Shanghai's best tacos

Eat through ten of the tastiest tacos and tostadas in Shanghai

From hole-in-the-wall Korean-style snacks to gourmet Bund-side bites, Time Out presents the ten tastiest tacos at Mexican restaurants, pop up taco stands, in the city including sesame tofu Asian tacos from Dixie Grill, shrimp tacos at Franckito, beef tongue tacos from Hai by Goga and more.

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Sesame tofu Asian tacos at Dixie

Sesame tofu Asian tacos at Dixie

This food-truck-style Asian taco is a vibrant fusion of flavours, the likes of which you might get from trendy roving restaurants in New York or LA. It boasts a glorious rainbow of toppings and textures deriving from strips of purple cabbage, fresh cucumber and pickled carrot. 

Tucked into this heap is a mound of kimchi, the sourness and fermented heat of which balances the clean, verdant flavours of the fresh vegetables. 

At the heart of the pile lies the tofu – tender chunks infused with earthy sesame. Instead of a typical tortilla, an Indian-style flatbread serves as the base, lending doughy chew with subtle sweetness. It may not be a traditional taco in the mould of say, Mex & Co in the Jingan Eco Mall (whose inconsistent preparation and relatively flat flavours saw them discounted from this list), but it’s easily one of our favourite taco takes in town. For carnivorous palates, similarly delicious fillings include pulled pork (25RMB) and juicy Cajun shrimp (32RMB).

The sesame tofu Asian taco is at Dixie Grill 688 Changle Lu, near Fumin Lu, Jingan district. See full venue details.

Fish ceviche tostadas at Dogtown

Fish ceviche tostadas at Dogtown

This sidewalk taco shack by the owners of neighbouring Sumerian Café features open-style tacos (tostadas) such as this chilled, light and refreshing ceviche variety – the perfect bite for peak outdoor temperatures. Its two fried corn tortillas are topped with bite-sized chunks of ultra-fresh raw sea bass. The garnish is a juicy, nearly thirst quenching tangle of fresh herbs and greens, brightened with citrus, coriander and jalapeño, and paired with paper-thin slices of radish and cucumber. 

The two other tostada options on the opening menu are a delicious pulled-pork variety (45RMB) – moist, slow-cooked meat packing cayenne heat and topped with homemade salsa – as well as a beautiful ‘ceviche’ of summer vegetables (45RMB). Each is crafted with care in the open mini-kitchen at this shop with outdoor-only seating, perfect for tacos al fresco.

The fish ceviche tostadas is at Dogtown 409 Shaanxi Bei Lu, near Beijing Xi Lu, Jingan district. See full venue details.

Beef barbacoa tacos at Dos Locos

Beef barbacoa tacos at Dos Locos

The Chipotle-inspired burrito specialist in the basement of the Jingan Kerry Centre is also home to this satisfying taco, built around a pile of imported Australian beef slow-braised in chipotle adobo. The moist shreds of meat, laced with garlic, oregano, cumin and cloves, rest on a soft flour tortilla and come with your choice of toppings, including fresh pico de gallo, crisp chopped romaine and gently cooked peppers and onions. 

Customise your heat levels with optional pickled jalapeño slices and a range of salsa options: corn chilli, fresh pineapple, roasted tomato and salsa roja. Bacon-baked pinto beans or vegetarian kidney beans add thick texture, while softness derives from sour cream and guacamole, which are available for an additional charge. 

Tacos here come in sets of three, so you can supplement your barbacoa with pork carnitas, grilled chicken or vegetable taco options. Weekday lunch specials come with a can of soda and a portion of lime tortilla chips for an additional 15RMB, while significant discounts on beer are available daily during happy hour (5-7pm).

The beef barbacoa taco is at Dos Locos Unit 11, B1, South Area, Jingan Kerry Centre, 1515 Nanjing Xi Lu, Tongren Lu, Jingan district. See full venue details.

Beef tongue tacos at Hai by Goga

Beef tongue tacos at Hai by Goga

Complex layers of flavour define this taco masterpiece, listed among the small-plate offerings on Hai by Goga’s Cali-Asian menu. Two soft corn tortillas support chunks of succulent, well-seasoned beef tongue. The coleslaw topping, which features fresh and crunchy shredded cabbage and carrots, gains heat and creamy moisture from a wash of spiced chickpea purée. 

Unlike offerings at certain other venues such as Peter’s Tex-Mex Grill, where seemingly little effort is put toward the preparation of their uninteresting tacos, this version’s greatness lies in details. 

Its smattering of dried cranberries comes as a tangy sweet surprise, while the sesame and pumpkin seeds studding the coleslaw contrast with nutty depth. They don’t come cheap – especially when you consider that you can get (admittedly not as gourmet) all-you-can-eat tacos at Mexico Lindo for 88RMB every Tuesday night – but when eaten on the restaurant’s outdoor terrace, with its romantic skyline views, they’re hard not to enjoy.

