35 Tacos El Gavilan

35 Tacos El Gavilan

July 12, 2010

1900 S Central Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90011

Central-Alameda

It’s not often that I can tell you the name of the architect that designed the taquería I visited, but I can today: Stanley Meston designed this building. El Gavilan (“The Hawk”) inhabits this former McDonald’s franchise, built on the 1950s pattern when McDonald’s stands were Googie and awesome. Have a look at these photos of Meston’s McDonald’s outlet in Downey and it is unmistakable. Be careful looking at that website, though – it may give you a totally useless nostalgia for McDonald’s.

Only a year or two back, the Gavilan removed the conspicuous golden arches that made its historical origins obvious; this deliberate effort to wipe out history disappoints me. I arrived at a hypothesis that the palimpsest of McDonald’s was obscured to protect the owners from the threat of historical preservationists.

The remodel did improve the place by semi-enclosing the large dining area with ugly plastic sheets, creating an authentic Los Angeles indoor-outdoor dining experience. There is also a giant dining room inside an adjacent building, empty tonight but perhaps useful when late-night crowds are large, which does happen according to reports on the interwebs. Carmen and I went there for dinner on this Monday night, placing our orders at 8:14 PM, while the indoor-outdoor dining room was half full.

I ordered one each of the carne asada, al pastor, and carnitas tacos, which varied from average to above-average in size, and cost $1.25 each. Tacos are served plain; cilantro-onion mixture and red and green salsas are available at a well-stocked salsa bar, also featuring juicy limons, beans, jalapeños, radishes, and so forth. The small, doubled tortillas were pleasingly oiled and griddled, exhibiting a surprising yellow hue, and performed admirably.

I applied cilantro-onion mixture and rojo to my al pastor taco and commenced. The al pastor was my favorite of the three. More savory than sweet, the al pastor is not overly saucy, with something of a dry-rubby character. Grilled onions do their part too. The flavor of the pork came through loud and clear, and the orange and black bits offered good texture. Gavilan’s al pastor is a fine example. The rojo was pretty spicy and had a nice smoky flavor. Carmen ordered a quesadilla al pastor – the meat tastes great with melted cheese and griddled flour tortilla, and it was impressively big and meaty. I would prescribe it for hangovers.

Next was the carnitas taco, another winner. Good-sized cuboid chunks had a nice brown color and a rewarding fried texture. I applied the green salsa, somewhat spicy and very herby.

The carne asada taco came last. It was pretty good, and the biggest taco of the lot. The steak chunks had a good texture, although a few pieces were a bit tough, and tasted of carne asada seasoning. I think that stuff has crack in it – I don’t know if it’s onion powder or crack cocaine or what, but some part of that seasoning gets you hooked, like when you eat a Dorito and then find that you cannot stop eating Doritos until the bag has been emptied.

Posted: July 12th, 2010
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34 Metro Balderas

34 Metro Balderas

July 3, 2010

5305 N Figueroa St, Los Angeles, CA 90042

Highland Park

Carmen and I visited Damien and Ragen in Highland Park this evening and we dined at nearby Metro Balderas. This is our third taco stop in Highland Park this year, and all three have been outstanding.

Metro Balderas is a freestanding restaurant on Figueroa Street with a diverse menu and vintage-style booths where both the tables and benches are covered in textured orange laminate. There is a loud TV that was airing Sabado Gigante and a salsa bar with four types of salsa. A column in the very center of the space is wrapped tightly in nautical-esque rope; what would ordinarily be seen as an architectural problem was so easily transformed into an architectural opportunity.

The specialty here is antojitos – food in the style of the DF. “Metro Balderas” is the name of a transit station in Mexico City; the business card is printed on the backside to resemble a metro ticket, but instead of reading “Sistema de Transporte Colectivo”, the card reads “Sistema de Comida Chilanga”. Chilango is a slangy term indicating origin in Mexico City with a complex history and meaning. The DF-style items on the menu at Balderas are a bit different from your average Los Angeles taquería, and you may see things you don’t recognize like “pambazos” and “huaraches”. I can’t tell you too much about those, since I came for tacos. But I can tell you that this place offers DF-style carnitas on the weekends in eight different varieties. I didn’t get any of those, but I should have, because I should have read Jonathan Gold on the subject of Metro Balderas before I went there.

