If there’s one thing you can count on finding throughout the City of Angels, it is a deliciously made, humble Taco. The Taco culture is strong in Southern California, and it can be one of the most economical ways to eat, with many Taco Trucks still offering quality Tacos for $1.50 - $2.00 a piece. However, due to the pandemic, and the uncertainty on how well each Taco stand might or might not regulate social distancing, safe COVID-19 prevention tactics, we had held off on visiting any of our favorite Taqueros around the city for the entirety of 2020. But with numbers dropping to all-time lows around LA and OC, we decided to carefully venture forth and attempt a Taco Journey, wanting to support the great mom & pop eateries.
We were curious, how would our favorites turn out (as well as newcomers) now that a year has passed in the pandemic? We were eager to find out and hoped that things were just as they were before.
Metro Balderas has always been a solid Carnitas (slow-cooked Pork stewed in lard for hours) specialist, and offers 9(!) types of Carnitas Tacos.
Oreja Carnitas (Stewed Pork Ears) Taco:
Lightly crunchy from the Stewed Pork Ears, light garlicky flavor, savory, tender. Fantastic!
Costilla Carnitas (Stewed Pork Ribs) Taco:
Metro Balderas’ Costilla Carnitas (Stewed Pork Rib) Taco is good, but a touch salty (only a touch). It’s moist, tender, fresh-tasting, but they seem to have a bit of a heavier hand with the Salt than some other Carnitas specialists, but it’s still a great Taco, and one I’d be glad to have again when I’m in the area.
If you’re ever in the general area and are craving delicious Carnitas Tacos, give Metro Balderas a try. They feature 9 different types of Carnitas Tacos, and at $3.50 a Taco, they are still fairly priced and standout considering the quality and freshness.
(Carnitas on Saturday & Sunday Only)
Metro Balderas Restaurant
5305 N. Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, CA 90042
Tel: (323) 478-8383
Tacos La Carreta
In a nice comeback story, one of L.A.'s best Carne Asada Taco specialists, Tacos La Carreta, has found new life in a brand-new Taco Truck(!). For those that didn’t know, right before the pandemic, Tacos La Carreta was struggling to find a consistent base of operations, as the former tire & auto shop they operated out of (on weekend evenings) had asked them to vacate. They ended up closing up operations, focusing on catering only for the time being.
But somehow even while the pandemic was still ongoing, they recently decided to give it another go, buying a Taco Truck and trying out new locations to serve their Carne Asada (Grilled Steak) Tacos.
Agua de Cebada (Chilled Barley Drink):
Tacos La Carreta has their roots in Sinaloa, Mexico, and they serve only 1 type of Aguas Frescas reflective of what they grew up drinking: Agua de Cebada (or Chilled Barley Water). It is reminiscent of Horchata (Mexican Rice Drink), but a bit more earthy and gritty (just a touch), but perfectly sweetened and delicious!
Carne Asada Chorreada:
According to the Tacos La Carreta crew, another mainstay of their roots in Sinaloa is the Chorreada, essentially griddled Tortillas (with a layer of Pork Lard) so that it gets crispy, then topped with Carne Asada, Onions, Cabbage, Cheese.
At Tacos La Carreta’s OG operation the Chorreada was legendary. Since the pandemic, with their new truck? It was tasty, but it lacked the smokiness from mesquite charcoal that they used to grill their Carne Asada with.
Carne Asada Tacos:
Like the Chorreada, the Grilled Steak meat is meaty, juicy, tender, but, there’s no smoke. Looking at their new setup (in a Taco Truck), there is no outdoor grill like they used to have, so it looks like their Carne Asada is just cooked on the flattop grill in the truck. We asked the order taker who said that they still grill it “at their house nearby”, but then I’m guessing they pack it up and finish it on the flattop when you order?
Ultimately, Tacos La Carreta still has juicy, tender Carne Asada, the Guacamole Salsa, Salsa Fresca and the Chorreada are still very good. However, it lacks the mesquite charcoal smokiness that elevated them to the top prior to the pandemic. As is, it’s still better than most “Carne Asada Tacos” you’d order randomly around town, but it’s not as good as they used to be unfortunately. Here’s to hoping they figure out a way to bring their mesquite charcoal grill to their new setups (but perhaps that might be a violation of some food safety rules?).
Tacos La Carreta
3401 E. 69th St.
Long Beach, CA 90805
Tel: (562) 377-2819
Follow their Instagram for latest updates:
Carnitas Al Estilo D.F. Y Birria
In our search for Carnitas El Pansas, we accidentally ran into a new Carnitas specialist right across the street from El Pansas, in front of the Target on Vineland Avenue. The owner greeted us and said it was called Carnitas Al Estilo D.F. Y Birria, a bit of a mouthful.
