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Top tacos on LI: Must-visit restaurants

Tacos are the ultimate grab-and-go cuisine. But just because they're portable doesn't mean they shouldn't be made with care.

These LI restaurants create tacos with first-rate ingredients, from making the soft corn tortillas from scratch to slow-cooking meats until they're melt-in-your-mouth sumptuous.

The Gourmet Whaler

The Gourmet Whaler (111 Main St., Cold Spring
Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz-Gordon

The Gourmet Whaler (111 Main St., Cold Spring Harbor): Fried flounder stars in excellent fish tacos with slaw, chipotle mayo and peach-mango salsa at this restaurant and food shop. More info: 631-659-2977, gourmetwhalerny.com

El Paso Authentic Taco Grill

El Paso Authentic Taco Grill (787 Conklin St.,
Photo Credit: Newsday/Rebecca Cooney

El Paso Authentic Taco Grill (787 Conklin St., Farmingdale): El Paso does tacos with aplomb. Owner Edward Hernandez's family is Salvadoran, but the tacos here, templated by Hernandez's 67-year-old mother, are based on recipes from Guerrero, Mexico. Though the corn tortillas come from an outside tortilleria, most everything else is in its place: The tumble of cilantro and minced onions, the floppy radishes and wedges of lime, and fillings that run the gamut from smoky al pastor to seething chorizo. The restaurant recently introduced carnitas, marinated pork that's cooked for three hours then laced with chili sauce. The standout is the sublime, garlicky shrimp taco, which throbs with heat and finishes with an almost pickle-like tang. Ask for extra red and green salsa -- both are made here, and both are what you want. More info: 516-752-1872, elpasotacogrill.com

Nelly's Taqueria

Nelly's Taqueria (356 W. Old Country Rd., Hicksville):
Photo Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

Nelly's Taqueria (356 W. Old Country Rd., Hicksville): This is the tiny taqueria that could: Once upon a time, Will Colon and his wife, Nelly Palacios, served their tacos from a pizzeria on Old Country Road, but eventually turned it into a taqueria so busy that they've had to push the counter back three times to make room for more seats (there are now about 35, as well as a newly installed bank of frozen margarita machines). They may owe some of that success to the excellent house-made flour and corn tortillas, 50 pounds of which are pressed in the back each day. Colon, who grew up in Houston, says the tacos at Nelly's are based on recipes from his family in the border city of Matamoros, Mexico -- and they include spit-roasted al pastor, which is served eight different ways. Try the skirt steak tacos (there are 12 versions of those), deeply flavorful and tender sliced meat anointed with crumbled queso fresco and punchy citrus salsa. More info: 516-261-9177, nellystaqueria.com

El Mercadito

El Mercadito (519 Union Ave., Westbury): This business
Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

El Mercadito (519 Union Ave., Westbury): This business includes both a deli and, two doors to its left, a restaurant, both of them across from the Long Island Rail Road tracks in Westbury. The owner is from Mexico, but management is vague beyond that. What's clear is that they know some talented painters -- almost every surface of the restaurant, from booths to ceiling, is covered in vivid rural scenes, for an almost psychedelic effect -- and keep their tacos simple, but dense with flavor and heat. The chewy taco bistec, filled with marinated and grilled steak, is popular here, and the carnitas taco is supple and tangy, and dressed simply with cilantro, onion and wedges of lime. More info: 516-338-6346

Cochinita Porky

Cochinita Porky (1068 Long Island Ave., Deer Park):
Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

Cochinita Porky (1068 Long Island Ave., Deer Park): This food truck is slightly hard to find -- it's parked by an auto body shop in an industrial part of Deer Park -- but impossible to miss, once you do: A bubblegum-pink rig with floppy metal ears, a curved metal snout and lights for eyes. Chef-owners (and sisters) Maidy and Katherine Estrada keep their taco menu succinct, with four versions to choose from. They include one of Long Island's only renditions of barbacoa tacos (well, other than at Chipotle), braised and shredded beef with the texture of wet silk. The Estradas' version is melting, gently spicy and a little bit sweet. Another winner is the carne adovada, slow-cooked pork loin spiced with achiote paste and red pepper. The al pastor taco, dolled up with bits of pineapple, is no slouch, either. More info: 631-894-8792

El Primo Taqueria y Pupuseria

El Primo Taqueria y Pupuseria (704 Portion Rd.,
Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

El Primo Taqueria y Pupuseria (704 Portion Rd., Lake Ronkonkoma): The hot bar at this no-frills spot is heavily stocked with Salvadoran and other Central American stewed meats and fish, but owner José Benitez also turns out a fantastic suadero taco -- brisket boiled in spices and beer for hours, then browned on the grill and loaded onto an oily tortilla with cilantro, slivers of red onion and diced tomato. It's tender, beefy, peppery and just about perfect. More info: 631-285-2399

Mexican Grill 2000

Mexican Grill 2000 (703 Medford Ave., Patchogue): Both
Photo Credit: Bruce Gilbert