What I did get is one each of the carne asada, al pastor, and suadero tacos. At $1.25 each, they were average to just above average size. The tortillas are small, doubled, unlaminated, homemade-style, corny, and with good hand-feel. Tacos were served with onions and cilantro, but no salsa – I tried a couple from the salsa bar, each of which was medium-spicy but the flavors varied greatly.

The taco on top was the al pastor. The orange bits of pork had great flavor and were diced into varied chunks and little slivers, just as were the onions. It is a mystery how they effortlessly make such a mixture of cubish chunks and longitudinal slivers – some kind of dangerous, advanced surgical robot, perhaps. There were numerous identifiable chunks and slivers of pineapple scattered amongst the pork bits, nicely charred at the edges and caramelized. The pork was neither dry-rubby nor saucy – it seemed as if the flavors had been absorbed into the ingredients themselves rather than applied to the outside. This taco was a delight.

The next taco was the suadero. I thought I knew what suadero was after enjoying the suadero tacos at King Taco and El Taurino, but this was something altogether different – quite pale in color, diced into regular small cubes, and fried to extreme crispiness on one edge. It resembled carnitas far more than any beef with which I am familiar, and had a great texture. I could hardly convince myself it wasn’t pork, but it must not have been. I enjoyed this taco very much, but not as much as the al pastor.

Lastly I ate the carne asada taco, which contained yet more surprise – the bits of steak that made up this taco were chopped from the thinnest cut of steak I’ve ever seen used for this purpose, about a millimeter in thickness. The grilling rendered these little bits of thin steak slightly resilient without being tough. The flavor was elegant, just beef, salt and black pepper – an absolutely righteous taco. All three of my tacos here reveal that behind the scenes, a considerate taquero is crafting tacos with much thoughtfulness and attention.

Posted: July 3rd, 2010
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33 El Chato

33 El Chato

June 29, 2010

W Olympic Blvd at S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036

Mid-Wilshire

We finally made it to El Chato, after a few failed attempts to go there when the truck was either absent or not open (they seem to get started serving at 8:30 or 9:00). Carmen has driven by this place for months and seen long, telltale lines out front. I had read Bandini’s glowing, credible report on The Great Taco Hunt and had high expectations. By the way, Bandini has admirably renewed his ambitious goal of eating at all of the taco trucks in Los Angeles, of which there are reportedly over 10,000. To put that in perspective, that’s one a day for 28 years. That is epic.

I shakily drove us to the corner of Olympic and La Brea where we saw that the truck was already busy. We were in business. And The Chato proved to be the awesome.

It is a good-looking truck with cartoon Cantinflas painted on it and bright, dazzling lights inside and out. Four taqueros were in the little trailer, busy making tacos and burritos. If you look closely at my photo, you might be able to make out the al pastor spit just behind the window. The Chato has a platonic taco truck location, after-hours on the lot of a car repair shop on a busy street corner.

I knew from advance research that the tacos would be a bit small, so I ordered five – two each of al pastor and carne asada, and one of chorizo. They are $1.00 each and on the small side, but five of them left me satisfied.

We waited for our number to be called. The crowd here is a true Los Angeles melting pot – Latinos, Koreans, African-Americans, Caucasians, and douchebags all visited the Chato while we were there.

We got our tacos. My plate, with five tacos con todo, felt heavy. The tacos were nicely arranged, decorated with preapplied onions, cilantro and salsa, and then the plate was topped with a pile of radish slices, juicy key lime tetrahedrons, a big grilly jalapeño, and a heap of tasty grilled onions.

I picked up the topmost taco, which happened to be the chorizo. The petite, doubled tortillas had a very pleasing feel – they had been liberally oiled and grilled on a hot plancha. The texture was tough and resilient, not soggy; oily and not dry (as my favorite tortilla descriptor “leathery” implies). The light friedness imparted a slight crispness to these tortillas upon biting into them. They were excellent. And although the whole approach to tortilla preparation used here seems so obvious, so intuitive, this kind of tortilla performance is truly uncommon.