They had 5 types of Carnitas Tacos, which was pretty exciting to see from a new Taco stand, reflecting a real seriousness if they were going through the trouble of making 5 different types of Carnitas each day.
Their preparation is taking out the prepared Carnitas and searing it on the flattop before serving.
Costillas Carnitas (Stewed Pork Rib) Tacos:
These were a bit dry. Not bad, tasting freshly cooked that day, but perhaps too much time on the plancha, or just dried in general before searing.
Buche Carnitas (Stewed Pork Stomach) Tacos:
Moist, delicate chew, light porcine funk. This was a pretty solid Buche Taco.
Cachete Carnitas (Stewed Pork Cheeks) Taco:
In a rarer offering, they offered Cachete Carnitas (Stewed Pork Cheek) Tacos! These were very good, moist, lightly fatty and some lean meat, not too salty like some Carnitas places, and just a great bite.
Trompa y Maciza Carnitas (Stewed Pork Snout + Stewed Pork Shoulder) Taco:
The owner was nice enough to let me choose 2 types of Carnitas and mix them together, and the pairing of something more gelatinous with something leaner was the way to go. The Trompa (Stewed Pork Snout) was fatty and soft and mixed with Maciza (Stewed Pork Shoulder) made for our 2nd favorite offering on their menu.
Carnitas Al Estilo D.F. Y Birria turned out to be a new, respectable Carnitas specialist. It’s nowhere near as good as Villa Moreliana, but if you’re in the North Hollywood area, this might be one of the better standouts for Carnitas Tacos.
(In front of the Target, on Vineland Ave.)
Carnitas Al Estilo D.F. Y Birria
6445 Vineland Ave.
North Hollywood, CA 91606
Tel: (818) 284-5128
Carnitas El Pansas
If there was one Taco spot I was most excited for on this journey, it was Carnitas El Pansas. L.A. Taco had written an article and raved about this place. And Carnitas Tacos are one of my favorites, so it sounded like a great match.
Sadly, we discovered that this supposed Carnitas specialist offered only 3 types of Carnitas, mainly Maciza (listed as “Carnitas” on the billboard), Buche and Cueritos. But hopefully they did those things well…
Cueritos Carnitas (Stewed Pork Skin) Taco:
These were merely OK. It’s hard to screw up Stewed Pork Skin, and it’s certainly decent, but it lacks that depth of lusciousness from standouts like Carnitas Uruapan or Villa Moreliana and a few of the other upper echelon specialists around town.
Maciza Carnitas (Stewed Pork Shoulder) Taco:
Dryish, sort of one note in flavor. They were pretty mediocre Carnitas compared to the top spots.
Buche Carnitas (Stewed Pork Stomach) Taco:
Decent. They had a bit of funk to them, and were also a bit dryish. The newcomer across the street, Carnitas Al Estilo D.F. Y Birria had better Buche, as did Metro Balderas and many other top spots.
Perhaps we went on an off day, but Carnitas El Pansas was a bit of a disappointment, featuring only 3 types of Carnitas and none of them executed well. The order taker did say that the Carnitas are cooked offsite and then brought over for the day, which doesn’t help.
Carnitas El Pansas
6428 Vineland Ave.
North Hollywood, CA 91606
When @ipsedixit recommends something, we’ve been around long enough to know it’s something to take notice of. While the exterior and interior of Flaco look like you’re walking into some tech start-up’s latest gadget display area, we did not hesitate to walk up and proceed to order their Tacos, trusting in our favorite blue smiley face.
Vegan Taco (Purple Potato, Black Beans, Caramelized Canela Onions, Cilantro/Avo Crema):
They only had 2 types of Tacos during our 1st visit, so we wanted to see what both were like. The Vegan Taco turned out to be pretty tasty, Stewed Purple Potatoes lent a delicate sweet earthiness (but only lightly sweet), the Black Beans and Caramelized Onions were a great match and the Cilantro Avocado Crema added much needed creaminess. It could’ve used a punchy Housemade Salsa, which would’ve made it great.
Carnitas Taco (Pork, Confit Garlic, Onions, Cilantro, Salsa Verde, Kernel of Truth Blue Corn Tortilla):
But you are here for the Carnitas Taco. While Flaco only serves 1 type of Carnitas (essentially a Stewed Pork Shoulder), they do it well. The Carnitas are bursting with flavor, porky, garlicky, fragrant, saltier than Villa Moreliana and Metro Balderas, but still within normal salt levels. It’s juicy, meaty, and a stunning standout, their hamster / tech startup type sign belying the greatness of their Carnitas.
