When Jim Knudson bit into his first taco during dinner at a friend's house in 1949, he knew he had tasted something special. He added the item—which many diners were pronouncing "tay-co"—to the menu at his restaurant in Grass Valley, California. Determined to introduce the food to as many people as possible, Jim and his wife, Margaret, converted a 16-foot trailer into a kitchen on wheels. They adopted the nickname Jim had earned from one of his longtime customers and drove up to Lake Tahoe, where Jimboy's Tacos found its first permanent home.
Locals, tourists, and even members of the Rat Pack flocked to the tiny taco stand for the uniquely seasoned, parmesan-dusted ground-beef taco, the anchor of a growing menu. The family eventually relocated to Roseville, California, where they set up a small taco stand and began branching out to other locations in and around Sacramento.
Today, Jim Knudson’s daughter Karen, the current president of the company, carries on the legacy of taco obsession at more than 40 locations in northern California and Nevada. Guests who arrive early for breakfast might glimpse the cooks slowly simmering beans, mashing avocados into guacamole, and preparing their signature ground beef with trans-fat-free oil. In addition to classic corn-tortilla tacos, the menu holds the mega-size flour-tortilla El Gordo, golden-fried taquitos, and even a taco burger that fuses Mexican and American culinary traditions.
Frida's Mexican Grill serves up an extensive menu of Mexican staples inside a festive space adorned with portraits of the eatery's namesake painter. The menu showcases tacos, burritos, and fajitas, as well as an assortment of specialties such as Jalisco-style carnitas and chicken breast served with a rich mole sauce. Behind the bar, shelves teem with a wide selection of tequilas and other libations for of-age guests.
La Taquiza Fish Tacos' bilingual salsa slingers prepare marinated meats and seasoned seafood, which can be flame-grilled California-style or battered and fried to Baja-style perfection. The menu's burritos, tacos, and tazons come stuffed with a choice of eight fillings, including carne asada, veggies, shrimp, and grilled octopus. Maws can gnaw on carne asada wrapped in a burrito's passionate embrace ($7.50), or they can clamp down on a pair of Taco Taquiza's tacos loaded with creamy potatoes, salted fried fish, and salsa as smoky as a humidor filled with jerky ($3.50).
Started in 1999, Viva Mexico Grill & Cantina serves up south-of-the-border flavors for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And although most of the menu is reserved for classic dishes like enchiladas, fajitas, and quesadillas, the chefs leave themselves room to play. For example, they pair scrambled eggs with cactus and place guacamole inside and atop the shrimp burrito. Guests can wash it all down with margaritas from the cantina, which is stocked with bottles of 100% agave tequila from a tequila-bottle tree.
Aqueous hues of neon blue and purple wash over visitors to Agave Grill as they take a seat beneath a larger-than-life strip of sinuous camera film. This cinematic environ hosts cuisine blending traditional Mexican dishes with Spanish influence, mimicking the confluence of cultures in Latin America. In addition to steaming enchiladas and burritos, chefs create entrees of tender marinated carnitas or steak picado covered in cayenne-pepper sauce. Schools of seafood populate the kitchen's specialty roster, from fresh-fish tacos to paella—in which simmering saffron rice is surrounded by sausage, scallops, prawns, and other morsels. Beneath bas-reliefs of Aztec and Mayan-style masks, the staff serves libations from a lengthy library of tequila and mescal, neat or spun into margaritas.
Agave also boasts an attached nightclub, where spiraling lights surround the revelers within. DJs spin tunes in two different rooms, one devoted to salsa and Latin rock and the other thrumming with R&B and house music—which is not when furnace and faucet sounds sync up to the tune of “Born in the U.S.A.”
For generations, Ivalina and Adelio’s family have jotted down guidelines for crafting dishes in the tradition of Zacatecas, a north-central region of Mexico. Today, the father-daughter duo reap the rewards of their ancestors’ ingenuity and excellent penmanship at Memo's Mexican Cuisine, an eatery spotlighted by Check, Please! for its exceptional eats. Its chefs intertwine fresh ingredients, many hailing from local farmers' markets, and house-made sauces into dishes made fresh every day. Nicknamed The Royal Dish, chicken pipian is a signature dish and a traditional wedding-day entree, which showcases a chicken breast coated with an original sauce containing pumpkin seed, nine chilies, and 12 different herbs. At the bar, a wide selection of quality tequilas tempt shot glasses or find their way into margaritas. Catering services offer the same libations and fare without the restaurant's saffron and blue walls, which are partially obscured behind Mexican artwork.