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.
The chefs at Plaza Jalisco make all the classics—carne asada tacos, spicy chicken fajitas, plates piled with vegetables and seafood. They toss sautéed shrimp into giant burritos, layer fish fillets into tacos, and fill enchiladas with a blend of spinach, mushrooms, and salsa blanca. They serve many different styles of seafood, with the siete mares—or the Seven Seas—pairing prawns, octopus, shrimp, scallops, fish, mussels, and crab simmered in their own juices. To complement these dishes, they have a full drink menu featuring a range of tequilas. These can be blended into house margaritas or enjoyed by themselves for a drink as elegant and energizing as a gloved slap in the face.
In 1962, Alberto Heredia and his wife, Carmen, flung open the doors of Carmelita's Restaurant, introducing a menu of tried and true family recipes from Puebla, Mexico. Now, a third generation of the Heredia family helps simmer carnitas and blend avocados into guacamole at two Carmelita's locations. The dining rooms, which are bedecked in vibrant knickknacks and paintings, let diners bask in bright colors without getting yelled at by a judge for bringing a kaleidoscope to court. Against the electrically hued backdrop, mariachi bands play on special occasions, their trumpets rising in warm spirals above fiddles and guitars.
Grilled sirloin nestled into sour cream-topped quesadillas. Saut?ed jumbo shrimp simmered in ranchero sauce. Cheese stuffed into battered Anaheim peppers. Such are the authentic delicacies whipped up by the culinary maestros of Sabores Mexican Cuisine, who concoct tacos, burritos, and enchiladas for dinner and lunchtime feasts. To bookend entrees, customers can commence meals with loaded nachos or end with a bowl of deep-fried vanilla ice cream.