But the highlight of this meal is exactly what @ipsedixit had said: Flaco serves their Carnitas Tacos with Confit Garlic(!). It is stewed, cooked down little morsels of crazy umami: If you wanted to know what “flavor” could be, take a bite of this Confit Garlic with your Carnitas Taco.
It is unreal. And delicious!
Chips & Guac (Small):
And Flaco’s Chips and Housemade Guacamole is excellent. Freshly made, bright, creamy, satisfying, there was more Guacamole here and it tasted far better (for only $4) than the horrendous $20 Chips & Guacamole at Onda.
While there are only 2 Tacos on the menu, Flaco is making a fantastic singular Carnitas Taco. The Carnitas is tender and juicy, nicely seasoned, but it’s their Confit Garlic that elevates this to another level. The Blue Corn Tortillas are also quite good. And at a reasonable $3.50 per Taco, these are worth seeking out.
5652 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, California 90028
Tel: (213) 265-7017
At some point, you’d think we would’ve learned our lesson by now. Hype machine and PR articles written in various local publications about famous Chefs from Mexico flying into L.A. to open up the latest and greatest restaurants, supposedly bringing the magic that made them famous in their home country here to L.A.
Every single one of them has led to disappointment and failure. The most recent example was Onda, where Chef Gabriela Camara of Contramar was supposed to team up with Sqirl’s Jessica Koslow to craft some mega team up menu, only to have it deliver mediocre, overpriced Mexican Fusion dishes.
Then just before the pandemic hit, one of Mexico City’s most famous and seen on TV Chefs, Chef Enrique Olvera (of Pujol (Mexico City)) opened up a new restaurant called Damian in Downtown L.A. When the pandemic hit, they opened up a Taqueria / Takeout Taco window as part of the restaurant, calling it “Ditroit Taqueria.” We were cautiously optimistic that this 3rd time, might break the curse.
As we were ordering, I asked our order taker if Chef Olvera actually cooks at Damian and Ditroit. She mentioned that “he flies in once in a while”, so clearly he’s not doing the cooking, but also with so many endeavors in different cities, it’s understandable. It’s just that the local food news outlets keep treating Damian and Ditroit as if it was actually Chef Olvera cooking masterpieces in the kitchen (which he is not).
Their Agua Fresca is an Amaranth Horchata. OK, it sounds “fancy” and different. Perhaps Chef Olvera was making his mark and elevating even standard drinks? Taking a sip…
Note that I don’t have a sugar tooth, and I don’t like things that are overly sweet. But this Amaranth Horchata literally tasted like “earthy water.” No sweetness, and no real flavor except some distant earthiness and… water. For $6 (+ tax & tip), this was upsetting.
Suadero Taco (Guacachile):
One look at this Taco and it looks like someone threw some chopped up (dry) Beef Brisket, Onions and Cilantro onto a Corn Tortilla and called it a day. The flavor was even worse than the looks:
Dry, chewy Beef Brisket, you literally tasted the individual ingredients and nothing more: Some Onion & Cilantro, mediocre Corn Tortilla and dried up Beef Brisket. There was nothing about this Taco that screamed “innovative, great”, let alone “tasty”. It was the size of a standard Guerrilla Tacos / gourmet-style Taco seen around town, and they charged you $8 (+ tax & tip) for this.
Beef Tongue Taco (Peanut, Scallion, Morita Salsa):
This was even worse: First, look closely at the Tortilla (above). The entire bottom of it was soggy / steamed (and we were waiting for our order to be completed, so we got it as soon as it came out of the kitchen).
The Beef Tongue was chewy, lacking any of the tender, luscious aspects of expertly executed Lengua, and Morita Salsa was hamfisted. Chef Wes Avila’s variety of various Salsas blows away Ditroit’s Morita Salsa. This was $9 (+ tax & tip).
Fish Flauta (Queso, Crema, Avocado Salsa):
First, the picture (above) was a close-up. The actual size of this “Fish Flauta” was the size of a regular Taquito in most hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurants(!). I was stunned when I opened up the to-go container only to see a single, tiny “Taquito” in place of where this “Fish Flauta” was supposed to be.
Ditroit’s Fish Flauta was using Swordfish on our visit. It was sadly very fishy, oceanic (in a bad way), mealy, and not very good. They charged $7 for this single Taquito-sized “Flauta”.
It cost $40 for 2 average-sized mediocre Tacos, 1 “Taquito” (tiny) and a Small Drink. Awful.