Mexican Grill 2000 (703 Medford Ave., Patchogue): Both the chef and owner of this tiny, bright, perpetually bustling taqueria come from Puebla, where they must make a mean lengua taco -- because the version here, boiled for 2 1⁄2 hours with garlic, onion and spices, then sautéed before serving -- is dreamy. Also worth a whirl are the fish tacos filled with strips of fried flounder and topped with shredded red cabbage and a tangy, mayo-based sauce. Spritz over some lime, slather on some salsa verde (multiple versions of salsa are available from a self-serve bar) and savor the tumble of crunch, salt and puckery tartness. More info: 631-207-6554, litrade.net/mexicangrill

Taqueria Mexico

Taqueria Mexico (709 E. Main St., Riverhead): The
Photo Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

Taqueria Mexico (709 E. Main St., Riverhead): The town of Riverhead deserves a taco shoutout: It has not one, not two, but at least three excellent taco places. Clocking in at 14 years and counting is Taqueria Mexico, owned by Toluca, Mexico, native Rolando Mancilla. It has modest looks -- a cluttered counter, a few tables, a television overhead -- but house-made tortillas you could probably feast on alone, hot and salty and slightly charred. The kitchen uses achiote in the marinade for its addictive al pastor, which is slow-cooked in an oven until tender and served dotted with pineapple, cilantro and minced onions. Instead of chorizo, the kitchen fills tacos with jalapeño-laced longaniza sausage and occasionally has cochinita pibil, the Yucatan's version of barbecued pork that's not easy to find here. More info: 631-208-2902

Mamey Taquería

Mamey Taquería (122 N. Carll Ave. Babylon): This
Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

Mamey Taquería (122 N. Carll Ave. Babylon): This unassuming little place is turning out some decent tacos worth seeking out including this trio featuring al pastor, carne asada and chicken. More info: 631-539-9144, mameybabylon.com

Lucharitos Taqueria and Tequila Bar

Lucharitos Taqueria and Tequila Bar (119 Main St.,
Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

Lucharitos Taqueria and Tequila Bar (119 Main St., Greenport): Tacos at Lucharitos are best ordered traditional style, in soft corn tortillas topped with salsa verde, pickled radish, chopped onion and cilantro. More info: 631-477-6666, lucharitos.com

Pinatas Mexican Grill

Pinatas Mexican Grill (601 Hicksville Rd., Bethpage): Among
Photo Credit: Timothy Fadek

Pinatas Mexican Grill (601 Hicksville Rd., Bethpage): Among the winning soft corn tacos at Pinatas Mexican Grill are the spicy chorizo, the succulent tongue and the authentic fish tacos. Request sauce on the side. More info: 516-681-8282, pinatasmexicangrill.com

Taqueria Cielito Lindo

Taqueria Cielito Lindo (29 E. Main St., Riverhead):
Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Taqueria Cielito Lindo (29 E. Main St., Riverhead): The menu is impressive at this Riverhead eatery, with tacos that feature handmade soft corn tortillas, savory pozole rojo and a unique spin on the Cubana torta. This taco trio (from left): campechanos (in the style of the province of Campeche, made with several different kinds of meat), de lengua (tongue), and al pastor (shepherd style, with spit-roasted pork and grilled pineapple). More info: 631-591-0732

Coastal Kitchen & Daiquiri Bar

Coastal Kitchen & Daiquiri Bar (12 E. Main
Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz-Gordon

Coastal Kitchen & Daiquiri Bar (12 E. Main St., Bay Shore): This spot serves satisfying fish tacos made with pan-roasted flounder and grapefuit-habanero salsa. More info: 631-665-3030, coastalliny.com

DJ’s Clam Shack

DJ's Clam Shack (3255 Sunrise Hwy., Wantagh): Fish
Photo Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

DJ's Clam Shack (3255 Sunrise Hwy., Wantagh): Fish tacos here are made with either fried (pictured) or grilled mahi mahi. More info: 516-900-1400, djsclamshackwantagh.com

Besito

Besito (399 Montauk Hwy. West Islip): Pork costilla
Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

Besito (399 Montauk Hwy. West Islip): Pork costilla tacos at Besito feature slow-cooked baby back ribs tossed in an agave chipotle sauce. More info: 631-620-3222, besitomexican.com

The Local

The Local (7 Depot Pl., Babylon): Mini duck
Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

The Local (7 Depot Pl., Babylon): Mini duck tacos are stuffed with local duck, shredded veggies and mashed avocado, then slathered with maple-chipotle sauce at The Local. More info: 631-983-8900, localbabylon.com

Doma Land + Sea

Doma Land + Sea (490 Chestnut St., Cedarhurst):
Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

Doma Land + Sea (490 Chestnut St., Cedarhurst): Barbacoa beef-brisket tacos are accented with jalapeno, pickled red onion, lime and cilantro at Doma Land + Sea. More info: 516-881-7712, domalandsea.com

5 de Mayo

5 de Mayo (611 Old Country Rd., Westbury):
Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz

5 de Mayo (611 Old Country Rd., Westbury): Whether it's an order of carnitas, chorizo or beef tongue, palm-sized tacos arrive in a flour tortilla double-layered, dressed with finely chopped cilantro and tomatoes, and served with salsas, rice and beans at 5 de Mayo. They're straightforward and satisfying. More info: 516-280-7795, 5demayomexican.com

