale Taco Tour, a social media-fed community initiative created by Team Springdale in 2014. Team Springdale has advocated for positive change with their strong community-building presence. Springdale residents Jonathan and Amber Perrodin are the co-creators of Team Springdale, which aims to unify a diverse community and create a sense of celebration over all that is uniquely Springdale.
“We’ve tried to highlight what Springdale is - has been, is, and what it’s becoming - and we’re not trying to make it something that it’s not,” Jonathan said. “That really resonates with people. We’re not trying to change Springdale, but we want Springdale to be the best version of itself.”
The couple, in spired by projects like the Fayetteville Flyer and Humans of New York (a blog that also appears on Facebook), used a similar model to supply Springdale residents with information relevant to the community and build a sense of authenticity. They began by creating accounts on various social media platforms with the name “Team Springdale” and used them to highlight Springdale news and focus on the town’s distinct characteristics. Jonathan said they wanted to answer the question, “What do we have in Springdale that we can talk about that’s cool and exciting that no one else has?”
As they began to look at the unique components of the town as compared with its regional neighbors, one aspect became a clear eccentricity - authentic street taco taquerias.
After identifying the strong taqueria presence in Springdale, Team Springdale issued a call on social media for those interested in creating a taco tour. The Perrodins met with Steven and Mariana Jones two summers ago and hatched a plan over tacos.
“The best way to invite people into your community is through food,” Mariana said. “Springdale has so much food and so much culture, and people are sometimes afraid of it. The best way to invite them, and show them that it’s not scary, that it’s actually pretty amazing, is through food. And that’s when we decided, ‘Let’s see how this will work.’”
The Taco Tour acts as a guide for those looking for a Springdale cuisine adventure by providing a list of hand-picked taquerias and encouraging interaction on social media with the hashtag “#SpringdaleTacoTour” to document experiences and allow participants to qualify for a chance to win prizes. While it is dubbed a “taco” tour, there is much more to enjoy at each location.
“We’re introducing them to a new culture of food and a new culture of people and saying, ‘Go into the taqueria, and order something crazy even if you can’t pronounce it,’” Amber said. “It will still likely taste good, and you’ll have a great experience.”
Some of the taquerias are making their tortillas in-house. Amber said that the cooks at each location take pride in their carnitas. They vary greatly depending on where their families come from and what each family has passed down as family recipes.
“They’re particular about that, so it’s neat to experience that and try those [dishes],” Amber said.
Because tacos have a short history in Springdale, and have yet to succumb to American tastes, the food remains true to the authentic dish, Steven said. “And, in a selfish way, I want to preserve it and show people how great it is.”
Charly’s Taqueria is a happy marriage between the veteran taco-eater and the taco beginner.
The menu is easy to read and offers detailed descriptions of dishes for monolingual English speakers. Dishes range from decadent seafood fare to traditional Mexican street food. Myra Colmenero recommended the Camarones ala Diabla and the Caldo de Pescado or Camaron for seafood lovers.
For those seeking an authentic Mexican experience, she suggested the steak torta and the chili verde, a dish that features pork and potatoes swimming in homemade verde sauce. All the meat at Charly’s is marinated and prepared in-house with original recipes.
Taqueria El Cunado
Taqueria El Cunado is near the Springdale Public Library, the Springdale Youth Center, and Murphy Park, making it a lovely location for taco picnics. Employee Cristina Herrera recommended the alambre tacos, which are made with fresh tortillas, chopped steak, bacon, sweet peppers, and mozzarella cheese. Another signature dish is Cunado’s tlacoyos, which are unique because the beans are mixed in with the masa base.
Taqueria El Rey
Maria Medina works in the kitchen slapping tortilla dough from hand to hand with a methodical rhythm learned from more than 40 years in taquerias. Maria has worked for taquerias from Mexico to Springdale, bringing her recipes and experience with her. She began cooking when she was 7, helping her grandparents, and later her mother, who all operated eateries in Mexico.
As an adult, Maria owned and operated a torta restaurant in the capital of Mexico, where she sold more than 500 tortas a day, until she moved to the United States. This is where her special “Torta Chilanga,” or capital torta, originated. After moving to Springdale, she worked as a cook in local taquerias, until her son encouraged her to use her culinary talent and helped her open Taqueria El Rey.
The food at Taqueria El Rey is all prepared from scratch, and the ingredients are from local Mexican markets, employee Jessica Sanchez said.
Taqueria Don Güero
Don Güero is an ideal place to swerve off the Razorback Regional Greenway and grab an authentic taco. This taqueria is the closest to the trail and serves fresh food prepared from family recipes. The couple working the taqueria have kept the restaurant a family-run business, with their son as the only other employee. While other taquerias have operated in the location, Taqueria Don Guero is in its second year of operation.
These sister taquerias feature a sprawling menu full of traditional Mexican and some Salvadorian food. The original Guanajuato is easily recognizable from Thompson Street as a Springdale staple. There has been a taqueria in that location for 20 years, employee Marisa Carrillo said. It has been under its current ownership for eight years and is known for the authentic tacos and huge burritos, she said. The tortillas for their tacos are not made in-house, but certain items, such as the gorditas, are handmade, she said.
The second location was born to accommodate the large crowds that couldn’t fit into the first location’s cozy atmosphere. Employees at both locations said that the two menus are nearly identical, but the second has more room and a greater selection of alcoholic drinks, such as margaritas. One menu item at Guanajuato 2 that is not commonly seen in taquerias is the Quesadilla de Maiz, which is a quesadilla created from a corn flour base. Another is the tlacoyos, a toasted bed of masa topped with red or green salsa, cheese, sour cream, onion, and cactus or steak.