Ditroit marks the third time in a row that some overhyped, famous Chef from Mexico is arriving to L.A. to bring their cooking and “revolutionize” our city’s Mexican cuisine, only to fall flat on their faces and deliver expensive, overpriced mediocrity. Of course Chef Enrique Olvera can’t be cooking here everyday when he has so many other restaurants he has to run (including his flagship Pujol in Mexico City). But at least have the decency to install well-trained Chefs that can carry out your vision properly.
As it stands, Ditroit Taqueria is an overpriced mess, delivering some of the worst Tacos we’ve had in recent memory. Avoid at all costs.
2118 E 7th Pl.
Los Angeles, CA 90021
Founded by Chef Humberto Raygoza, a 4th generation artisan Chorizo Maker, The Chori-Man wowed us on multiple visits with his Handmade different styles of Chorizo Sausage. We were glad to see that The Chori-Man was still in business and survived 2020 intact (but he did say that business was suffering compared to pre-pandemic levels).
Chef Raygoza learned his trade from his father and uncles back in Zacatecas, Mexico. He offers 6 different types of Housemade Chorizo Sausages(!) served as Tacos, or in Burritos as well.
Argentinian Chorizo Taco (A White Chorizo with Garlic, Fennel and Wine):
Delicate, herbally Fennel notes come through, as well as the White Wine marinade. This White Chorizo was as excellent as it was before the pandemic!
Tolucan Green Chorizo Taco (A Southern Mexican Style Green Chorizo with Poblano Chile and a Proprietary Blend of Herbs & Spices):
As much as I like their Argentinian White Chorizo, their Tolucan Green Chorizo might very well be my favorite. Zesty, aromatic from the Poblano Chilies, and a deeper blend of Herbs and Spices mixed in the Pork Sausage base, this was fantastic. I was tempted to order another one immediately, but we had other stops along this journey.
Zacatecano Red Chorizo Taco (A Traditional Style with Guajillo Chilies, Paprika Blend from the Raygoza Family Recipe in Zacatecas, Mexico):
But then I take a bite of their Zacatecano Red Chorizo Taco. You can tell from the first bite that this recipe has been developed for generations (and it has). Chef Raygoza’s family recipe, the porcine flavors shine the most in this version, and this one is probably the spiciest of the 3 main Chorizos. It’s more complex and round in some ways, the Paprika and Guajillo Chilies standing out here.
The Chori-Man Breakfast Burrito (Diced Russett Potatoes, 2 Eggs, Cheese, and Choice of Protein (Tolucan Green Chorizo)):
An absolute monster of a Burrito, The Chori-Man’s Breakfast Burrito is overly generous and enough to feed 2 people easily. The soft pliant Tortilla gives way to moist, nicely cooked Eggs, hefty Russett Potatoes, some melted Cheese and the fantastic Tolucan Green Chorizo Sausage filling. It is easily one of the best Breakfast Burritos we’ve had since before the pandemic.
The Chori-Man continues to make the best Housemade Chorizo Tacos in L.A. You can’t go wrong with any of Chef Raygoza’s main Chorizo offerings, from the Argentinian White Chorizo with delicate Fennel and White Wine notes, to the fantastic Zacatecano Red Chorizo, and the Tolucan Green Chorizo which has a more vegetal, herbal note to each bite, all at a reasonable $2.50 per Taco. And the new discovery of their fantastic Breakfast Burrito just gives you one more reason to stop by.
2309 S Alma St.
San Pedro, CA 90731
Tel: (424) 287-2414
A weekly pop-up from their own backyard grill, Villas Tacos caught our attention due to it being featured by L.A. Taco as one of the best Tacos of 2020. It sounded great, but when I tried to inquire about ordering is when I discovered the true madness. It turns out that to get an order of Tacos from Villas Tacos, you have to follow them on Instagram, and (currently) on Tuesdays at 12:00 p.m., they open orders for the coming weekend. You have to message them with your order, and they’ll lock you in on a first come, first serve basis.
That sounded reasonable enough until you discover that they usually sell out for the entire weekend within the first few minutes of 12:00 p.m. every Tuesday. So it turns into a crazy competition to have your full Taco order ready, and right at 12:00 p.m. Noon on Tuesday, you quickly DM Villas Tacos and then wait. They’ll reply back if you made the cut.
After failing to get in (even when DM’ing within the first 2 minutes(!) of 12 p.m.), we finally got an order in on our 3rd try. The anticipation and hype was perhaps too great for any establishment with a limited capacity and level of popularity like that.