The chorizo was delicious, the best taco chorizo I’ve ever had by far. The taco featured crumbly sausage bits salty, spicy, absolutely full-flavored, but not greasy. I might even say that I enjoyed this taco even more than the al pastor, but a little chorizo does go a long way, whereas al pastor is sustainable, good for the long haul.

I had the al pastor tacos next, and they were excellent – spicy; good textural variation with resilient bits after a plancha-frying as well as tenderness; pineapple flavor; and a deep porky-flavored subtext. With fine tortillas, good salsa, and fresh grilled onions, these are stellar tacos, genre-defining, honorable.

Finally I ate the carne asada tacos. These were great too, although not the standout of the night. The steak is moist and full-flavored, and diced very finely. I found myself picking up tiny little scraps of tasty spare taco meat from my plate after I had finished the fifth taco.

El Chato is so praiseworthy that it gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling just thinking about how it’s there, not far away, providing righteous tacos, like true professionals, all evening long for its happy customers.

Posted: June 29th, 2010
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32 Campos Tacos

32 Campos Tacos

June 27, 2010

10814 Jefferson Blvd, Culver City, CA 90230

Culver City

Campos Tacos is a mini-chain of five or ten restaurants scattered mainly around the Westside. There was one on Venice Boulevard in Palms that became Pancho’s recently; they used to have some giant tasty al pastor tacos that you could wash down with a Negra Modelo. There is also a Campos Famous Burritos on Venice Boulevard at Motor Avenue that I visit frequently, but when I go to a place called “Famous Burritos”, I order a burrito. I’m not a troublemaker, so why would I deliberately defy such an explicit guideline contained within the name of the restaurant?

Be advised that all these Camposes serve completely different food. The Burrito place has a very savory, chorizo-like al pastor that I enjoy in burrito format; but Campos Tacos on Jefferson in Culver City, where Carmen and I had lunch today, surprised me with a diametrically opposed al pastor of super fruity sweetiness.

We found this suburban-looking taco shop in the middle of the big strip mall with the Target store. The television let us watch Argentina beat Mexico at the big sportsball tournament. I ordered one each of the al pastor, carne asada, and carnitas tacos, which were well above average in size and $1.75 each. They were served con todo, with a couple different kinds of salsa preapplied, and a handful of storebought-seeming chips that I nonetheless enjoyed with the spicy verde salsa from the salsa bar.

I started off with the carne asada. The ordinary tortillas were hot, steamed, but not laminated, so I performed the tortilla offset maneuver on this big taco. My first bite was very satisfying. I tasted onions, cilantro and salsa in proper balance with a beefy steak flavor sparely seasoned with salt and pepper, and citrus from the lime I had squeezed above my tacos; but on subsequent bites, I was disappointed to find much of the steak too tough, resisting one’s ability to bite through it. Flavor was good, but texture was subpar.

Next I ate the carnitas taco, the best of the bunch. Unlike the moist, grey carnitas at Famous Burritos, the carnitas here had a nice brown color and a dry consistency with good al-denteness. The addition of spicy green from the salsa bar helped round out this taco.

Finally I ate the al pastor. Despite the very peppery-looking salsa, this taco surprised me by being the fruitiest, sweetest al pastor experience of the year, with a taste reminiscent of brown sugar. I liked it, but the carnitas was better, and I have to admit it was not better than the median of al pastor meats.

Carmen ordered a hard shell taco with beef, which she declared “Better than Tito’s”. I took a bite and found it very tasty, with the crispy taco shell offering all the satisfactions of oily, freshly-deep-fried starches. A sign in the restaurant claimed that they have the best crispy tacos in town. That would be a fun project to verify.

Posted: June 27th, 2010
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31 Tacos el Compita

31 Tacos el Compita

June 18, 2010

4477 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90019

Mid-Wilshire

After a week of intensive burrito therapy, I was sufficiently recovered from last Sunday’s meat nightmare to eat tacos once again. Yesterday visiting taco enthusiasts Tyler and Dacia, and burgeoning taco enthusiast Althea, accompanied me to a fine luncheoning at nearby Tacos el Compita. In 2010, the magic of Google Street View allows us to scout local taquerías in advance, and thereby I determined that the Compita is a pleasing A-frame taco stand, and thus would be worth visiting on architectural grounds alone.

