Steaks are great, and salmon is grand, but sometimes what you really crave is a perfect taco, made by hand and with love -- and authentic expertise.

The tortillas have to be just so, preferably handmade and doubled-up to support the mound of flavorful chopped or shredded meat. We're talking authentic, delicious and slightly messy. And not one soul who asks if we want fries with that or attempts to apply sour cream with a caulking gun.

In short, a taco from a place like El Molino in Concord, Tacubaya in Berkeley or Tacos Uruapan Taqueria in Hayward. Yum.

Tortilleria El Molino

Address: 1500 Monument Blvd., Suite F1, Concord

Soft chicken todos made at Tortilleria El Molino in Concord, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group)
Soft chicken todos made at Tortilleria El Molino in Concord, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group) ( DAN ROSENSTRAUCH )

Contact: 925-687-7066; tortillaselmolino.com

Hours: 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and until 7 p.m. Sundays

The taco tab: One taco costs $1.99, a combination plate is $5.

El Molino is one of half a dozen taquerias in this Concord Mexican shopping complex, but it's the only one that doubles as a tortilla factory. You can see them -- all six kinds, including flour, wheat, corn and taquito-style corn -- rolling warm and fresh out of the oven as chefs stuff them with all sorts of marinated meats and goodies, including our favorite, the grilled steak (the secret's a marinade of lime and orange juices).

Perhaps the freshness is the reason the tortillas are so soft and tempting. If you like soft tacos, you also have to order the juicy chicken and the carnitas, or fried pork (they also offer fried pork skin, beef head and pork stomach). If you like them crunchy, the Tacos Dorados ($1.25 each) come generously filled with ground beef and potato and topped with lettuce, tomato, cheese, sour cream and red salsa. Yum.

Nothing at El Molino comes from a can, and the ratio of freshly diced white onions and salsa verde was, for us, spot-on. Wanna lose the carbs? Order your taco as a salad ($6.85) with your meat choice, rice, beans and all the fixings in a tostada. Wash it down with El Molino's famous horchata ($1.99) or a fresh medley from the juice bar (carrot, orange, beet and celery, $3). It doesn't get more authentic or affordable than that.

-- J. Yadegaran

Tacos Uruapan

Address: 29950 Huntwood Ave., Hayward

Contact: 510 581-1915; www.tacosuruapan.net

Soft steak tacos made a Tortilleria El Molino  in Concord, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group)
Soft steak tacos made a Tortilleria El Molino in Concord, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group) ( DAN ROSENSTRAUCH )

Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and until 8 p.m. Sundays

The taco tab: One taco is $1.65; a combination plate is $6.99.

Tucked along a busy boulevard in the industrial section of Hayward, this little taqueria, you might think, would not get much foot traffic. And you would be wrong, because Tacos Uruapan -- which began as a food truck in 1984 -- boasts a loyal fan base. It's easy to see why. The tacos are ridiculously tasty, and the range of fillings so vast -- 11 different types of meat, from carnitas to lengua (beef tongue) -- you'll be tempted to just say, "Surprise me." Or perhaps, "Surprise me, but I'll take a pass on that beef head."

Tacos Uruapan does other Mexican fare, including a dizzying array of burritos, flautas, enchiladas, tamales and other dishes. But go for the tacos. Small, soft tortillas are doubled up to contain the savory juiciness of the carne asada, braised pollo and other meats. In their no-fuss "regular taco" iteration, they're served with salsa ranchera for $1.65, or amped into Super Taco splendor ($2.99) with the addition of cheese, beans and sour cream. The combination plate ($7.99) includes a couple of tacos, plus beans, rice and guacamole. And chips. And warm tortillas on the side.

It's a winner for both wallet and taste buds.

-- J. Burrell

Tacubaya

Address: 1788 Fourth St., Berkeley

Contact: 510-525-5160; www.tacubaya.net

Hours: Open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays

The taco tab: The menu is a la carte; a taco is $3.75.

Upscale taqueria may sound like an oxymoron, but that's exactly what one ought to call this outpost of Oakland's beloved Restaurante Doña Tomás. Wander down Berkeley's trendy Fourth Street and duck into the colorful Tacubaya, next to Cafe Rouge and Market Hall. Stand in the long line, order at the counter, and then wait at a small table indoors or out on the patio while someone makes the tortillas, then fills them with grilled Niman Ranch beef, salsa roja, onions and cilantro, for example, or battered and fried pollock, chile arbol aioli and shredded cabbage. The tacos are pricier than other taquerias, but sustainably raised meat and organic produce are pricier ingredients.

Tacubaya offers a variety of other dishes, including breakfast fare (chorizo and scrambled eggs, chilaquiles, Huevos Divorciados, all around $8.50) as well as tortas (Mexican sandwiches), tostadas and enchiladas. But those tacos are addictive, and they come with a choice of six fillings, including a vegetarian bean and mixto cheese version.

-- J. Burrell