The beef tongue taco is at Hai by Goga Seventh Floor, 1 Yueyang Lu, near Dongping Lu, Xuhui district. See full details.

Pork tacos at La Coyota

Pork tacos at La Coyota

This tiny Mexican pop-up kitchen from well-established Tex-Mex catering company La Coyota (the brain child of Tamaulipas-native and former Mi Tierra chef Gabriela Fernandez) is the instigator of snaking queues along Wulumuqi Lu long enough to rival those of the nearby Avocado Lady. 

Originally slated for a run of only six months but now a permanent, if tiny, fixture inside the Mata Mata Bakery, La Coyota is a little more than a hotplate and a fridge, meaning options are limited, but the offerings are nonetheless some of the best in town. 

Alongside burritos, quesadillas and nachos, there are four perfectly-sized, incredibly cheap taco offerings (15RMB/chicken, pork, vegetable; 18RMB/beef). While the small salad in the soft corn tortilla feels like a token offering, we’re sold on the melt-in-your-mouth pork strips which have a subtle smoky barbecue flavour.

Pork tacos are at La Coyota Inside Mata Mata, 292 Wulumuqi Lu, near Wuyuan Lu, Jingan district. See full venue details.

Cilantro chicken and chorizo tacos at Mayita

Cilantro chicken and chorizo tacos at Mayita

Effectively a mini version of long-running Mexican favourite Maya (but with a spectacular, expansive terrace as an added bonus), Mayita offers a shorter menu than the Julu Lu staple, but no less quality on the plate. Perched part way up the Fraser Residences building across the road from Shouning Lu food street, the laidback, friendly restaurant offers five varieties of soft corn taco, with a combination of any three available for 75RMB. 

Frankly, we could have chosen any of their flavours, from the excellent blackened fish (27RMB/one) to the equally tasty lime beef (28RMB/one) with its deliciously punchy pieces of fruit – they’re all highly enjoyable. Marginally edging it as our favourite however, is the cilantro chicken and chorizo, with its main ingredients complemented by a mix of refreshing salad for a deeply satisfying bite.

Cilantro chicken and chorizo tacos (7) are at Mayita Sixth Floor, 98 Shouning Lu, near Xizang Nan Lu, Huangpu district. See full venue details.

Costra tacos at Mexo at The Bund

Costra tacos at Mexo at The Bund

Located in the Cool Docks, this Mexican restaurant originally launched with a gourmet menu of sophisticated Mexican cuisine and a few unusual twists on classics. However, they’ve recently expanded into more ubiquitous, crowd-pleasing Mexican fare including chimichangas and enchiladas. 

Their newly introduced tacos are corn tortillas served open-faced with both green and red salsas and a lemon wedge. Among the six varieties, our favourite is the juicy costra, made by melting cheese with spicy chorizo on a flat oven. 

The delectable garnishes, which add freshness, zest and creaminess to the final bite, include freshly chopped pico de gallo, avocado, sour cream, pickled shallots, coriander and chipotle mayonnaise. For the best taco deal, we recommend visiting on Tuesday nights, where they serve up five tacos plus a deliciously frosty margarita for an affordable 99RMB.

Costra tacos are at Mexo at the Bund Room 114, Bldg 3, 601 Waima Lu, near Zhongshan Nan Lu, Huangpu district. See full venue details.

Barbacoa tacos at Pistolera

Barbacoa tacos at Pistolera

Starring in this mouth-watering taco are shreds of slow-cooked beef, given bold flavour and heat from a soak in spiced tomato sauce. The salty, meltingly moist meat, whose shredded texture feels like pulled pork, is tucked into a soft flour or corn tortilla, or into a crispy fried shell. Smears of avocado cream and refried beans add depth, while a scoop of pico de gallo brightens with a burst of fresh acidity. 

This tender filling is a far cry from some of the other beef options we tried around town, including the al carbon steak taco from delivery company Taco Mama’s (45RMB/two) with beef chunks so tough we literally couldn’t even pierce them by fork, or the slightly dry strips of meat in Pizza To Go’s steak-filled crispy shell tacos (18RMB/ two). 

The difference here of course, is that you’re paying considerably more for your order, but the extra outlay is certainly worth it. The Pistolera order includes two tacos (with a side of rice and refried beans for an added 15RMB), but you can opt instead to try the barbacoa in combination with two other taco varieties for 75RMB, which works out to be great value for money given the quality. 

Also worth sampling are the tinga tacos (55RMB), whose heavy chipotle smokiness permeates a moreish filling of shredded chicken and tender cubed potatoes.

Barbacoa tacos are at Pistolera 855 Biyun Lu, near Huangyang Lu, Pudong. See full venue details.