Diagrammatically, the A-frame building is the upside-down of the taco. In both the A-frame and the taco, structure and envelope, as a single element, are folded over to contain and protect the juicy programmatic contents.

The small Compita stand still provides a choice among distinct seating areas, several tables both inside and outside. The addition of a glass wall partially encloses and protects the exterior dining area from the noise of Pico Boulevard without detracting from the feeling of connection to the street. The rolling hills of this stretch of the city yield scenic vistas both up and down the street – mid-century cement-plaster walls against blue skies.

I ordered one each of the carne asada, al pastor, and lengua tacos. They were somewhat above average in size and a good value at $1.25 each. When we had all placed our orders with the serveur, I heard him say “nueve” to the taquero, who then placed nine pairs of tortillas on the griddle, to create the leathery, proper, bilaminated structure-cum-envelope backbone of the tacos we would soon enjoy.

After excavating them from the garnish of jalapeños, radishes and carrots, I proceeded to eat my tacos in the order implied by their arrangement on the plate. On top was lengua, my second lengua taco ever, and thus now I’m getting a better picture of what lengua comprises. The meat was grey and very moist and tender, with strong beefy flavors. Very good with the green salsa; but so far lengua has not proved to be a favorite. I was craving something more al dente.

The taco al pastor came next. It was a great taco. The al pastor has good texture with black charry bits from the griddle. Tyler admired the irregularity of size and shape of the chopped onions. The delicious red salsa is one of the hottest I’ve met this year, giving the taco a real kick that contrasts with the sweet, fruity flavors of the pork. I appreciated that the taqueros had provided green salsa on the lengua taco and red on the al pastor and asada tacos – they care enough about the singularity of each particular taco to have determined which salsa is appropriate, and serve their tacos accordingly.

I enjoyed the carne asada taco last. The power of the spicy rojo was in the driver’s seat, but the meat was very good, with some unusual characteristics. Blackened in areas on the griddle and diced very finely, the steak had winning textural variation and offered resistance to the tooth. I concluded my meal by sampling the garnish. The jalapeño was both sweet and spicy. The radish slices were blasé, nonchalant, a little R&R for the mouth.

Posted: June 19th, 2010
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30 Tacos Tumbras a Tomas

30 Tacos Tumbras a Tomas

June 13, 2010

Grand Central Market Space A05, 317 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013

Downtown

Our first visit of the year to the famed Grand Central Market started out great. The Grand Central is a fantastic place full of vendors, the timelessness of produce, neon signs that are either old or retro, and woodchips on the floor. The dining area at the north end is open to the sidewalk to the north and the market to the south, with the floor sloped and stepped on its way down to Broadway. The interior finishes are concrete and skylight. It’s a tremendous place.

Tacos Tumbras a Tomas is one of the best reputed of the three or four taco vendors in the Market, and famed in particular for the large size of its tacos. It looks just right – photogenic. Ordering at Tumbras a Tomas is like ordering at a crowded bar – you push your way to the front until one of the many taqueros behind the display case looks at you and yells “Next!”

I ordered one each of the “ranchera asada” and carnitas estilo Michoacan” tacos. Al pastor isn’t on the menu board, but they do have it – Carmen ordered one each of the carnitas and the al pastor tacos. They are $2.50 each. You will be asked your choice of green and red salsa. The taquero said that the red is hotter, so that’s what we got.

The tacos are the biggest I have ever seen. Two tacos completely cover a normal-sized paper plate. As taco authority Bandini wrote, it was like getting the meat from a carne asada plate lunch and a carnitas plate lunch along with a few tortillas. In addition to the substrate tortillas, an additional bilaminated pair was thrown on top for good measure. The chief merit of these tortillas is that they are big. That’s the chief merit of the tacos, too.

We portaged our heavy plates of tacos and found a table, where we proceeded to pick at our unpickupable tacos with the forks. The carne asada was unusual – saucy and savory and gamy, and diced into very small bits, it bore more resemblance to typical al pastor than carne asada, although it showed unmistakable beefiness. Usually I think of the classic taco meat dichotomy of as consisting of al pastor on one side, with its maximalist, tons-o’-flavor sensibility, and carne asada on the other, representing spare, elegant minimalism. So this asada was okay, but it was an octoparrot.

