Monday, May 1, 2017

Gringo Tacos in Illinois

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
-(Mostly) Crispy Fried Tacos in Illinois

With Cinco de Mayo approaching today's post seems perfectly placed. When it comes to guilty pleasures of the food variety there's one for me that is not only a guilty pleasure but also a passion. I'm talking about Gringo style tacos. When it comes to the gringo style taco there's really only one thing that makes a taco that. The fact it's enjoyed by a mostly gringo fanbase. Gringo Tacos can be the standard ground beef spiced with McCormick Taco Mix and topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, sour cream, cheese or they can be real deal tacos dorados from the local neighborhood tavern. In fact tacos have long been a staple of many bars and restaurants throughout the Midwest. In my search I've found countless places that have been making gringo style tacos for decades serving generations of fans. Sometimes the tacos are a standard menu option and other times they're on special once a week. One day I just may release a book or something on the old school Gringo-Mex food of the Midwest. But today we focus on five spots in the Land of Lincoln that are known for their gringo tacos.

Random Art on a Deserted Quad Cities Bar
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Roy's Taco House

Milan, IL

These old school gringo-mex spots are a dying breed and unfortunately I just learned that our first stop has closed after a four decade run. I visited this place maybe two years ago and loved it for the looks and feel. It felt like a place that hadn't changed one bit despite the fact we as Americans have come to learn what real Mexican food is. Roy's was stuck in a time warp and I loved it for that. Their tacos came offered three ways - soft, medium, hard. Medium being a lightly fried shell that was more chewy than crunchy. The loyals of Roy's said it was the secret spices they used in the ground beef which me to me tasted like the stuff you can get at Aldi. So it tasted like a gringo taco is supposed to taste. Roy's also offers Sancho's which I've seen on menus around Central Illinois. They're basically burritos stuffed with ground beef and cheese and then rolled. There may or may not have been beans.

Medium Fried Taco (back) Sancho (front)
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Manny's Pizza Too

Fulton, IL

Manny's Pizza has a few locations scattered about Central Illinois. One day a couple years back we stopped at Manny's Too in Fulton, IL right along the Mississippi River. Manny's got it's start in 1973 but it's not their pizza that people long for. It's their signature deep fried tacos. They're made the right way which means the meat is fried inside the tortilla with toothpicks holding them together. There's not much better when it comes to a beer snack than a deep fried taco and the patron's of Manny's can attest to that. These near perfect gringo tacos draw patrons from all walks of life.

Deep Fried Tacos from Manny's Pizza 
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Olde Thyme Inn

Sandwich, IL

I attended taco night (Wednesdays) at Old Thyme in by chance. I was in the area on work and wanted to eat somewhere before heading back into the city. I searched around and read that taco night here was the real deal. So of course I checked it out. They serve their tacos on soft shell burrito tortillas making them huge with the prospect of finishing two not likely. I think one thing that makes taco night at local taverns so abundant is the fact it's an easy make and sale. Most of the time the bartender will just scoop the beef out of a slow cooker and put it into a tortilla with toppings which is what happened at Olde Thyme. They were served to us within two minutes of ordering. Not bad.

Taco Night (Wednesday) at Olde Thyme Inn
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Ernie & Annie's

Granite City, IL

Ernie & Annie's is without a doubt one of the most blue collar bars I've ever sipped beer in. Located down near the MO border it's just steps away from a full fledged manufacturing plant. This was an interesting visit with the regulars walking in after work. Aside from ice cold bottles of Budweiser those regulars also love the tacos. These we're probably the most gringo of tacos I've ever ate. To my recollection they were nothing more than fried tacos with beans and a slice of melted American cheese topped with lettuce. In all honesty they were kind of a letdown as I had high hopes for the place but the bar itself was worth the visit. It was truly a part of America that time has passed by.

Fried Tacos at Ernie & Annie's
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Los Tres Amigos

Wood River, IL

Here's another Southern Illinois spot famous for it's fried tacos. Started by a Mexican immigrant who adjusted to the flavors of his new neighbors this place now has multiple locations down state. More than four decades later their fried tacos are famous in these parts. Deep fried tacos are big down in this area and they're often found at fairs and festivals which is where they started selling these some fifty years ago (1966). The famous tacos are offered two ways one with flour the other with corn (Baby Morales). What makes them slightly unique is the use of Parmesan cheese on top of shredded cheddar. Next time I'm down this way I plan on stopping back for a few more. See ya'll next time.

The Famous Joe Morales Tacos
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Roy's Taco House
121 4th St W
Milan, IL 61264
(309) 716-3066

Manny's Too
305 11th Ave
Fulton, IL 61252
(815) 589-2520

Olde Thyme Inn
109 S Main St
Sandwich, IL 60548
(815) 786-9700

Ernie & Annie's
935 Niedringhaus Ave
Granite City, IL 62040
(618) 877-5071

Los Tres Amigos
1822 Vaughn Rd
Wood River, IL 62095
618) 259-9730

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