PROVIDENCE, RI – The tacos are authentically delicious. The tortillas are hot and fresh. The atmosphere is always festive. It may not actually be Mexico, but it sure does feel like it at Xaco Taco.

Brand new to Providence, Rhode Island, Xaco Taco is a 200-seat spot where fun is all around: from the dishes coming out of the kitchen; to the drinks served up at the bar; to the vintage Volkswagen van right in the middle of the dining room. According to General Manager Jeff Shabo, there is plenty to keep customers entertained.

“They can play some foosball that we have set up, go watch some Luchador wrestling on the TV, and it’s just the mix of people, and the food and the drinks just really creates a one of a kind atmosphere.”

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While fun is certainly part of the Xaco Taco experience, the food is probably the main reason to go, especially since Executive Chef Andy Pyle has such a passion for authentic Mexican cooking.

“I just love the flavors; I love the freshness, the spiciness, and just everything about Mexican food.”

Making this food the authentic way isn’t just a labor of love, it also happens to require a whole lot of labor.

“Ninety percent of Mexican food is labor, so we’re constantly making our fresh salsas, constantly marinating meats, constantly cooking meats,” Chef Andy said. “We make guacamole two or three times a day, we make our pico de gallo daily, and I think you can just really taste it in the food.”

Any great taco must start with a great tortilla, so at Xaco Taco, they are made in house, all day long.

“We source non-GMO, organic masa; we make the masa dough every day,” Andy explained. “Start it on the flat top, finish it on the grill which gets the tortilla to inflate, which is what makes a tortilla nice and tender. You smell the corn. You smell the freshness. They’re soft, they’re not hard. You can just tell that they’re homemade.”

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Carne Asada Taco at Xaco Taco (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

Those ingredients combine to make some truly outstanding tacos like the Al Pastor, with chunks of spit-roasted pork, pineapple, and red and green salsas; Carnitas with juicy braised pork, crispy chicharónes, Cotija cheese, and avocado tomatillo salsa; or the Carne Asada, loaded with citrus marinated steak.

“Carne Asada is by far the best selling taco at Xaco Taco,” Jeff said. “I think meat lovers rejoice over the fact that they’re eating some steak in a taco.”

Seafood lovers are pretty happy here too, whether they order the Seared Tuna taco with watermelon radish, chipotle mayo, and chia seeds, or the Baja Fish Taco featuring crispy local cod, pickled radish, cabbage, and Serrano crema.

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Baja Fish Taco at Xaco Taco (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

“It’s light, it’s crispy, it’s flavorful. You get the heat, you get the acidity from the pickles, and you get the texture and the freshness from the cabbage,” Chef Andy described. “It’s just a pleasure to eat.”

To go along with your tacos, you’ll definitely need some Queso Fundido, a gloriously gooey bowl of melted cheese, spicy chorizo, and roasted poblanos served with those fresh homemade tortillas.

“If you like cheese, queso fundito is absolutely the way to go,” Jeff declared. “You’re gonna have a little heat from that chorizo, combined with the sweet heat from the poblano, all that mixed combined is just one enjoyable appetizer everyone has to share.”

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Queso Fundito at Xaco Taco (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

You also have to share some simply delicious Guacamole.

“Fresh avocado, jalapeno, onion, lime juice, salt, a little bit of spices, and that’s it,” chef described.

Well, that’s not completely it. For just a dollar, you can add a bit of texture to your guac, in the form of something crispy, crunchy, and slightly creepy.

“You can add chapulines to them, which are grasshoppers. Literally a grasshopper,” Jeff explained. “They’re very, very big in the culture in Mexico. They’re dehydrated, and they add a little lime juice, a little chili powder to them and then we just serve them with our guacamole… Kind of tastes like a sunflower seed.”

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Guacamole with Chapolines (grasshoppers) at Xaco Taco (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

While the grasshoppers might make you bug out, you definitely won’t want to miss out on the Churro Doughnuts for dessert.

“You get five fried churro balls. So think a little bit of a munchkin, a little puffier,” Jeff described. “ Make that batter every day, drop them in the fryer, and as they fry, they puff up, and we toss them in some cinnamon sugar, and we serve that with a spiced Mexican chocolate.”

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Churro Doughnuts at Xaco Taco (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

From the churros and tacos, to the tortillas and margaritas, a meal here feels a lot like a trip south of the border.

“It’s bringing you back to the streets of Mexico,” Jeff said. “That’s what we try to give our guests, the authenticity. You know if you can’t make it to Mexico, maybe you can make it to Providence Rhode Island and go to Xaco Taco.”

You can find Xaco Taco at 370 Richmond Street in Providence, and online at xacotacori.com.

Watch Phantom Gourmet on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 and 11 a.m. on myTV38.

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