The grey, shreddy carnitas was impressive for the fact that it looked like meat – chunks of various shapes, sizes, colors and consistency that clearly came from many different parts of the animal. It was mostly tender and moist; we both pulled a few giant chunks of fat from our tacos, but that’s okay, as there was still an overload of pork remaining. Extremely salty and smoky flavored, this pork bore a very strong resemblance to the Kalua pork served overflowing in a Styrofoam tray, at fast-food Ohana Hawaiian BBQ in Monterey Park. This was a recipe for feeling gross, which is what I’m doing right now, and meanwhile the experience has driven Carmen to pass out on the couch in the middle of the afternoon. The al pastor might have been the best of the lot – it was of the saucy variety, savory and quite salty, but a whole taco’s worth still might mess you up.

After forking out about a third of the meat from my plate, I forked a half-measure of carne asada and carnitas onto the spare bilam-tortillas, creating a hybrid taco. These tortillas were a bit dry and had a good leathery quality. The mixture of carne asada and carnitas was odd, creating a dank salty, grungy sludge. The carnitas chunks I ate in this octoparrot taco were particularly fatty, giant chunks of soft, white, melt-in-your-mouth fat. They must slow cook this stuff for ages.

Finally there was little enough meat remaining to pick up my tacos. I picked up carne asada – folded over and hefted in the hand, it was still larger than any taco I’ve been served this year. I ate most of it, but did experience catastrophic failure of the bilam’d tortillas halfway through. Perhaps the perforations of a thousand fork stabs and the 90 minutes or so that seemed to have passed since I started had something to do with it, but the tortillas underlaying the meatpiles seemed inadequately prepped.

Finally I picked up the carnitas taco, and ate about half of it before setting it down in utter revulsion. Today I profoundly experienced the feeling that gives meaning to the Spanish word “empalagado”, that feeling of being full not because of your stomach, but because your palate cannot handle any more – although my stomach concurred with my mouth this time.

How big are the tacos? If I said they were three times as big as a normal taco, I think readers might be skeptical. How can they be that big? But I promise you, there was more than three tacos’ worth of meat on each of these monsters. Frankly, the size of these tacos is obscene. I believe that today was the first time in my entire life that I have not finished all the tacos I have been served. I am disgusted at the thought of tacos. I resolve never to eat tacos again. That’s terrible, Kenny. How ‘bout nobody win? The cincuenta taquerías project has never before been in such jeopardy.

Posted: June 13th, 2010
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29 Carnitas Michoacan #3

29 Carnitas Michoacan #3

June 5, 2010

741 S Soto St, Los Angeles, CA 90023

Boyle Heights

My field assignment at East Los Angeles College ended three weeks ago, so now I have to travel to the Eastside purposefully to eat tacos, which I will gladly do. And pobrecita Carmen has been to so few of these Eastside taquerías with me. We trekked out to Boyle Heights for dinner at conspicuous Carnitas Michoacan #3 on Whittier Boulevard, an eye-attractor for many reasons – it has both a giant hamburger and a giant dinosaur on the roof; it has “carnitas” in the name of the restaurant; car-lot-style flapping flags overhead; and the sign out front claims boldly of their tacos “OVER 5 ZILLION SOLD”. This latter fact is quite dubious, although the quantity in a zillion cannot be verified by press time. By making such a claim Michoacan #3 is throwing down the gauntlet at their competitors down the street – you’ve got to be pretty confident to take on McDonald’s.

Michoacan #3 has the look and feel of a neighborhood institution and hangout. Open 24 hours, it has a dining area featuring arcade games, jukebox, and a candy-filled vending machine. Best of all, it’s a perfect indoor/outdoor space, under a roof but separated from the parking lot only by fence. Putting on one’s deerstalker cap and pondering while waiting for them to call order #9, one imagines that a taco stand came first; the canopy out front added later; and the fencing still later, resulting organically in the pleasing space that exists today. You would have to be pretty cynical not to be charmed by the informal collection of ad hoc signs and graphics on display here.

