2012.02 Taqueria Los Anaya

2012.02 Taquería Los Anaya

August 31, 2012

4651 W Adams Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90016

West Adams

Garrett called me with the valuable news that he had caught word of a promising new taco shop on Adams Boulevard just a couple of miles from my home in the Village Green. After joining Garrett, Kirsten, Branden and Russ for dinner there, I am compelled to come out of taco-blogger retirement in order to report on the excellence of Taquería Los Anaya.

The restaurant occupies a cozy space with room for only a few tables, but our party was well taken care of. The menu had some depth and diversity, but I am unlikely to stray far from the taco selections.

Priced at between $1.75 and $1.95 each, the tacos were generous in size – four were quite filling. I tried the adobada, chicken mole, al pastor, and carne asada, as seen from left to right in the photograph. These all were successful.

The adobada consisted of cuby, marinated chunks of pork somehow double-cooked so that certain edges of most cubes had a very crisp, chicharron-like texture. The black mole with chicken was rich and chocolatey with a funky, earthy intensity, and topped with both cotija cheese and a red salsa. This was a strong mole, as pleasing as any I have ever tried. More commonly encountered in a plate dinner than as a guisado-style taco, one might consider a chicken mole taco to be a bit weird, but I would consider this an outstanding way to satisfy an urge for mole for less than $2.00 without being compelled to eat a whole plate of one thing. The carne asada steak was also quite excellent, consisting of cubish pieces cut from a thick portion, and tasting of natural buttery beef complexity rather than of added flavor treatments. The al pastor was solid and pleasingly textured, chopped from grilled, marinated filets rather than trompo-style, but less exciting than the other three I sampled.

The tortillas were thick and handmade, and the tacos were fitted out with different salsas specific to each meat variety.

As should be readily discernible to the reader, Los Anaya was excellent, and having access to it just a couple of miles away is going to have a massive positive impact on my lifestyle.

Posted: September 1st, 2012
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2011.05 Taqueria el Repollito

2011.05 Taquería el Repollito

Sunday, August 7, 2011

102 5th Street, Coalinga, CA 93210

Coalinga

Just a few miles off Interstate 5, somewhere between Los Angeles and Sacramento, you can find the town of Coalinga. Fortunately or unfortunately bypassed by the big freeway, charming Coalinga maintains a humble and historical character, its economy largely driven by agribusiness and prisons.

Taquería el Repollito, in the middle of town, makes a fine place to stop for some road trip tacos. Carmen and I stopped off in the midst of taking the scenic route home from San Jose.

I had one each of the carne asada, al pastor, and carnitas tacos. The tacos ordinarily come with cabbage, which I asked them to hold, but now that I know that “el repollito” means “little cabbage,” I wonder if I made the wrong decision asking them to hold their namesake component.

They were all very good, and big in size.

I appreciate the vaguely informal style of the building – it reads as a rectangle with a ramada-like canopy erected as an afterthought. The canopy’s structure is rather crude, but in an appropriately agricultural way, meeting one’s expectations of what to encounter on the Open Road in the American West.

Posted: August 21st, 2011
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2011.04 Beto’s Tacos

2011.04 Beto’s Tacos

March 26, 2011

Jefferson at Redondo, Los Angeles, CA 90016

West Adams

The other day Pierre made a visit to Beto’s Tacos, a truck that stations itself on Jefferson at Redondo a few blocks west of La Brea – pretty close to where I live – and gave it a strong recommendation. Carmen and I went there tonight for dinner, and found it to be super good.

This stretch of Jefferson next to the Expo Line tracks is industrial in nature and totally quiet at night, but near to a dense residential neighborhood to the north. We were there at about 8:00 on a Saturday night. The industrial nature of the environment contributes to a Blade Runner Urbanism sensibility – here referring to the fact that Blade Runner is supposed to depict a terrible post-apocalyptic version of the city; but to the viewer, the dense, multi-ethnic, urban downtown in which Deckard enjoys his street-vendor noodles is a pretty appealing vision of Los Angeles.

Beto’s establishes a little outpost of urbanity here in the wasteland. The truck is parked on the street, and a tarp is tied from the truck’s canopy to the steel fence of the adjacent empty parking lot, creating a low roof over the sidewalk and transforming it into a quite cozy dining room, trapping warm air and creating an intimate acoustic environment. Unlike most trucks, Beto’s is configured so that you can really see the action inside, and watch your tacos being made. The staff was friendly and quite obviously conscientious about making tacos righteously.

