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The Tacos of Los Angeles

February 28, 2016 Prepared By Dax

Memories of Los Angeles usually include Hollywood, the Pacific Ocean and possibly a whole lot of time spent in traffic. But, they also can include great food from a wide cross section of different ethnic cuisines.

On my last trip to LA, I was looking for new tastes and flavors that not only defined the area but also defined an ethnic group. First up for me was the legendary LA Street Taco. Simple in construction (tortilla, meat, and topicals), it provides the perfect platform for innovation. When so many people love them (opportunity) there are always going to be new offerings (innovation)!

The LA taco tour

My LA taco tour took me around the entire LA basin. I traveled to the Pacific, downtown and east LA to hit a wide spectrum of street taco establishments. The ethnicity of the food included Mexican, Korean and even American.

I hit 12 different establishments that included both the traditional taco truck and also basic retail establishments (full restaurants or small bodegas). I built my list of top options by taking into account reviews of each establishment on sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, EatLA and many others. By cross-referencing the reviews, I was able to narrow the list of options down to the top 12.

I then looked for unique flavor profiles that would be both interesting and tasty. I found some commonalities but also some points that were different for each restaurant.

First off, what are the key characteristics of the basic “street taco?” Based on my research they are as follows:

  • Small in size but big in flavor
  • No cheese
  • 1-2 tortillas (small diameter: 3 to 4 inches), many of which are handmade
  • Homemade sauces on the side for your personal application
  • Some establishments had minimal fresh topping bars
    • Salsas
    • Onions
    • Cilantro
    • Limes
    • Radishes

Here are the eight establishments that made my short list of must-see street taco establishments.

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1. Leo’s Tacos (food truck)

  • What to get: Al pastor tacos
    • Pork marinated with spices, chilies, onions and pineapple
    • Cooked much like a gyros on a vertical grill
  • Traditional garnishes such as radishes, cilantro and onions
  • Topical sauces available
  • Great flavor and overall the best of the day!
  • They only accept cash, but the tacos are only a dollar each.
  • This one is located in an interesting part of LA so go during the day. The truck is parked in the lot of a gas station.

2. Kogi (food truck)

  • What to get: Korean braised short rib tacos
    • Asian flavor
    • Traditional garnish: Kimchi and Sriracha
  • One of the most famous of the food trucks. Great food and a must-have for every list; do not miss!
  • Make sure to verify the location of the three trucks prior to setting out, they have it listed on their website.

3. La Flor de Yucatan (bodega)

  • What to get: Conchita pibil taco
    • Marinated pork with spices, chilies and citrus
    • Habanero crema and pickled red onions, cilantro and lime
    • Citrus, spice, savory and sweetness
  • Don’t be fooled by how the building looks on the outside. This was one of the top three tacos with a very balanced flavor profile.

4. Mexicali Taco & Co. (building)

  • What to get: Carne asada
    • Marinated beef steak (skirt usually)
    • Taco was served with meat and a grilled scallion; choices were at a small bar
  • The meat was excellent with accents added to your taste! (Flour tortilla recommended.)

5. El Taco Nazo (building)

  • Diced onions, chopped cilantro and a lime wedge are available at the bar
  • What to get: Taco carnita
    • Sweet and savory fat-braised pork
    • Garnished with a deep fried jalapeño, this was the surprise delight of the day; amazing flavor
  • Great shredded meat with excellent flavor.

6. Ricky’s Baja Taco (food truck)

  • What to get: Fish tacos
    • Fried fish
    • Garnished with fresh light slaw
  • Topical sauces on the side of the truck
  • Considered the gold standard for fish tacos, and, in my opinion, a solid offering overall, but a slight miss with me due to them not having a grilled version.

7. Tacos Punta Cabras (building)

  • What to get: Scallop tacos
    • Grilled or fried fish offerings
    • Fresh light slaw
  • Topical sauces available

8. Guerrilla Tacos (food truck)

  • What to get: your guess is as good as mine; the options change daily.
  • Very fresh fusion style taco varieties (some of this and some of that)
  • Menu changes daily depending on what they find at the market
  • Serve breakfast, lunch and dinner

What a fun and flavorful day!

I drove all over LA but ended up enjoying some of the best “local” foods to be found in the area. Unique flavors and foods abounded regardless of the ethnic starting point for each.

It should also reinforce in everyone that good food can be found everywhere—even in some non-traditional outlets. Sometimes you have to dig deep to find that unique eatery, but in the end, you will be glad you made the effort. In LA, hit the streets for some tacos and prepare for a great way to spend a day.

If you have any questions about my culinary adventures in LA, or how Asenzya can help bring these seasonings to your kitchen, contact me at dax.schaefer@asenzya.com for more information.

Until next time, good eating and good times!

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