Chefs’ Picks: Los Angeles Tacos
Chefs’ Picks tracks down what the pros are eating and cooking from coast to coast.
Los Angeles is a taco town, having long been hailed as the capital of the Californian staple. The list of excellent taco spots is so long, it takes some serious work to narrow it down. That’s where local chefs come into play. Here three LA pros dish about the most-tempting taco spots in the City of Angels.
Mirko Paderno recently took over the reigns as the executive chef at Estrella in West Hollywood, but the culinary talent from Milan has been working in the LA restaurant scene for years. Another long-held devotion of Paderno? Tacos, specifically the ones from Chef Walter Manzke’s menu at Petty Cash. “I'm super crazy about the pork belly tacos,” says Paderno. “They are juicy, very flavorful and best paired with a cold margarita. I feel [like I’m] in paradise!”
A native of Southeast Ireland, Chef Gemma Stafford traveled the world working in top restaurants and bakeries before settling in SoCal, where she set up the online baking community Gemma’s BiggerBolderBaking.com in Silicon Beach. After a day of filming viral videos, Stafford often heads out to her favorite taqueria: Mercado Santa Monica. “I'm a creature of habit so I go there religiously,” she says. Stafford has tried nearly everything on the menu, but she swears by her mainstays. “Their tacos de carnitas are the best I have ever had because the meat is crispy and so moist at the same time. In all honesty, I'm not even a carnitas taco fan, that's how good they are!” Stafford says. Her other go-to option? The tacos de papa, which feature mashed potatoes topped with cabbage, crema fresca and a spice-laden salsa to balance all that creaminess. “Now being from Ireland, I do have a particular fondness for anything with potato,” the chef admits. “But it's the combination of flavors and texture that make this so tasty.”
When Michael Ungaro, the third-generation owner of the iconic San Pedro Fish Market and Restaurant, isn’t doling out his famous shrimp trays, he likes to take a break with old-school Mexican eats that remind him of his school days. "The Tres Tacos Al Carbon at El Cholo have been a go-to for me since I was a college student at USC,” he says. “Steak, bacon, cheese and that amazing tomatillo-chipotle salsa? So good. And the margarita. Oh, man!" This family-owned Mexican restaurant chain is also known for its combination plates, like the enchilada and taco option (pictured above) that was featured on Rachael Ray's Tasty Travels.