10 Unusual Tacos Redefining the Genre (PHOTOS)

Chef Paul Qui doesn't think a taco needs to be bounded by a tortilla.
06/15/2015 10:16 am ET Updated Jun 15, 2016

Chef Paul Qui doesn’t think a taco needs to be bounded by a tortilla. While brainstorming for the Austin Food & Wine Festival in April, Qui and his team discovered that Japanese buckwheat soba can taste “even more like Mexico” than corn. The result? A soba fritter “taco” topped with aged beef tongue, crema, onions, avocado and coriander blossoms.

Qui is on to something: Foods from halfway around the world sometimes taste pretty similar. Mimi Sheraton recently proclaimed that West African food is going to be the next Big Thing, precisely because it reminds us of familiar dishes from New Orleans.

So let’s talk about tacos. I like to think that every culture has one. Here are 10 tacos that transcend fusion to be their own delicious category.

  • Octopus Taco at East Side King (Austin)
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    I’m not sure if it’s more fun to say “tako taco” or to eat this butter-poached octopus with vegetable ceviche in a fried moo shu wrapper. Chef Paul Qui turns the idea of the taco on its head with a crispy Asian-inspired homage to the Mexican original.

    Photo: Nicolai McCrary
  • Lamb Shoulder at Goa Taco (New York City)
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    This NYC darling forgoes the tortilla in favor of the Indian paratha (think buttery layers). Try the spicy recado rojo lamb shoulder with tzatziki and eggplant salsa to transport to India with a side of Greece.

    Photo courtesy of Goa Taco
  • Short Rib Taco at Kogi (L.A.)
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    Asia meets Mexico again at Los Angeles’ Kogi taco, where Korean bulgogi nestles into tortillas. They’re so good that they’ve inspired Korean-Mexican copycats around the country. The king of kings? Double-caramelized short rib with salsa roja, cilantro-onion-lime relish and chili-soy Kogi slaw on griddled corn tortillas.

    Photo: Eric Shin
  • Tuna Poke Taco at Beauty & Essex (NYC)
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    This clubby, extravagant spot on the Lower East Side doesn’t exactly feel like a laid-back vacation to Hawaii, but you might be transported with its fusion taco, tuna poke on crispy wontons topped with micro cilantro, radish and wasabi kewpie mayo to kick things up a notch.

    Photo courtesy of Beauty & Essex
  • Roast Duck Taco at Kung Fu Tacos (San Francisco)
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    Roast duck might be the crowning glory of Chinese cuisine, with its crispy skin and succulent flesh. This Daly City spot makes it even more irresistible by wrapping it in a corn tortilla and topping it with red onion and mango salsa.

    Photo: Tricia N. Soto / CheekyAttitude.com
  • Chicken Satay Taco at Fusion Taco (Houston)
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    So far we’ve hit Japan, Korea and China, but now it’s time to move on to Thailand. Long the standard appetizer of American Thai food, grilled chicken satay gets turned on its head with grilled onions, peanut sauce and red cabbage slaw in a thick tortilla at the creatively named Houston restaurant.

    Photo: Fushion Taco
  • Fried Paneer Taco at Velvet Taco (Dallas)
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    Fried cheese? Count us in. Rather than go with queso flameado, this spot transports us to India with indulgent cheese topped with tomato chutney, Thai basil, tikka sauce and raita crema on a flour tortilla. Good luck eating this one without making a mess.

    Photo: Velvet Taco

-- By Megan Giller