ToA Asian Fusion

ToA Asian Fusion (122 Secatogue Ave., Farmingdale): Crisp
Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

ToA Asian Fusion (122 Secatogue Ave., Farmingdale): Crisp lobster tacos at ToA Asian Fusion are served with mango salsa and jalapeños. More info: 516-777-8888, toaasianfusion.com

JR El Rodeo

JR El Rodeo (130 Montauk Hwy., East Moriches):
Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz

JR El Rodeo (130 Montauk Hwy., East Moriches): Fried tacos dorados with chicken and cheese are served at this Mexican spot. More info: 631-909-2666

Wildfeast

Wildfeast (10 W. Park Ave., Long Beach): Fish
Photo Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

Wildfeast (10 W. Park Ave., Long Beach): Fish tacos at Wildfeast are made with expertly fried hake. More info: 516-442-7284, wildfeastfoods.com

Salamander General Store

Salamander General Store (38 Front St., Greenport): Salamander
Photo Credit: Newsday / Erica Marcus

Salamander General Store (38 Front St., Greenport): Salamander General Store is famous for its fried chicken, but the fish tacos are every bit as good. The fish, crisp and light, are perfectly complemented by fresh green salsa and guacamole. More info: 631-477-3711, salamandersonfront.com

Oaxaca Mexican Food Treasure

Oaxaca Mexican Food Treasure (385 New York Ave.,
Photo Credit: Newsday / Joan Reminick

Oaxaca Mexican Food Treasure (385 New York Ave., Huntington): Authenticity and depth of flavor define the soft corn tacos at Oaxaca Mexican Food Treasure. Favorites include chorizo tacos, tacos al pastor (made with roasted spice-coated pork) and carnitas tacos with citrus-marinated pork. More info: 631-547-1232, oaxacarestaurantli.com

Pico Tequila Grill

Pico Tequila Grill (17 W. Main St., Bay
Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

Pico Tequila Grill (17 W. Main St., Bay Shore): Admirably, corn tortillas are house-made at Pico Tequila Grill, but you have to request them. A carne asada "street" taco (pictured) with grilled beef, salsa verde, onion and cheese is a treat. So, too, is a taco of pork, pico de gallo and avocado sauce. More info: 631-647-8907, picotequilagrill.com

Little Mexico

Little Mexico (280 Post Ave., Westbury): At genuine
Photo Credit: Newsday / Erica Marcus

Little Mexico (280 Post Ave., Westbury): At genuine this Mexican eatery you can get all manner of soft corn tacos, including tacos de lengua, piled with succulent cubes of beef tongue, pork (pastor) and chorizo (sausage), plus all the fixings. More info: 516-333-2038

Chichimecas

Chichimecas (169 Main St., Farmingdale): This bi-level Farmingdale
Photo Credit: Johnny Simon

Chichimecas (169 Main St., Farmingdale): This bi-level Farmingdale Mexican restaurant serves authentic soft corn tacos al pastor, with roasted spice-coated pork, chopped onion and cilantro, chicken (pictured) and other choices, too. More info: 516-586-8646

Taqueria Mexico

Taqueria Mexico (709 E. Main St. Riverhead): Taqueria
Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Taqueria Mexico (709 E. Main St. Riverhead): Taqueria Mexico makes spare, elegant tacos with homemade tortillas. Try the toothsome tongue, the subtly fiery tacos de longaniza, or Mexican spicy sausage, and lush, braised pork carnitas (pictured), all topped with cilantro and chopped onion. More info: 631-208-2902

El Ranchito Mexican Grill

El Ranchito Mexican Grill (66 Larkfield Rd., East
Photo Credit: Newsday / Rebecca Cooney

El Ranchito Mexican Grill (66 Larkfield Rd., East Northport): Fine soft corn tacos are the rule at El Ranchito Mexican Grill. There's juicy beef tongue, smoky crisp carnitas (pork) and a fish taco (pictured) made with lightly breaded red snapper topped with cabbage and pico de gallo. More info: 631-262-9704

Señor Nacho

Señor Nacho (31 S. Middle Neck Rd., Great
Photo Credit: Jin Lee

Señor Nacho (31 S. Middle Neck Rd., Great Neck): Street tacos at Señor Nacho mean soft corn tortillas piled with your choice of filling, showered with cilantro and served with lime and sliced radishes. Best is the succulent tongue and spicy pork al pastor, featuring rotisserie-roasted marinated meat. More info: 516- 466-0011, senornachony.com

Mi Ranchito Bar & Grill

Mi Ranchito (195 Manorhaven Blvd., Port Washington): Authenticity
Photo Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

Mi Ranchito (195 Manorhaven Blvd., Port Washington): Authenticity informs the tacos Jalisco at Mi Ranchito: Soft corn tortillas are crowned with juicy, smoky cubes of grilled skirt steak showered with cilantro and chopped onion, plated with a spirited salsa verde. More info: 516-944-7926

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