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Best Taco Stand

Losbetos Mexican Food
Five locations

READERS' PICK: Affectionately known as "Lobsters" by almost everyone we know, this humble line of Losbetos taco stands has taken over five former Rally's burger locations and converted them into a late-night godsend with mouth-watering Mexican take-out. Let's hope the fact that health inspectors closed down the Pima Street location for unsanitary conditions is just an anomaly, and not more proof that all things that taste good are bad for you. Stellar items at the remaining four locations include the chicken burro with cheese and the fish tacos, bursting with breaded white fish, lettuce and relish of fresh tomatoes, onions and cilantro with the all-important squeeze of lime. We also like that sour cream-mayo stuff you just can't get at home. Their refried beans are cooked in lard for sure, but they're a tasty indulgence. Combo meals are a great deal, with entrée of choice, beans and Mexican-style fried rice for under $5. Keep an eye out for the red-and-white drive-thru shack with the bright yellow signage. They're open 24 hours.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: In Tucson, otherwise laconic European descendants are often roused to fits of oratorical frenzy when discussing the merits of their favorite Mexican restaurants. Arcana such as salsa consistency and lettuce placement are debated with the same evangelical fervor that Pope Pius IV brought to the Council of Trent. In their paradigm, Taco Bell, with its 14 locations, is seen by these gastronomical critics, at best, as a contemptible impostor, a fast-food behemoth providing sanitized facsimiles of Mexican cuisine for benumbed American palates. We say that it's time for a paradigm shift. When viewed from the Kantian perspective of the "thing-in-itself," Taco Bell can be seen as a thing of beauty, particularly the low cost of its fare. On a recent outing, we ordered two Kid's Meals, two chicken rollups, three bean burritos, one order of nachos, two soft drinks, and a side of jalapeños. Total cost: $7.80! Plus, the corporation makes a real attempt to hire the handicapped. (And their restrooms are clean.) Crossroads fans: Try to accept the Bell into your hearts, or at least your vocabulary!

STAFF PICK: Tucson is rich in good Mexican eating. You don't have to look hard to find unhomogenized Mexican chow in this town. Birrería Guadalajara has been around more than a decade and has a larger sister venue serving some good seafood and live entertainment, Gran Guadlajara. Birrería is indeed small. But the three tables and five counter stools inside, and six picnic tables outside, on the southeast corner of Fourth Avenue and 22nd Street, are often full at lunch even on the hottest summer day. Whatever wait there is, is worth it. Birrería, as their name implies, is known for the enclosed-steam-cooked and seasoned meat dish that is traditionally of cabrito, young goat. Many believe it's an acquired taste, so it's hard to find often here. While tacos de cabrito are on the menu, Birrería rarely serves the original, using beef for their birria instead. Try the carne asada burro for $3.50, and if you ask they'll put white cheese inside for a bit more. The grilled beef is moist, without char, lightly seasoned, and made to go with the cascabel pepper sauce they serve in little cups. The tortillas are light, and just elastic enough to hold all that's within without breaking with a spurt. There are also tortas, Mexican sandwiches made with fresh oval-shaped rolls, including pork leg meat and beef birria roasted in seasonings and natural juices, both topped with cheese and sauce, and served with refried beans and a bit of salad topped by sharp radish slices. For larger appetites, there's a large combination plate (for $4.95) with carne asada, beef birria, cheese quesadilla, a lightly fried beef flauta, and beans. Heck of a meal for under $5.

Case History

1998 Winner: Los Betos
1997 Winner: BK Hot-Dogs
1996 Winner: Los Betos

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