I always thought a taco implied a hardshell. At least in the US, I grew up with the crispy yellow pre-folded U-shaped shells that were stuffed to the brim with ground beef, iceberg lettuce, flavorless tomatoes, and buried in orange cheddar cheese. Only after visiting Mexico (a lot), I learned, or at least I thought I did, that truly authentic tacos consist of double-layered soft corn tortillas -- each no bigger than 6-inches in diameter -- dotted with a sprinkle of meat. Turns out this was wrong, too. The contrast of authentic tacos being smaller in size with a soft shell versus the oversized crispy-shell impostors is overly simplistic. The texture, size, shape, and filling of authentic tacos varies tremendously. Some of Mexico's most delicious tacos are in fact hard-shelled, native to regions like Los Mochis and Baja California Sur.
At Taquería Liliana, just off Highway 1, the owner and her daughter serve unbelievably delicious hardshell tacos. The corn tortilla is shaped into a U and deep fried in canola oil. The frying process makes the fresh tortilla shell airy and puffy adding to its crisp. The piping hot tortilla shell is quickly filled with stringy strips of hand-pulled beef and lined with thick wedges of fresh avocado, tomato cubes, lettuce, a showering of queso fresco and a squirt of cream.
The tortilla spends no more than thirty seconds cooling in the air: once it is removed from the oil it is quickly filled and brought to the table. This quick service adds an unbelievable temperature contrast: a hot crispy shell shattering into cool and creamy avocado. It makes sense to order these no more than two at a time to prevent the shell from cooling.
The thin paper napkin beneath the taco absorbs excess oil, which is generally not too much. The sweetness of the avocado blends with the smooth cream. The chewy -- and practically saltless -- fresh cheese absorbs excess fat from the meat. The crisp lettuce and tomato somehow make each bite taste exceptionally fresh.
The tacos themselves are served with smooth red and green salsa, but frankly, they are so rife with moisture they really don't need any condiments.
These are truly some of the best tacos I've ever tasted. Taquería Liliana is a must-visit during any trip to San José.