About a month ago, I used this column to jump-start what became an extensive mission to find the best tacos in Merced County.
And my, how readers responded. Suggestions on the best taquerias around poured in. It didn’t take me long to realize it would be impossible to try every single place in a short time. So I tallied up the suggestions and narrowed it down to the top six places readers recommended.
According to Merced Sun-Star readers, the best tacos in Merced County are from Ramon’s Tacos in Planada, Tacos Hidalgo near Merced Liquor, Los Reyes Taco Shop in Merced, Los Serranos Tacos in Winton, Raul’s Mexican Catering in Atwater and Marco’s Tacos in Le Grand.
Each place I went, I ordered the same thing so I could compare apples to apples – or rather, asada to asada. I kept my order pretty simple: two asada tacos with all the fixings offered.
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Ramon’s Tacos: Tradition through the decades
Merced readers, you delivered. Most people said the best place was Ramon’s Tacos in Planada, and they probably were the best I tried.
Ramon’s Tacos is owned and operated by the Sanchez family – Ramon, 55; his wife, Teresa, 42; and their two college-age children, Xochitl and Ramon.
The Sanchez family has run their taco truck on the same corner at Highway 140 and Plainsburg Road for almost 20 years. The truck sits next to a convenience store and has a mini truck crafted out of wood for a tip jar. The novelty was a gift from a regular customer out of Mariposa.
Both Ramon and Teresa are from Michoacán, Mexico, but they didn’t meet until they both lived in Merced. Ramon traveled from one city to the next while working in Mexico doing all sorts of jobs, such as driving a taxi and selling cheese, Xochitl said.
He started making tacos at a nightclub in Planada called Tres Palmas in 1986. There, he got to know many people in the community. “There’s customers he’s known since they were 2, 3 years old,” Xochitl said. “Now, they have their own families.”
Ramon says it’s the “tradition” that makes the business successful.
Xochitl says Ramon is the best and fastest cook in the family. Unlike other taco trucks, which keep precooked meat heated, Ramon cooks his meat halfway and then finishes it off when a customer orders so it’s as fresh as possible.
“I’m not going to lie,” she said, “Sometimes on the weekend there’s a 25-minute wait. It’s like at a restaurant.”
Ramon’s also gives slices of avocados on their tacos for free. The tacos came with grilled onions and a jalapeño on the side, something I know many Latinos – maybe mostly my husband – would appreciate. Personally, the soft tortillas and snappy salsa made the tacos for me. Just writing about them makes my mouth water.
On a busy day, the Sanchez family makes around 900 tacos, as well as burritos, tortas and quesadillas.
Sometimes, if the family is running low on food, they’ll go down the road to Carnitas Barajas to stock up. “People think we don’t get along or that they’re competition, but that’s not true,” Xochitl said. “We actually help each other out.”
The family uses the business for community events, too. “Everybody respects him (Ramon),” Xochitl said. “He helps with the community and school.”
About 35 percent of the business comes from tourists heading to Yosemite. Those customers have left their mark on the business. Tourists leave currency from their homelands, signed with their names and the dates of their visit for Ramon. The bills line the outside of the truck. The keepsake started years ago with two bills, one from Mexico and one from a European country, possibly Spain, Xochitl said.
“There are bills from people from Mexico who never came back,” she said.
Michelle Hermosillol Esquivel, who works at schools in Planada, eats at Ramon’s Tacos at least once a week. She knows both the children from the schools.
“It’s my favorite truck in all of Merced County,” she said. “I come from Merced just to eat here.”
What makes it the best in the county? Hermosillo Esquivel says the people and the flavor.
“It’s nice to have a community member have a business that can sustain itself for so long,” she said. “Generations are able to eat and love the flavors they have and the friendliness of the people.”
Tacos Hidalgo and Los Reyes Taco Shop
My next two favorite taco shops were Tacos Hidalgo and Los Reyes.
Tacos Hidalgo had the most flavorful meat. The carne asada could probably stand alone in the taco. It was the kind of asada that melts in your mouth.
The truck, like Ramon’s, also included avocado slices with its tacos, along with onion and cilantro toppings.
I went during lunch, and there were many others who stopped on their lunch hour.
When driving up to Los Reyes Taco Shop on the corner of 16th and R streets, my husband saw the name and said, “Wow, that’s a bold statement.” (“Los Reyes” translates to “the kings.”)
The inside of the restaurant is a bit stark but clean. Like Ramon’s, it’s a family-run business.
The toppings also make the tacos from Los Reyes, in my opinion. The meat was definitely fresh.
Outside of taco news, Five Guys in the Raley’s shopping center on Yosemite Avenue finally opened. The burger joint was originally scheduled to open in May.
The day I lunched there, the line was out the door but moved quickly. I’ve eaten at the Fresno restaurant, so I knew what I wanted when I ordered. It tasted the way I hoped it would. Two of the three newsroom reviews were positive, though the price seemed to be a con.
Happy eating, Mercedians!