Authentic Food, Reasonable Prices at Taqueria El Rey

By: Aaron B. Cohen | May 5, 2021

Photo courtesy of Taqueria El Rey.

In a city teeming with upscale, millennial-inspired taquerias, Taqueria El Rey, a hole-in-the-wall, Southwest Detroit mainstay, offers authentic, (absurdly) reasonably-priced Mexican cuisine that stands toe-to-toe with the city’s most impressive restaurants.

Vernor Highway marks the spot for Taqueria El Rey. You’ll see it coming from blocks away – or smell it, rather. Thick, spice-laden plumes emanating from the iconic smokehouse chimney. It is the contents of this unmistakable fog that foreshadow the unique, complex flavors housed within.

It is a taqueria. And if it’s Tuesday, you’ll get three, plus chips, salsa and a Jarritos Mexican soda for five bucks. Authentic meat selections including lengua (tongue), buche (fried pork stomach), cabeza (steamed beef head) and tripas (fried tripe) sit casually on the menu aside standard Mexican-American listings like carnitas, barbacoa and chorizo. They all come steaming hot atop a double-layering of house-made corn tortillas.

But there is more to this menu than tacos. Way more. To locals who live down the street and foodies who drive an hour for the meal, there is one dish that is absolute required ordering – the whole chicken dinner.

It’s dry-rubbed in their famous spice and grilled on an open flame, the byproduct of which billows out onto the bustling street. It’s as juicy as your favorite fried chicken, but eats healthier and presents a much deeper flavor profile. Topped with their completely-addictive green sauce, it’s undoubtedly one of the best bites in all of Metro Detroit.

Once you check the chicken off your list, there’s one more thing you gotta try. Turns out, the region’s best ribs aren’t necessarily affixed to Texas and Kansas City-inspired BBQ joints. At El Rey, you get a full slab of massive, barbecue sauce-drenched ribs for – wait for it – $16. To put that in perspective. Most half-slabs will generally run you at least twenty.

If you’re looking for a pro tip: (1) Separate the ribs with the provided steak knife. (2) Cut the meat off the bone. (3) Apply to your complimentary tortillas and top with rice, beans and green sauce. It may be the best taco you’ve ever had. But most lack that kind of patience. As soon as the plate hits the table, customers dive in head first, gnawing at the bones as if it’s their final meal.

If you’re going to celebrate Cinco De Mayo, do it right. You don’t have to be the one shocked by a $30 bill for two tacos and a marg. This year, you’re looking for the real deal. Once you try Taqueria El Rey, you’ll never see Mexican food the same.