I ordered one each of the carne asada, al pastor, suadero, and carnitas tacos, reasonably sized and very inexpensive at $1.00 each. They were photographed before I applied cilantro, onion and salsa from the condiment bar on the counter.

The asada was finely diced and surprisingly gamey, reminding me a bit of lengua. It is boiled in a big wok-looking thing with a brownish water and some big onions. I enjoyed it. The suadero and carnitas both had a similar texture of friedness, finely diced and oily-crispy. But the big winner was definitely the al pastor. Beto’s runs a trompo inside the truck, topped with an onion. When my order came up, the taquero sliced a bit of blackened-orange exterior off the trompo into a big scoop and then did a final prep on the griddle. The al pastor purists often state that the most righteous al pastor is that cut directly off the spit and into the tortilla in which it is served, but I can’t claim definitively that the plancha finish might not add something valuable. The al pastor here was delicious, savory, with great texture and richness. It’s not as good as Tacos Leo, because you don’t get any big slices of pineapple on top, but it was better than any non-trompo pastor I’ve had.

I am made happy again to find even more awesome tacos, right here in the Blade Runner-scape, near my home, in my belly.

Posted: March 26th, 2011
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2011.03 Tacos Guadalajara in L.A.

2011.03 Tacos Guadalajara in L.A.

March 1, 2011

In front of “R” Ranch Markets Bodega on Adams at Redondo, Los Angeles, CA 90016

West Adams

I was out this evening doing reconnaissance for the LoMos blog and couldn’t resist stopping at this truck for a snack when I passed it along the way. This used to be a stopping point for a Tortas Ahogadas truck, although I didn’t have the presence of mind tonight to ask if they belonged to the same operators. As I mentioned to Bandini (who reviewed this truck during his “30 Trucks in 30 Days” challenge in which he demonstrated the principle of Working Hard to Stay Awesome), I have seen a sidewalk trompo out front of this truck on weekend evenings, but never had the good sense to stop and try it out. Tonight, no such trompo luck (trompo luck is the best kind of luck), only the routine good luck of great tacos for $1 each.

I rolled up and would not have been sure they were open for business, except for the man standing on the sidewalk enjoying a plate of tacos. There is no menu board. I asked the young assistant what was available and she recited the list. I asked for one each of the carne asada and the al pastor. Later the young assistant flattered me by asking about my cargo bike.

This truck is unusual, as Bandini described, insomuch as it is not occupied from within, but rather opened up and operated from the sidewalk. More than meets the eye, this truck is a friendly Autobot. A stainless steel diamond plate apron folds down from the truck to create a secure standing platform. The taquera is standing in front of the plancha, and next to the young assistant below the bags of Cheetos and Taki is a fully stocked salsa bar with lidded, built-in compartments. If like me you also harbor secret dreams of throwing off that conventional, suburban lifestyle in favor of urban loft living in a vast, disused warehouse space (like in the classic movie Quicksilver), where a gutted conversion van rolled into the space can serve as your bedroom and your kitchen is a taco truck, then this would be a good style of taco truck to consider for that purpose.

The taquera prepared the al pastor on the griddle upon my ordering it, abundant with caramelized onions (sorry about the blurry photo). It is sweet and rather saucy, and not unlike an Asian stir-fry dish. I garnished both tacos with the rojo, medium in spiciness and unusually tart. The carne asada was fairly average, and I preferred the pork. The tortillas were bilaminated and excellently leathery. These were solid tacos to enjoy on the sidewalk at the righteous taco corner of Adams and Redondo.

Posted: March 1st, 2011
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2011.02 Tacos Tamix

2011.02 Tacos Tamix

February 5, 2011

Parked at the front of the car wash at 2400 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90006

Pico-Union

Bandini at The Great Taco Hunt shared with us the fact that the great Tacos Leo had some competition for best al pastor here in the middle part of the city. Carmen and I finally went to Tacos Tamix last night, eager to find out for ourselves. It was Friday night just after 9:00 PM, prime time for eating tacos fresh from the trompo. We had both recalibrated our al pastor meters with a trip to Leo two weeks earlier.

Tamix has a great spot, in a car wash (that was actually seeing some use despite the chilly evening) but right next to the sidewalk. There was a cozy, collegial atmosphere among the taco eaters gathered there, as if Pico Boulevard were somebody’s backyard.