Carmen took her cue from the name of the restaurant and ordered three carnitas tacos, while I hedged my bets characteristically, ordering one each of the carnitas, carne asada, and al pastor tacos. These were $1.25 each and a little above average in size. I felt obliged to eat them in a predetermined order, because the three tacos slightly overlapped on my plate like a Venn diagram, and it seemed correct to eat whichever taco that was on top. Tortillas were the normal kind, bilaminated.

The al pastor was delicious, carved off a revolving spit, and with nicely contrasting orange bits and blackened grilly bits. The meat exhibits both some sauciness and some dryrubbiness somehow, and overall sweet, fragrant, and tasting of many spices; it did not emphasize the savory chile/garlicky/oniony aspect that often comes across so strongly in non-spitted al pastor varieties. The house red salsa is really good and pretty hot, and complimented the al pastor well.

Next up was the house specialty, a fine and platonic carnitas with nicely variable texture and a strong smoky, porky flavor. In tandem with the red salsa this made for a truly righteous taco – these tacos really get to the essence of what Taco-ness is all about. The same must be said of the carne asada, which was moist, flavorful, very beefy – really good. I would like to become a frequenter of the Michoacan #3.

Posted: June 5th, 2010
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28 Puebla Tacos

28 Puebla Tacos

May 29, 2010

700 N. Lake Ave, Pasadena, CA 91104

Pasadena

Our lunchtime taco meal was a family affair. We rendezvoused at the home of burgeoning taco enthusiast Oliver, who took Suelika out to a nearby luncheoning at Puebla Tacos along with Carmen, myself, and special guests Lauri, Winston and Cecilia, who have all come to visit from foreign lands. We wanted to find a righteous taquería so that our guests from afar could enjoy the authentic taco experience, and Puebla Tacos was a good choice – the food was not outstanding, but it was accurate; the strip mall location next to a 7-11 was appropriate; and the murals on inside walls depicting the Puebla homeland were captivating. Their lightbox sign features one of my favorite Mexicanizing typefaces. Look at how happy are the scale figures in the photograph – they have been enjoying a fine taquería meal.

Tacos are $1.80 each, with the usual choices on offer. I ordered one each of the al pastor, carnitas, and carne asada tacos. They were served as meat only, with toppings available at a salsa bar. When I was handed my paper plate with its three tacos, tortillas folded over so as to conceal and protect the contents, I was taken aback by the unexpected weight. These tacos are hefty, and a good value. The tortillas are the normal kind, but larger in diameter, doubled but not laminated. They looked a little pale to my eye and I expected them to let me down by being underprepared, but they turned out to be quite effective and satisfying, and piping hot to the touch.

After scooping up onion, cilantro, and red and green salsa from the bar, I assembled and ate the big al pastor taco with the mildly hot and cilantroid salsa verde. The al pastor is the saucy kind with a strong, sweet adobado flavor. It was pretty good, but not terribly compelling. This is not the al pastor that is scratched indelibly in my brain next to concepts like awesome and crave.

Next I ate the carne asada taco with the addition of plenty of the dark and brooding red salsa, fairly spicy with a slow burn and nice roasted chile flavor. The carne asada was pretty meh, though. It looked the part and had good texture, but the flavor was bland and slightly sweet. It reminded me of the smell of mothballs. I recommend that you not choose the carne asada.

Last I ate the carnitas taco, with a generous application of the rojo. The carnitas was my favorite – far from the grey moist meatmass I was half expecting, it was among the driest carnitas I have encountered this year, with a real crispiness and textural mouth feedback. It was overly dry, but the best bites of this taco hinted at brilliance. The shreds of crispy fried flesh had a delicate, filigreed fineness. That clutch player Carnitas came through with the game-winning RBI.

Posted: May 29th, 2010
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27 No “Q” No Taquería

27 No “Q” No Taquería

May 22, 2010

3224 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90019

Arlington Heights

Carmen and I dined at the No “Q” No Taquería, another taco shop roughly local to our neighborhood. They have an extensive and largely handmade menu spread across the wall. You can eat at one of several tables inside, where a loud jukebox keeps spirits lively, or outside in front of the parking lot on Venice Boulevard, another of Los Angeles’s great taco environments with the feel of a semi-enclosed outdoor space.