In another bit of frustration, the customer does not get to choose their pickup time(!). With their limited capacity and organization, Villas Tacos will give you a 5 minute window to pick up your food over the weekend. You don’t get to decide. Uhm. And you either show up, or you forfeit your spot in line / give up the order.
Pechuga de Pollo (Grilled Chicken Breast) Taco:
Their Pechuga de Pollo (Grilled Chicken Breast) Taco was very well marinated, zesty with a Housemade Chili blend seasoning, and for Grilled Chicken Breast, it was actually almost moist (but not dried out). I appreciated their Handmade Blue Corn Tortillas which gave it a good heft and taste.
They also nicely packaged individual containers of various Housemade Salsas (4 different ones) that all tasted distinct and standout.
Ranchera de Res (Grilled Skirt Steak) Taco:
Their Ranchera de Res is essentially their version of a Carne Asada Taco. While well-marinated and tasting of Salt, Pepper, Onions and Chilies, the Beef itself was just a poor cut. It was chewy, a bit too salty, and there were pieces of gristle running throughout.
They also offer their Tacos “with Cheese” but Villas Tacos idea of “with Cheese” is very different than what you might’ve thought was just a sprinkling of raw Cheese on top.
Ranchera de Res Taco with Cheese:
It turns out Villas Tacos will first heavily sear some Cheese on the flattop, turning it into a crispy lattice of sturdy cheesy goodness, then throw the Blue Corn Tortilla on top of that, then melt more Cheese on top of that, and then throw the filling on top of that. Their Instagram feed is filled with shots of their various Tacos “with Cheese” (their fancy Cheese “latticework” style). This looked exciting.
After the first bite, it felt like you were biting into a Quesadilla more than a Taco. It was fine, the Griddled Cheese was sturdy, but wasn’t actually crispy. The Melted Cheese on top of that felt like excess. Cheese fans should consider trying one of their Tacos with Cheese, but we preferred both of these fillings without Cheese actually.
It should be noted we actually ordered their Frijoles Negros con Papa Taco with Cheese, but they screwed up our order and gave us the wrong one. When we messaged them, they were really apologetic and asked if they could make it up to us (giving us the correct Tacos on our next visit, free of charge), which was a nice gesture.
Pechuga de Pollo (Grilled Chicken Breast) Taco with Cheese:
Similarly, their tasty Pechuga de Pollo (Grilled Chicken Breast) Taco with their fancy Griddled Cheese style felt like too much, compared to the purity of just having the lightly smoky, Grilled Marinated Chicken Breast Taco.
At a reasonable $3 per Taco, and $1 more for their double layer of fancy Cheese work, Villas Tacos shows potential. Their Pechuga de Pollo Taco was our favorite so far, and was a standout for flavorful Grilled Chicken Tacos in the city (as many Chicken Tacos turn out to be dried out, salty messes). But their limited time order window, and the random pickup time for your food (you don’t get to choose) makes Villas Tacos a difficult recommendation. Hopefully they can resolve both issues, or else it might be a detracting factor too great for many folks.
Follow on Instagram for Order Instructions:
Birria Don Cuco Estilo Tijuana
Finding a great Lengua (Beef Tongue) specialist is always worth celebrating. So when you run into a stand that not only sells great Lengua, but on top of it, is making Birria de Lengua (or Beef Tongue Stew) in a Tijuana-Style, it’s time bust out the fireworks.
While L.A. has seen a Birria (Stewed Meat) explosion, especially with Birria de Res (Stewed Shredded Beef) Tacos, the Taqueros behind Birria Don Cuco Estilo Tijuana are slinging Birria made of Beef Tongue and it is as glorious as it sounds.
Birria de Lengua (Stewed Beef Tongue) Taco:
Taking a bite: Ultra tender, moist, luscious morsels of tender, Stewed Beef Tongue that’s been chopped up, it is wonderfully seasoned, lightly spicy, herbally, not overly salty at all, and the bright orange-red Tortilla perfectly cooked, dabbed in the Birria Consome, lending that final bit of complementary flavors for each bite!
The Birria Consome itself is a thick, rich Broth, zesty and beefy and just a few sips are all that is necessary between bites of the Lengua.
Birria de Lengua Vampiro:
L.A. Taco had recommended the Vampiro version of Birria de Lengua, which is essentially a crisped up Tortilla, topped with melted Cheese, and then topped with the Stewed Beef Tongue and condiments. This should’ve been excellent, but turned out to be slightly undermined by the burnt Tortilla shell. As can be seen in the pic (above), that’s not a “Blue Corn Tortilla”, that’s an overly charred / burnt Tortilla.