I ordered four tacos al pastor, good-sized at $1.00 each. The trompo-master showed us his moves, deftly manipulating the spit and artfully cutting slices of pineapple to be caught mid-air by the taco-mitt. I applied the very spicy red salsa from the condiment table. The meat was sliced thin, more like shavings than chunks of filet. The pineapple chunks were substantial.

These tacos were super delicious, as good as Tacos Leo on a normal day, and better than Leo on a bad day (we have found Tacos Leo to be always good, but not consistently at its best). The pork was tender and flavorful, and the sweet toasted pineapple slices completely subdue one’s internal thought conversation with a sense of happy worshipful respect. Tacos Tamix is most worthy.

Posted: February 5th, 2011
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55 El Super Taco

55 El Super Taco

November 17, 2010

11499 Jefferson Blvd, Culver City, CA 90230

Culver City

El Super Taco is the fourth consecutive Westside taco shop I have visited – I’m in a slump, as the Westside is not a hotbed of fine tacos, but rather a hotbed of taco eaters too lazy to travel far enough east to get good tacos. El Super Taco is a chain of approximately three Westside locations, and this one looked terribly banal on the outside, in a generic stucco strip mall next to the 405 freeway. I was pleasantly surprised, though, and likewise I hope you, my readers, will be pleasantly surprised when you scroll down and see the photo. Four tacos, and all four meats vividly distinct in color and appearance!

Although it’s in a crap little strip mall storefront illuminated by a half-dozen lay-in 2×4 lensed fluorescent fixtures in a blue-painted acoustic panel ceiling, the unexpectedly clean and tidy interior seemed warm and welcoming, as did the serveuse who took my order and offered me complimentary chips. I ordered one each of the carne asada, al pastor, carnitas, and suadero tacos, quite reasonable at $1.25 each. I settled in with my tray of chips and sampled three of the five salsas from the salsa bar, the ones labeled “salsa roja,” “salsa verde,” and “salsa suicide”. This latter salsa filled me with a desire to live! It is a very hot habanero-grapefruit, my new favorite flavor combination that brings me back to Campos’ Burritos on Venice at Motor every week. The rojo was okay, tasting a bit like Tapatio mixed with essence of pencil graphite; and the verde was pretty spicy too, with a flavor that I spent much of the meal attempting to identify, a frequent problem of mine. In the end I decided that it tasted like one of the unidentified, weird “spice” jelly bean flavors.

The chips, oily and recently fried, were reminiscent of fried wonton strips – I don’t know why or how.

I ate the suadero first – compelled to order this rare option. The meat was quite good, juicy and tender but with a bit of tooth resistance at first bite. Leanly seasoned, it had a strong gamy, beefy flavor. I don’t know how they prepare it, but the texture and taste reminded me of braised short ribs.

The tortillas were hot, and seemed to be steamed rather than griddled – doubled, but not laminated, they performed correctly. So many tacos suffer from watery meats that saturate and destroy their tortillas and drip dirty meaty squirts out their backsides, but these meat fillings were appropriately dry in character.

I ate the carnitas next, dressed with the salsa verde. It was a particularly dry, stringy, fried and textural carnitas with a nice golden brown hue. It seems dry at first but when you compress a mouthful of it a porky liquid magic seems to lurk in its core.

The carne asada was fine, elegant and proper, although fairly inconspicuous after I applied a distracting mixture of Salsa Roja and Salsa Suicide.

The al pastor looks a bit like orange chicken from a Chinese Food and Donuts shop, but was dry-rubby in character, with cinnamon and clove notes. Griddled to a gracious orange-and-black color scheme, it had a good texture, although in the middle of this taco I encountered one of those unfortunate chunks of cartilaginous flesh that you can barely chew through. I tend to enjoy the dry-rubby stuff, although this was really no better than the cheap preparada al pastor you can get at the Bodega R-Ranch Market #14 supermarket for home grilling.

Posted: November 17th, 2010
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54 Pili’s Tacos

54 Pili’s Tacos

November 6, 2010

11924 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025

Sawtelle

I first heard of Pili’s years ago when UCLA architecture schoolmate Antonio recommended it for its righteous tacos, obviously a rarity west of the 405. It is a cozy little storefront connected to an adjoining gift shop, offering fine tacos until late at night. Carmen and I found an excuse to head out here for lunch today.

The word “Pili’s” has great ear-feel to my gringo ears.

I ordered one each of the al pastor, carnitas, and carne asada tacos, Westside-priced at $1.50 each for slightly smallish tacos. They were plated nicely, the three tacos aligned on a plate, tortillas leaning into one another, implying the roundish cross section of a taco curled in the hand on its way to the mouth.

