Food & Drink

Chef Eddie Hernandez’s Guide to Buford Highway

The Atlanta chef and co-owner of Taqueria del Sol shares his must-visit Mexican spots

Photo: Matt Taylor-Gross

Chef Eddie Hernandez.

Chef Eddie Hernandez asserts that he “doesn’t play by any food rules but Eddie’s.”

Born in Monterrey, Mexico, Hernandez has been ignoring any perceived borders of “authenticity” at Atlanta’s (and now Athens’ and Nashville’s too) Taqueria del Sol for twenty-two years, mixing Southern and Mexican ingredients and techniques with a deft hand and a commitment for educating diners through the simple hospitality of good food.

On his days off, he often visits some of his favorite Mexican spots on Buford Highway, an international corridor of culture and cuisine on Atlanta’s northeast side. But the strip mall-lined road wasn’t always the culinary hot spot it is now.

In 1987 when Hernandez began cooking at Azteca Grill in Atlanta—where he met Taqueria del Sol business partner Mike Klank—the restaurant was using canned tomatoes and pickled jalapenos to make salsa. “It was almost impossible to cook Mexican food because you couldn’t get anything here,” he remembers. When the chef decided to start using chipotle peppers, he shipped them from San Francisco.

“But by 1995 or ’96, Buford Highway began waking up when the Mexican meat markets started selling tacos to sell their meat,” he says. Soon festivals followed, then farmers markets, and now Hernandez can locally source hundreds of varieties of peppers from around the world, as well as a pretty delicious day-off lunch. Here are some of his favorite Mexican stops on Buford Highway, and what to order if you go yourself.

El Taco Veloz

5084 Buford Hwy. NE

Hernandez recommends: Chile relleno taco

“A taco is just a tortilla with anything you can put in it, and here owner Filiberto Prieto combines two of our favorites—tacos and chile rellenos. His cooks use the right poblano pepper, cheese, and the egg batter is exactly right. This combo of chile and tortilla is just one of my favorites.”

Photo: Matt Taylor-Gross

El Taco Veloz.

Photo: Matt Taylor-Gross

Poblano tacos from El Taco Veloz.

El Rey Del Taco

5288 Buford Hwy. NE

Hernandez recommends: Tripe and carnitas tacos and Coctel de Camarones “shrimp cocktail soup”

“Shrimp cocktail soup is a common soup throughout Mexico, and their version is more like the Jalisco style of it. I had a dishwasher for years who was a fabulous cook and made this soup, and this version is better than his. And the tripe and carnitas tacos here are really good too.”

Photo: Matt Taylor-Gross

El Rey del Taco.

Photo: Matt Taylor-Gross

From left: Al pastor taco; shrimp cocktail soup.

Taqueria Los Rayos

3473 Clairmont Rd.

Hernandez recommends: Barbacoa torta

“What I really like about Los Rayos is that it serves workers during the week, and then can also be a family Sunday place with posole and chile rellenos. And the tortas here are fantastic. You do a panini, sure, but we do sandwiches with beans, avocado, salsa, anything but the cook inside.”

Photo: Matt Taylor-Gross

From left: The specials menu at Taqueria Los Rayos; tacos at Los Rayos.

Photo: Matt Taylor-Gross

A barbacoa torta from Los Rayos.

El Mercado Fresco

4166 Buford Hwy. NE

Hernandez recommends: Exploring and discovering

“This place mimics the mercados in Mexico that have seventy to one hundred different stalls. It has a little of everything under one roof. I like that I can wire money, pick up medication, but also shop for anything I want to cook at home. The cactus, variety of greens, vegetables, and the meat market feel like home.”

Photo: Matt Taylor-Gross

From left: Tomatillos; Eddie Hernandez at the market; prickly pear cactus pads.