We’ve had Vampiros at various Taco stands around L.A., but they weren’t burnt black like this. Perhaps it’s their style, or we were served a “leftover” shell (one that had been sitting on the grill a bit too long, but they still served it anyways(?). The burnt Tortilla shell lent a real bitterness with each bite, but it was also offputting.
Birria de Res (Stewed Shredded Beef) Taco:
Finally, they also serve a regular Birria de Res (or Stewed Shredded Beef) Taco, and this was tasty. Tender Stewed Shredded Beef, it had a better flavor than places like Teddy’s Red Tacos. Not too salty, balanced, tenderness, in the same Consome liquid gold as they cook their amazing Beef Tongue in.
Despite the pandemic, a new Birria de Lengua specialist has arrived, popping up on weekends only in the form of Birria Don Cuco Estilo Tijuana. Mouth-wateringly delicious, tender, lush and full of flavor, this is probably the most tender cut of Beef we’ve had in a Taco that I can remember.
Sat & Sun, 8:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Birria Don Cuco Estilo Tijuana
759 S. Ferris Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90022
Loqui (Downtown L.A.)
Even after a few years, I’m still not sure what Loqui is meant to be. According to their website, they started as a pop-up at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco for a few years, but finally decided to open up a permanent home here in L.A. Their first location, at Culver City’s The Platform, was built to match the overly manicured, Westside hamster way of life. Their menu and presentation all made it look like some gringo-style of “Mexican food” made for the Dot Com / hamster crowd.
Thankfully, they had legit food to back them up. Their Handmade Flour Tortillas are arguably the best in the city, and it was great seeing that they survived 2020. Another favorite of ours that we couldn’t wait for a revisit.
Mushroom Taco (Flour):
While they push and feature their Chicken, Beef and Pork, those are all rather mediocre compared to the star of the menu, their Mushroom Tacos.
It begins with the stunning Handmade Flour Tortillas. While Corn Tortillas get all the love here locally, and they work better with many cuts of meat, a great Flour Tortilla is on another level. It’s important to do away with one’s notion of the more commonly found, mass-produced Flour Tortilla, usually used to wrap Burritos, which can be chalky, dryish, and more important for its girth and ability to hold ingredients than the actual flavor, which is unfortunate.
But one bite of Loqui’s Handmade Flour Tortilla and you begin to understand. Soft, supple, there’s an almost luxurious quality about it as you bite down into a Loqui Mushroom Taco.
And then it gently gives way to the fantastic flavor bomb within: Stewed Mushrooms, so full of incredible flavors, it unlocks a primal crave worthiness, then their Guacamole Salsa, Onions, Cilantro for herbal brightness, soft earthy Stewed Beans, and a bold, spicy Housemade Salsa.
It is as outstanding as it was before the pandemic. A must order.
While I am still pining for the return of their Carne Asada Tacos one day, Loqui continues to be noteworthy for their outstanding Mushroom Tacos on their Housemade Flour Tortilla. The delicious flavor combination, deep savoriness achieved without needing any meat, the stunning Handmade Flour Tortilla all combine to make this one of the standout Tacos around town.
803 Traction Ave, #150
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Tel: (213) 265-7558
Also at Culver City:
(Inside The Platform)
8830 Washington Blvd., #104
Culver City, CA 90232
Tel: (949) 393-8265
Perhaps the most dearly missed Taqueria during 2020 for me was Villa Moreliana. Arguably the best Carnitas Specialist in Southern California, Villa Moreliana features 12 different types of Carnitas(!) to enjoy in Taco form. And besides the breadth of offerings, most importantly, the flavor was always what made it our favorite for years.
As we pulled up to Grand Central Market, we were happy to see safety measures in place, and tables were spaced apart, everyone was wearing masks while wandering inside the market.
Perhaps in a show of life returning to GCM and Villa Moreliana, as we arrived around 12 Noon, they had already sold out of the most prized cut for Carnitas, their Costilla (Pork Ribs)! Darn.
Oreja Carnitas + Maciza Carnitas (Stewed Pork Ears + Stewed Pork Shoulder) Taco:
One of the best features of Villa Moreliana (besides the actual Carnitas) is the ability to mix and match different cuts of Carnitas per Taco. Their Tacos are so huge, that you can easily choose 2 or 3 different cuts and have them mix it together in one Taco and you still get a good taste of each cut within.