Tacos are $1.00 each, the cheapest tacos I have encountered this year, and they varied from average to well above average in size. It would really be more appropriate to charge $1.25 for tacos like these. I automatically chose one each of al pastor, carnitas, and carne asada. Despite the low prices, they serve you at your table after you order up front. First the serveuse brought us a big gratis bowl of chips and fresh red salsa; then our tacos, with an admixture in a bowl of cilantro and diced onion for our own application. The combination of nice service and a bill of less than $8 for two eaters makes you want to leave a tip.

After assembling tacos, I started in on the carne asada. It was very juicy, leaking a brown, meaty liquid out the back of the taco, and very flavorful, bringing back a strong sense of recognition of spiced beef that I couldn’t immediately place; later I decided that it tasted of carne asada seasoning, and figured that perhaps the familiarity it evoked came from a resemblance to the seasoned ground beef one makes at home on taco night. This description will surely make the taco sound unsophisticated to the reader, but I assure you it was tasty, and I recommend it to you as long as you are not a snob. But then a snob probably wouldn’t go to a place that looks like the No “Q” No Taquería anyways. I could gobble up quite a few of these tacos.

Second was the al pastor taco. It was the biggest – look at the picture and appreciate the heap of meat I received for my dollar. The al pastor was saucy and quite sweet, with good-sized and super tender chunks of pork.

Lastly I ate the carnitas. Their unusual carnitas is the pale chicken-looking taco you see in the photo. Carmen speculates that their process is to grill a pork chop, shred it, and then sauté the shreddy bits. I’ve never seen anything called “carnitas” like this before, but it was good – tender, and unmistakably porcine in flavor.

Tortillas were the normal kind; they were not bilaminated, so that I was able to take advantage of the tortilla offset method. The first two tacos had tortillas a bit clammy, but they did not fail; the third taco had nicely leathery tortillas, perhaps owing to the drier filling, but it seemed like they had been grilled longer.

After enjoying another fine taco meal, I reflected upon the fact that the cincuenta taquerías project keeps on yielding dividends – tacos are better than the stock market. Seven more months of rigorous taco-eating are spread across the horizon.

Posted: May 22nd, 2010
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26 Taquería Jalisco

26 Taqueria Jalisco

May 19, 2010

4755 W Washington Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90016

Mid-City

Carmen and I went to nearby Taqueria Jalisco for dinner, and I really enjoyed it – a fine meal from a platonic taco shop, a little place with few tables, and doors that open the whole front of the shop to the sidewalk.

I was fooled by the exterior signage program, which has caught my eye over the years. Both this place and the nearby “Washington Market” are humble little businesses with vaguely trendy-looking arial-wannabe-helvetica-medium exterior signs. I was expecting a blandly designy interior to match the signage, and had even constructed in my mind a narrative in which some Community Design Center had dispensed with a grant by providing upgraded signage and interiors for select local businesses in this gritty Washington Boulevard neighborhood. The signs out front, however, are where the design stops, thankfully. Inside, Taqueria Jalisco is 100% old-school.

The tacos are $1.15 each, and about average to just above average in size, an excellent value. Carmen and I both ordered one each of the carne asada, al pastor, and carnitas tacos. Tacos are prepared on the hot stainless plancha to order, and we waited about ten minutes to be served. The plate was delivered with garnishing carrots, jalapeno, radish and lemon. Tacos were delivered con todo with a good salsa, less hot than medium-hot.

I took a first bite of the carne asada taco. Very tasty, juicy, hot, almost perfect. Memories of my first taco experiences in Santa Ana flooded my mind. The bilaminated normal tortillas were piping hot and nicely leathery. The meat had perfect coverage on the tortillas, and the onion, cilantro and salsa were all supplied in the perfect ratio to the taco. Carmen commented that there was a harmony between the size of the diced onion and the diced meat. These tacos were absolutely unpretentious, but crafted with the utmost care – the classic taco prepared by a master artisan. One must respect and appreciate such craftsmanship when one encounters it.

I ate the al pastor taco next. It was the charriest, crunchiest pork al pastor I’ve ever encountered. I enjoyed the sensation, although I must admit it was too charred. Last I ate the carnitas taco. Their carnitas is excellent, brown with a dry, crispy, varied texture.

Taqueria Jalisco provides the proper taqueria experience, and is absolutely taco-righteous.

Posted: May 19th, 2010
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