ELV note: Unbekownst to us, 2 hours before we posted this today, Desnudo Tacos announced on its Facebook page that it would be shuttering operations at the end of this week due to a lease dispute. As much as it saddens us to hear this, we ‘ll stick by our pick of it as an “essential” Las Vegas restaurant (yes, the food is that good), and keep on the lookout for the new location — which we are confident will happen soon.
47. DESNUDO TACOS
Las Vegas might not have the Mexican food chops of San Diego or Tuscon, but ever since Desnudo Tacos opened earlier this year, things have been looking up. These aren’t just the best street tacos in town, they’re also the most interesting, using good ingredients and spicing them to a fare thee well.
The whole enchilada is a Chris Palmieri/Christian Dolias production and was inspired by Palmieri’s work with Rick Bayless, and it shows. There is a certain pride on display here that honors the authenticity in the master’s work, while giving it a spin all their own.
The hole-in-the-wall location on the edge of Chinatown looks like a Hell’s Angel with an artistic streak threw it together, but whether you’re into the Mexican-biker-bar look or not, you’ll forget the rough-hewn surroundings as soon as the food shows up.
All told we’ve had five different tacos, one burrito, the rice, the beans (more on them in a minute), and the best goddamn guacamole in the whole goddamned town.
The Chivo (stewed goat meat) and Tinga Poblana (slow-braised pork shoulder) are the featured menu items with good reason. Each highlights its soft, silky meat with the appropriate accents:
…lots of herb-y greenery — avocado and banana leaf, cilantro and guajillo chile — accent the goat, while creamy chipotle, tomatillos, roasted garlic, avocado and crema emphasize the pork’s sweetness without overwhelming it. Adding house-made chorizo to the mix is a stroke of artery-hardening genius. Achieving balance and harmony this complete in a corn tortilla is not something your average taco fan is used to. But Desnudo Tacos are to your average taco what great Mariachi music is to bad pop — filling your senses with layers of flavor, not one-dimensional pablum.
As for the other three tacos we’ve tried, the carnitas — pork shoulder braised in fresh lime juice, sprinkled with lime queso fresco (fresh Mexican cheese) — is the clear winner, but the pollo (chicken with pumpkin seed sauce) and carbon (marinated skirt steak) are no slouches either.
Taking a page from the Rick Bayless cookbook, each pops with the taste of good ingredients, freshly prepared — not prepared from a can. Even such shopworn staples as beans and rice — commonly known around the ELV household as the side of the platter that gets scraped into the garbage — are given new life by actually cooking them on premises and not reducing each to a pile of tasteless mush and starch. Take a bite of either and two things will happen: your eyes will get wide and you won’t be able to stop taking forkfuls of them.
All of this — the better groceries, thoughtful recipes and careful cooking — gives lie to the cheap, easy to fill up on reputation of most Mexican-American food. To the average American fast-food consumer — weaned on four buck, double-taco specials at a drive-through joint — the $6.50 price tag for one Desnudo order (for two) will seem high. But to those who want to take their tacos to a higher level, and see why this food got popular in the first place, it’s time to get naked.
Rick Bayless would be proud of what his acolytes have done, and we at ELV are proud to name this little joint as an essential Top 50 restaurant . No eating tour of our humble burg would be complete without it.
Favorite dishes: Get the tacos….all of them. And the guacamole….and the tortas…and everything else on the menu.
3240 Arville St.