Here we have one of my favorite combinations, Oreja Carnitas (Stewed Pork Ears) with Maciza Carnitas (Stewed Pork Shoulder). Taking a bite:
There’s a tender, light crunchiness inherent with the cartilage from the Stewed Pork Ears, the simmered Pork Shoulder (in Lard, Michoacan style) is tender, juicy, perfectly seasoned, not too salty, and just fantastic!
Chamorro Carnitas + Cueritos Carnitas (Stewed Pork Picnic +Stewed Pork Skin) Taco:
Thanks to @A5KOBE for the recommendation (although I believe it was actually Maciza with Cueritos), this was another excellent combination of 2 different cuts: You get the lean, but still tender meat from the Chamorro Carnitas (Stewed Pork Picnic), mixed with the fatty, luscious bits of Cueritos Carnitas (Stewed Pork Skin), which balances things out and makes for another great bite!
Since they were sold out of my favorite cut, we had to return for a 2nd visit for “research”…
We arrived before the lunch crowd this time, and thankfully they still had our beloved Costillas!
Tripas Carnitas + Maciza Carnitas (Stewed Pork Intestines + Stewed Pork Shoulder) Taco:
There was a tender chew from the Tripas Carnitas, a light funkiness, nicely balanced by the Stewed Pork Shoulder combination as well.
Oreja Carnitas + Costilla Carnitas (Stewed Pork Ears + Stewed Pork Ribs) Taco:
One bite and I’m instantly reminded why this is my favorite combination of Carnitas at Villa Moreliana: Tender, beautifully cooked Stewed Pork Rib meat has enough fattiness to balance out the lean meat, but also they chop up bits of the Rib Tips (Cartilage) that’s been stewed down long enough to give just a slight crunchiness. Then it’s mixed with the juicy, tender, “thin crunchiness” from the Stewed Pork Ears, and you have magic!
(Off-Menu) Costillas Carnitas (Stewed Pork Ribs) Taco:
How popular is Villa Moreliana’s Costillas Carnitas (Stewed Pork Ribs)? They don’t even bother listing it on the menu because it always sells out first. They used to have it on their old menu, but with the remodeling (before the pandemic), they just decided to remove it from their renovated billboard menu, because it always sells out.
I hadn’t had Villa Moreliana’s glorious Costillas Carnitas in well over a year, so I had to get a pure Costillas Carnitas Taco only. It was as fabulous as I remembered it to be! Nicely stewed Pork Ribs in Lard, cooked down to a tender fall off the bone consistency, they chop up the Rib Tips (Cartilage) as well if you’re lucky, and you get bits of tender lean-fatty Pork Rib meat and delicious little crunchy bits (but soft enough from the long stewing) of the Rib Tips / Cartilage. SO GOOD!
Cueritos Carnitas + Maciza Carnitas (Stewed Pork Skin + Stewed Pork Shoulder) Taco:
The OG @A5KOBE recommendation: Cueritos Carnitas mixed with Maciza Carnitas. Beautiful lusciousness, some fattiness and some tender, moist lean meat from the Stewed Pork Shoulder as well. It is a stellar combination and must get Carnitas Taco as well!
Villa Moreliana has thankfully survived the pandemic in 2020, and are still excelling at their craft, featuring 12 different types of Carnitas, perfectly seasoned and delicious. While $3.75 per Taco seems a bit pricey for some, note that Villa Moreliana’s Tacos are generous: They are easily 400% - 500% the amount of meat in a Leo’s Taco for reference (and those are now $1.75 each).
But most importantly, the quality and taste of Villa Moreliana is still as outstanding as always. Deeply satisfying, don’t miss out on the various combinations of Carnitas Tacos you can get (your choice), from their excellent Costillas Carnitas (Stewed Pork Ribs) to Oreja (Stewed Pork Ears) to Maciza (Stewed Pork Shoulder) and beyond.
(Inside Grand Central Market)
317 S Broadway St.
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Tel: (213) 725-0848
Tire Shop Taqueria
After Villa Moreliana, the 2nd most missed Taqueria for me might be Tire Shop Taqueria. Right before the pandemic, Tire Shop Taqueria (called as such because they originally started selling their Tacos out of the next door Tire Shop parking lot) attempted to rebrand themselves, debuting an official name, “Taqueria San Miguel”. As we arrived, happy to see them still around after 2020, we noticed they covered up their rebranding name (as seen in the pic above), perhaps the new name didn’t take very well and caused confusion?
They were still making their Tortillas by hand, throughout the evening. The smell of mesquite charcoal wafting off the open grill just makes you anticipate and crave the delicious Carne Asada even more.
Carne Asada (Grilled Skirt Steak) Tacos:
Taking a bite: The thick, pliant Handmade Tortillas are still as good as before. There’s excellent mesquite charcoal smoke infused in the Carne Asada, and a good meatiness in each bite.
