Best Taco Joints in Los Angeles
Photo By: Wes Avila
Hungry for Tacos?
Los Angeles is arguably the taco capital of America, dotted with hundreds of taquerias from the different states of Mexico. The Angeleno taco culture exists mostly on wheels or in makeshift stands. It’s casual and unpretentious, filling and well worth the price point. But it’s not just Mexican tacos that are prolific in Los Angeles. The City of Angels is the birthplace of the Korean fusion taco a la Roy Choi’s Kogi Truck, and there are plenty of innovators committed to doing their own things. From fried shrimp tacos to wild boar picadillo tacos with pine nuts, the Los Angeles taco scene is a marvelous hodgepodge of regional Mexican classics and uniquely Angeleno creations.
Known for its top-notch ceviche, Mariscos Jalisco — a truck that parks on Olympic Boulevard each day — has only one taco on the menu, but it’s worth a try. Fried shrimp, tangy tomato-and-cabbage salsa and sliced avocados are tucked into a deep-fried white-corn tortilla, giving the whole thing a satisfactory snap. The owner hails from San Juan de los Lagos — an enchanting small town on the northeast edge of Jalisco, but Bill Esparza, a Mexican food expert, contends that the fried shrimp taco is entirely a signature of East LA, not Jalisco. We say: That's all the more reason to order it in Los Angeles.
With expertly prepared al pastor and dollar tacos, Leo’s Tacos is understandably popular. If you can get there at the right time — usually on weekend evenings —you might spot their spit featuring a large chunk of marinated pork leg. The pastor is sliced off and served on tortillas with chunks of sliced pineapple, which is a signature of Mexico City.
Every day is a different adventure at Wes Avila’s taco truck. The classically trained chef whips up marvelous seasonally minded tacos that change daily, but could include deep-fried cod with cabbages and burnt chile Japonais, or even wild boar laced with picadillo and pine nuts. The combinations are endless, and the flavor profiles most definitely match, even if they sound unconventional.
Photo by Wes Avila.
Mexicali Taco & Co.
What started as a grill in downtown Los Angeles has grown into Javier Fregoso and Esdras Ochoa’s fully functional and wildly popular brick and mortar taqueria. The food represents the Baja region of Mexicali, where carne asada is practically an art form, available here in your choice of corn or flour tortillas. Esparza notes that the cream-infused guacamole that they serve is a signature of the area. While you’re at it, get a bowl of nachos for good measure, bound together by glorious cheese and homemade salsa.
Named for Mexico City’s renowned stewed meats, this taqueria scoops its popular braises and stews into miniature homemade corn tortillas. Originally opened in 2010 in Boyle Heights, the growing taco empire has four outposts for diners to track down combinations like Steak Picado — a flank steak simmered with green bell peppers and bacon, then touched with a tinge of green serrano chili and black beans.
Colonia Taco Lounge
Though it has stiff competition, Colonia makes the best corn tortillas in town — chewy, with the right puff and plenty of deep corn flavor. The brainchild of prolific Mexican restaurateur Ricardo Diaz (also of Guisados), Colonia focuses its many high-quality tacos on the ingredients. Cauliflower tacos, drizzled with crema and caper salsa, make eating your vegetables fun. Shrimp Camaron is an interesting, appetizing combination of sauteed shrimp with coconut rice and Colombian aji salsa, and it pairs well with the sizable menu of cocktails and IPAs. Even better, tacos go for $2.50 a pop on Taco Tuesdays.
Breakfast tacos are a Tex-Mex staple, but in Los Angeles, look no further than Homestate for your fix. They whip up handmade flour tortillas topped with various combinations of egg, bacon, potato and cheddar. On the non-breakfast side, try picadillo-flavored ones with beef, potatoes, carrots, cabbage and pickled jalapeno. And true to the Tex-Mex spirit, there is also Frito pie in a bag: chili con carne, cheddar, lettuce, sour cream, tomatoes, pickled jalapenos and pickled red onions. Although it's not a taco, it's worth a try. And if you really dig the tortillas, you can buy some to take home.
Tire Shop Taqueria
Though this taqueria doesn’t actually have a name, its setting next to a tire shop has given it this convenient nickname. The kitchen specializes in Tijuana-style tacos, made onsite from fresh masa. According to Esparza, the taqueria is manned by Pueblans from Tijuana who push out marvelous carne asada. True to the regional style, the steaks are cooked on mesquite, topped with creamy guacamole and folded into a cone.
Tacos Los Guichos
Perched right off the 110 freeway, Guichos does excellent al pastor on a spit — shaved off and then crisped on the flat top. “They have a guy from Mexico who specializes in al pastor,” Esparza says. “It is coated in a pre-Hispanic marinade,” which involves a chile-based adobo, using achiote paste and annatto seed. On weekends they make worth-a-trip carnitas — or braised pork — cooked over cauldrons of bubbling lard in true Mexico City style.
Tacos La Guera
La Guera is a nondescript stand in Walnut Park with a vast vat of animal parts simmering in oil and sauce. There’s hog’s maw, chitterlings, brisket, beef head, pig ears, beef lips and brains. The brisket is especially noteworthy, fried until the tissue breaks down all while maintaining an impeccable degree of moistness. The restaurant also serves fresh pineapple juice, which pairs well with the salt and spice; don’t forget the avocado salsa. The owners hail from Jalisco, after all, where salsa (the condiment) is king.