I started with the steak. This taco felt good from the start, with the small, bilaminated tortillas nicely leathered but not oily. The steak had a great flavor and texture, sparely seasoned and a bit gamy due to relatively fatty meat – fatty in a good way.

Next I ate the carnitas taco, my least favorite. The meat had a good texture with enough resistance to satisfy the tooth, but rather dry in a way that leaves your tongue feeling desiccated. The flavor isn’t bad – it’s definitely pork – but it’s neither strong nor compelling enough.

Lastly I ate the al pastor taco. It’s well above-average al pastor meat, not the typical stuff, but small cuboid chunks of pork apparently deep-fried to a near-crunchy resilience, with some orange savory flavor added for good effect. It has a winning porky-oily flavor that made me ponder whether I needed another one.

Posted: November 6th, 2010
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52 Campos Tacos

52 Campos Tacos

October 22, 2010

11622 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90066

Mar Vista

This is the second I have visited this year of the approximately seven extant Campos Tacos locations, following the one on Jefferson in Culver City. Though seemingly in decline now, a result of changing tastes or demographics, perhaps, Campos is still the primary chain restaurant for cheap conventional tacos serving the greater Westside. Though it is in relatively upscale Mar Vista, this tiny and dilapidated corner strip mall with its carnicería, donut shop, and Campos outpost is a holdout from the working-class culture that still thrives in the dingbat-rich sectors of Mar Vista.

I arrived at about 11:45 for an early lunch on a Friday and found Campos to be serving a working-class clientele. The man who arrived in a white utility-bed pickup never took off his hardhat, and all of the dozen other customers I saw looked like tradesmen and laborers.

The food at Campos matched the down-to-earth environment of the restaurant – it’s precisely the kind of filling, inexpensive, hearty food that one might want after a long morning’s work. I ordered combo #1, the three soft tacos and a fountain soda, which was $7.08 including tax. Confusingly the extensive and old-school handwritten menu board listed tacos in two places, $1.25 in one place and $2.25 elsewhere. Two different size tacos are available, perhaps. My combo came with tacos that were pretty huge.

Sitting down to three of them is a righteous meal for a meat lover. They were served fairly quickly, and looking at them I didn’t have very high expectations, but my expectations were exceeded. I started with carne asada. The tortillas were pretty good, oversized and doubled, very lightly oiled and griddled. The carne asada was minimalist in its seasoning, tender and moist – better than expected. Purist, to use a word of which Diana recently reminded me. Sitting in the big, under-occupied dining room, while watching a television program on which guest Melissa Rivers poked fun at the fashion choices of celebrities, I enjoyed big, meaty bites of this taco one after the other till it was gone.

The salsa from the bar was bland, in contrast to my hopes of discovering something like the invigorating grapefruit-habanero salsa they have at Campos Famous Burritos on Venice at Motor, but the rojo on the tacos seemed a bit stronger.

Next I ate the al pastor. It is of the saucy variety, fruity and sweet with lots of grilled onions, leaving a viscous orange liquid dripping from the back of the taco. Pretty tasty. Unfortunately, Tacos Leo has ruined me by abetting my transformation into an annoying modern-jackass al pastor snob. Tacos Leo, incidentally, has now hit the big time – the new issue of Los Angeles magazine featuring local Mexican food has a paragraph that defines al pastor and cites Tacos Leo as the place to get it. Will ordinary gringos start to feel comfortable eating there? I selfishly hope not. But I digress. It’s darn hard not to digress to thoughts of Leo’s when you’re thinking about tacos.

Finally I ate the carnitas. It was of the grey and moist variety, unlike the Campos on Jefferson, but quite good for a grey and moist carnitas. I was looking at it and eating it thinking, huh, I’m actually enjoying this. It had strong pork flavor and was salty without being too salty, a bit like good luau-style kalua pork.

Surprisingly, my meal of three giant tacos at Campos left me feeling great afterwards too.

Posted: October 22nd, 2010
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51 Sam’s Tacos

51 Sam’s Tacos

October 10, 2010

715 S Soto St, Los Angeles, CA 90023

Boyle Heights

Today was the inaugural “CicLAvía” event, in which the city shut 7 ½ miles of streets to automobile traffic from 10:00 AM till 3:00 PM so that cyclists and other non-motorized road users could take over the roads. People really turned out for this – I was surprised at the density of traffic. The usually car-clogged streets had an unusually civil feel. It didn’t look like Europe, but the fact that it seemed civil brought Europe to mind anyway. The eastern terminus was Hollenbeck Park in Boyle Heights, which is to say, we had a splendid excuse to go on a long bike ride to Boyle Heights and eat tacos.

