What I call Des Moines style tacos are unique in that a handful of local places over the years will deep fry the flour tortilla shell giving it a fluffy and somewhat crunchy contour. Some places would actually roll the beef and into the shell and pop it down in a fryer for about 15 to 20 seconds. Unfortunately two of my favorite places that used to do their tacos that way - Lil' Nips Taco Village and Raul's - are long out of business. However, there is one establishment in Des Moines that still deep fries the flour tortillas - Tasty Tacos.
Tasty Tacos began in 1961 in what is described as a little "hole-in-the-wall" location in Des Moines. Richard and Antonia Mosqueda built the business from their first location into now five locations around the greater Des Moines area. A sixth location is expected to open in north suburban Ankeny this summer. The Mosqueda family is still involved with the business. Rick Mosqueda is the overall manager of the business, but is also well known in the Des Moines area as being a drummer for a number of blues-style bands over the years. Rick's brother, Andre, is a long-time disc-jockey who has his own local blues show on a local radio station in Des Moines. The food at Tasty Tacos is not very different from the time I first visited one of their places nearly 30 years ago.
I got into Des Moines late one evening and was looking for something quick before I checked into my hotel near the Des Moines Airport. I immediately thought about the Tasty Taco location on SE 14th St., a couple three miles east of where I was staying (see map). It was just before 9 p.m. when I pulled into the place. A worker was mopping the floor in part of the restaurant and a younger couple was enjoying their food toward the back of the place.
I knew exactly what I wanted when I got to the front counter and looked up at the menu - two original beef tacos. You can also get Tasty Tacos' original taco with refried beans, chicken or steak. Tasty Taco is more of a fast-food type of Mexican restaurant with a limited variety of Mexican food such as burritos, enchiladas, nachos and tostadas.
It was about a three minute wait before my number was called and I went up to the counter and picked up my tacos. The tacos came out in a plastic basket on top of wax paper - nothing fancy in the presentation, that's for sure. The shells were puffed up the way that I like them, but with a little crunchy texture to the outside edges. They were stuffed with ample amounts of seasoned ground beef, lettuce and shredded cheese. With the addition of some of their homemade salsa, the tacos had a little spicy kick to them. The taste and texture of the taco shell at Tasty Tacos is what sets them apart from other places that sell tacos. I just like that deep fried shell giving the taco a little more heft to the overall taste and feel of the shell.
Now, Tasty Taco is far from having what I would call authentic Mexican food. And there are a number of places in the Des Moines area that have a great selection of Mexican items on their menu. Lord knows there's enough Taco John's and Taco Bell fast food restaurants in the area. Tasty Taco's niche is right in between the national fast food and the local authentic restaurants and at a much better value. Tasty Tacos may have originated the deep fried taco shell in Des Moines. But if Lil' Nips and Raul's were still open, I would have to call Tasty Tacos my third favorite deep fried flour taco in the Des Moines area. But since Tasty Taco is the only one remaining, they - by default - make my favorite deep fried flour taco in Des Moines. And that's not a back-handed compliment to the restaurant - Tasty Taco's original flour tacos are still consistently very good and a nice treat for me from time to time. The Mosqueda family has been doing this for nearly 50 years and there's something to be said about consistency.