This taqueria is the farthest from the center of Springdale, while managing to be fewer than three miles from most of the taquerias, making this the most convenient destination for those coming into Springdale on Old Missouri Road. The menu features traditional items and does not have an overwhelming or complicated selection. Taqueria employee Luis Vargas pointed out the restaurant’s colorful bionico (fruit salad) on the menu and explained that they are particularly proud of the dish, which is filled with mango, strawberry, peach, banana, and raisins, and topped with sweet cream.
The large brick building with 3-foot-tall neon letters that read “TAQUERIA MEXICO” has been familiar to U.S. 71 travelers for more than 17 years. The easily accessible location offers speedy, clear-cut service with a drive-through, making it an ideal choice for those in a rush. Employee Naomi Calderon said that Taqueria Mexico’s tacos are the cheapest in town, at $1.29 each. For dine-in customers, they offer free refills on aqua frescas, a traditional fruity beverage that is typically pricier than refillable fountain drinks. Taqueria Mexico’s most popular items are their burritos and the aqua frescas.
Exploring the Springdale Taco Tour
1. Charly’s Taqueria
1830 S. Pleasant St., Suite F
Mon. to Thur. 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Fri. to Sun. 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
2. Taqueria El Cunado
700-A S. Thompson St.
Mon. to Fri. 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Sat. 6 a.m. to Sun. a.m. (doesn’t close)
Sun. 12:01 a.m. to 1 a.m. (Mon.)
3. Taqueria El Rey
522 S. Holcomb St.
Mon. to Sun. 9 a.m. to midnight
4. Taqueria Guanajuato #1
103 N. Thompson St.
J Sun. to Thur. 7 a.m. to midnight
Fri. 7 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Sat. 7 a.m. to 4 a.m.
5. Taqueria Guanajuato #2
812N. Thompson St.
Mon. to Thur. 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Fri. to Sat. 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sun. 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
6. Taqueria Don Guero
332 E. Emma Ave.
Mon. to Sat. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sun. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
7. Alex’s Taqueria
2323 S. Old Missouri Road, Suite B2
Mon. to Sun. 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
8. Taqueria Mexico
1205 S. Thompson St.
Sun. to Thur. 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Fri. 8 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. (Sat.)
Sat. 8 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. (Sun.)
A Beginner’s Guide to Taco Meat
Carne Asada - This broiled steak is a basic taco meat for the cautious eater. The meat is usually slightly seared and seasoned, and cut into manageably small pieces. Each taqueria has different recipes for their carne asada marinades, but they all end up with the meat sizzling on the grill.
Al Pastor - This is the Mexican version of a gyro or shawarma. A1 pastor is pork that has been marinated in varying spices, slowly roasted on a rotating vertical spit. The meat is shaved off the spit and onto the taco with a large knife and is usually served with slices or chunks of pineapple.
Chorizo - Chorizo has gained significant popularity as its bright red color and spicy flavor finds its way into dishes across the country. Chorizo is smoky pork sausage that is typically made with chili peppers, which give it its flavor and color. While often found in breakfast dishes, chorizo is frequently a choice of taco meat as well.
Carnitas - Pork simmered in a copper pot, left to soak up juices and seasoning for hours until fall-apart tender - this is the template for traditional carnitas. Most taquerias will feature this rich meat on their menus, and for good reason. The cooking method leaves the meat tender, with a crispy exterior.
Chicharron - This Latin American food is crispy, fried pork belly, which closely resembles pork rinds. Chicharron is often seen in meat cases under butcher glass in long sheets, but can be converted into taco meat with some salsa-soaking.
Alambre - Steak, bacon, grilled peppers, and onions, topped with cheese: This is the description of one the area’s most ubiquitous dishes. Alambre can be found in most Springdale taquerias, but each eatery adds its own twist to the popular item.
Barbacoa - Barbacoa’s similarity to barbeque is no coincidence. The two cooking methods are similar, but barbacoa often consists of cow head parts, such as cheek meat. The meat is usually fatty, tender, and like a pot roast in flavor and consistency.
Buche - This is pork stomach that has been slowly stewed until tender. As with most organ meat, buche must be expertly prepped and cooked to avoid a feral taste. Most taquerias have the know-how, and the meat shows up on the taco diced, juicy, and colorful.
Cabeza - Head meat is often seen in traditional foods across the globe, and this taco meat is sticking with that tradition. Cabeza tacos will often feature meat from on, in, and around a cow head, including cheek, tongue, lips, ears, and eyes. Each taqueria’s cabeza is a little different, but whatever meats are included, they are usually steamed or grilled.
Lengua - Beef tongue is not typically on the menu for most Arkansans, but lengua tacos are not an uncommon feature on taqueria menus. The tongue is typically boiled, skinned, seasoned, roasted, and chopped, losing its tongue-like look before it makes its debut on a taco.
Tripas - This taco meat features the small intestines of farm animals. The intestines are cleaned, boiled, and grilled. Tripas can become rubbery if the cook doesn’t take care, but they are tender, crispy, and flavorful when correctly prepared.
Vegetarian options - Note that nopales (cactus) may be ordered in place of meat at most establishments.
Editor’s note: Special thanks to Bertha Gutierrez for her assistance in creating this story.