Carmen and I headed a few blocks past Hollenbeck to Sam’s Tacos on Soto near Whittier. Sam’s is evidently a near relation of Carnitas Michoacan #3 nearby. If you study the image closely, you will see that they share not only the horizontal-hearts banded graphic motif, lending the entire complex a subdued dynamism, but the supersized cheeseburger-fries-and-a-drink thing on the roof as well. Sam’s Tacos is smaller and emphasizes hot dogs. Note the hot-dogged mansard.

Sam’s Tacos is a bit like Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion, a flexibly enclosed indoor-outdoor-hybrid space defined by a floating-roof plane and ground plane rather than enclosing walls. The main roof, cantilevered in all directions, spans a drive-thru pass-through with a smaller service or storage room across. To the north, a trellis extends the roofline over an outdoor dining area, and supports a giant cheeseburger-fries-and-a-drink sculpture. The dining trellis frames a view across a reflecting pool of black asphalt toward a contrapposto lamppost-signpost. The marble tables beneath the trellis make for an elegant, cool surface on which to dine.

I ordered one each of the al pastor and carne asada tacos, cheap at $1.09 each. Not surprisingly, the tacos were unsurprising and hewed close to the platonic taco standard. The tortillas were bilaminated, nicely leathered with a slight oiling and grilling. The al pastor was orange and black, in pleasingly irregular strips – somewhat saucy, with a good toothy texture and cinnamon and other spice flavors prominent. The red salsa provided with both tacos is pretty hot and really good. The carne asada is somewhat grayish in appearance but tastes exactly like carne asada taco. The seasoning is spare and the beef flavor somewhat buttery. The quintet of tortilla, steak, salsa, onion and cilantro weave together a timeless and essential harmony. Sam’s Tacos is 100% a taco stand.

Posted: October 10th, 2010
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49 El Bronco Taqueria

49 El Bronco Taquería

October 3, 2010

5427 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90019

Mid-City

Garrett, Kirsten, Damien, Carmen and I had decided to go for lunch tacos and El Bronco was nearby. Finding only three reviews on Yelp! going back to 2006 confirms one’s observation that El Bronco is not the kind of place that attracts Yelp! users. Situated in an inconspicuous, compact wedge of strip mall at the corner of Venice and Hauser next to staple businesses like a donut shop, a cleaners and a cambio de cheques, El Bronco serves its neighborhood but probably doesn’t attract many people from across town; but as we found today, their tacos are solidly above average.

We were surprised to find a spacious and sunny dining room, and though El Bronco has a deli-style counter for ordering takeout, we enjoyed table service, starting with two complimentary bowls of chips and salsa for our table. The salsa was rich and flavorful, tasting of roasted peppers and a dark chocolatyness reminiscent of Oaxacan mole. I ordered one each of the carne asada, al pastor, and carnitas tacos at $1.40 each, confirming that yes I wanted onion and cilantro; and a half-liter bottle of Mexican Coca-Cola.

Tacos were in about the 65th percentile for size. The tortillas were well prepared – doubled, slightly leathery without being oily, showing some browning marks from griddling. Served without salsa, I spooned some on from the bowls provided with the chips. I ate the carnitas first (listed generically as “puerco/pork” on the menu) – it was atypical, small cubes of deep-fried pork with crisp and sizzle. It is similar to the “Popeye’s Chicken” carnitas at Chulada Grill, and reminiscent of the pork that comes with yuca con chicharrón at a Salvadorean restaurant – a tasty pleasure to be enjoyed in moderation.

Next I ate the al pastor (per the menu, “pork w/ condiments”, which FYI is not the best way to sell it to people like me). It’s pretty good – tender, neither grilly nor saucy, and thoroughly marinated. I detected a hint of fruit flavor which seemed familiar but I could not place – Garrett correctly identified it as apple. I don’t know if it really was apple, but that’s what it resembled.

Last I ate the carne asada. Moist and steaky, this had a reasonable quantity of the garlic-and-onion-powdery carne asada seasoning known to inspire the kind of cravings that make you finish a whole bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos that you were foolish enough to open. One has to consider use of this stuff as kind of a cheap tactic to make tacos have crack-like addictiveness; but there exist many varieties of delicious.

Posted: October 3rd, 2010
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