If there’s one minor hiccup, it’s that there was some chewy gristle in 2 of the Tacos, but most of the time, that’s not been an issue.
Sandia Agua Fresca (Fresh Watermelon Juice):
They had a special Agua Fresca on this visit, Sandia (Watermelon)! It was wonderful, lightly sweetened (not overly so), refreshing and perfect.
Tire Shop Taqueria
4077 S Avalon Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90011
Tacos La Guera (Pico)
It seems there are numerous Taquerias around L.A. called “Tacos La Guera” but the one that we’ve always known and return to is the Tacos La Guera on Pico Boulevard, in front of the Smart & Final.
On any given night, you’ll see the trompo (vertical spit) come out, fire blazing and the Taquero expertly cooking and cutting away slices of perfectly cooked Al Pastor for the standout Tacos.
Al Pastor (Vertical Spit Grilled Pork) Taco:
Tacos La Guera has been making some of the best Al Pastor Tacos in the city for awhile now. Leo’s Tacos (the original Al Pastor darling from a few years ago) has been on downhill alert for a few years now, a shadow of its former self as it continues to expand.
The Al Pastor on this visit is as glorious as we remembered it: Perfectly cooked (not burnt, not undercooked), with juicy slices of Marinated Pork grilled on the monstrous vertical spit (inspired by Lebanese immigrants to Mexico and their Shawarma dish). La Guera adds a slice of Pina (Pineapple) and you get that great delicious savory with a touch of sweet combination. Fantastic!
Tacos La Guera (Pico)
2949 W Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90006
We wrapped up our Taco Journey at Chef Gilberto Cetina, Jr.'s outstanding seafood-focused restaurant inside the Mercado La Paloma plaza. As we arrived and chatted with Chef Cetina, he confided that it was tough going early on in the pandemic.
(Complimentary) Chips & Salsa:
The complimentary Housemade Chips and Salsa are worth noting for the accompanying Salsas. Pre-pandemic, Holbox used to have 5 different types of stunning Housemade Salsas for you to add as you see fit. But with the pandemic, it’s been trimmed down to 2, with the Chile Morita Salsa and fiery Habanero Salsa. Both still excellent.
Taco de Pulpo en su Tinta (Braised & Fried Mexican Octopus, Calamari Ink Sofrito on a Handmade Corn Tortilla):
One of the standout Tacos on Holbox’s menu since the early days, the Taco de Pulpo (Braised & Fried Mexican Octopus Taco) is as outstanding as always! The Mexican Octopus meat is tender, with a light chew only, moist, fragrant. The Calamari Ink Sofrito and Tomatoes just complement the bite perfectly.
Taco de Pescado al Carbon (Hawaiian Kanpachi, Homemade Mayo, Cabbage, Morita Sauce, Pico de Gallo, Avocado Puree):
While Baja Fried Fish Tacos get all the attention these days, a great Grilled Fish Taco can be just as good if not better. Chef Gilberto’s version shows his attention to detail and cooking prowess: Beautifully grilled Hawaiian Kanpachi Fish, lightly smoky, moist, flaky, slightly crisped skin matches perfectly with the Morita Salsa, Avocado Puree, Purple Cabbage. It was stunning! Highlight of the evening!
Taco de Scallop (Maine Diver Scallop, Caramelized Onions, Marinated Fennel, Chile X’catic Sauce):
Ridiculous! Perfectly seared Maine Diver Scallops, so juicy, plump, silky and delicate, the Marinated Fennel lent just a whisper of Fennel (without distracting), the Chile X’catic Sauce gave it a lovely finish, not overly spicy, just the perfect accent. Another highlight of the evening!
Holbox has filled in the “Gourmet Taco” segment of the L.A. market nicely, without any ostentatious displays. Chef Gilberto Cetina, Jr. continues to put out some of the best Seafood Tacos in L.A., and the rest of the menu is no slouch either, with very good Ceviches, Aguachiles and Entrees like their stunning Sopa de Mariscos (Seafood Stew).
(Inside Mercado la Paloma)
3655 S. Grand Ave., #C9
Los Angeles, CA 90007
Tel: (213) 986-9972
There was a sense of relief (that our favorite Taco places were still around after 2020), of some “normalcy” (enjoying Tacos on the street (socially distanced), or in our car), and of joy, from partaking in some outstanding Tacos around the city. Hopefully the Taco scene continues to develop and thrive, with more specialists and new Tacos to continue to feed and delight in 2021 and beyond.