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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44 Tacos El Paisano

44 Tacos El Paisano

September 4, 2010

5301 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90019

Mid-City

One month ago, Hamburglar Hadley reported in Grub Street the important news of a new taco shop opened in Mid-City on Venice Boulevard. I have a strong, personal identification with that particular boulevard! I was looking forward to it.

This little shop was home to Hoagies & Wings, and then it became Wing Shack, which according to unreliable internet website Yelp! was really good. Wing Shack closed in May of this year to make way for a taquería, a sign of the times. If you compare this “before” picture, you can see what it takes to transform a Wing Shack into a Tacos El Paisano: you add some Hispanicizing puffy stucco around the top. The tiny building with about four dining tables is a fine environment in which to enjoy the simple pleasures of a taco meal.

The menu isn’t too long, which is an asset in a taquería, because it highlighted what we needed – $1.25 tacos and Mexican sodas. Carmen smartly ordered two carne asada tacos and one each of al pastor and chorizo, so I followed her lead. The friendly serveur poked fun at me in English for not speaking Spanish as Carmen had.

We had to drive past the nearby Venice and La Brea truck with its awesome trompo (literally a children’s toy spinning top, this word designates the vertical revolving spit of al pastor pork that resembles such a top). I remembered a line from Bandini’s recent review of Daniel’s Tacos: “al pastor that doesn’t come from the trompo only has so high of a ceiling.” True enough. Recent revelatory trompo experiences may be turning me into a serious trompo snob. For non-trompo pastor, the tacos at El Paisano are quite good – thoroughly marinated and quite strongly flavored, with good texture; savory rather than sweet.

Tacos were average in size, with satisfactory bilaminated tortillas, and served topped with onion and cilantro. Salsa was provided on the side in two bowls, red and green, both fairly spicy. Carne asada was good – I preferred the al pastor, but Carmen thought the steak was better. The steak had the butteriest flavor I have ever encountered, which Carmen likened to movie theater popcorn. That simile probably doesn’t make it sound very good, and in fact the taste is kind of freaky. I have previously noted a buttery flavor in good steak tacos which I attributed to the fattiness of the beef, but this time, we wondered if actual butter (or more likely the butter-flavored oil pumped onto popcorn at movie theaters) played a role.

The chorizo pleased me too – this taco was the biggest, with chorizo in big charred-orange chunks; very salty, but a welcome counterpoint to the other tacos.

The most distinctive aspect of our taco plates was the grilled onion – a medium entire onion served whole, but made sweet and delicious on the grill. One could eat such onions by themselves like bits of candy. I pulled Grilly apart and divided his remains amongst my tacos to spread out the joy.

Tacos El Paisano provided a taco-righteous meal and dining experience. I don’t know how they are going to compete with the pork artisans down the street at the Venice and La Brea truck, but I always root for the underdog.

Posted: September 4th, 2010
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41 Venice and La Brea Taco Truck aka “El Latino” Catering aka Leo’s Tacos

41 Venice and La Brea Taco Truck aka “El Latino” Catering aka Leo’s Tacos

August 19, 2010

Venice Blvd at La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90019

Mid-City

This taco truck is awesome.

Carmen noticed a few months ago that this truck, parked at the Unocal 76 station at the northwest corner of Venice and La Brea, was attracting big crowds, despite its proximity to the famed El Chato truck. I saw the compelling al pastor spit with my own eyes. I read Bandini’s favorable review of the place. It has been too many weeks since I last had righteous tacos, and I have been craving just that – fancy tacos and weird tacos leave me wanting for righteous tacos, those tight little doses of elegant perfection, where the tortillas are not homemade but oiled and griddled to leatheriness, the meats are savory and diced small, and the salsa is red hot.

Celebrating the end of my working week and the arrival of the weekend – tacos are to meals as weekends are to weeks – Carmen and I went up the road to Venice Boulevard. Bandini called this truck Leo’s, but I didn’t notice any name on the truck other than “El Latino” Catering. Furthermore, this truck is clearly different from the one in Bandini’s pictures from a month ago, although everything else matches up, including the staff. No matter – at the moment I am feeling too much calm reverence for this taco truck to pronounce its sainted name aloud.

We went to the truck at about 7:00 PM – unlike with the late-opening El Chato truck, there is no need to kill the evening boozing somewhere while waiting to eat tacos. This location on Venice Boulevard is a fine specimen of tacogeography. The absurd width and underdevelopment of this automobile-oriented stretch of Venice Boulevard provides the setting for the adaptive reuse of the edge of an overlarge gas station where half the pumps have been decommissioned. This is a transient, fugitive space, lacking all of the qualities that anyone would use to describe a nice neighborhood; but here crystallizes regularly a temporary community gathered together to share in the eating of righteous food. While you are here, it’s the greatest place on earth. It’s outside, and it’s in and of the city.

I ordered two tacos al pastor and one each of the carne asada and the carnitas, a bargain at $1.00 each for average-size tacos. Carmen, knowing something good when she sees it, ordered four al pastor tacos. The serveur directed the carne asada and carnitas orders to the truck, and the al pastor orders to the master of the spit. Carne asada and carnitas were done first – the taquero in the truck called my order and handed me a plate of undecorated tacos, just meat on bilam’d tortillas. The condiment table features the standard items, which without skill I applied to my tacos. The cilantro was diced into tiny bits, an attribute Carmen declared essential to the righteous taco, with which I agree, but I don’t know why it is so. The rojo is quite spicy, the green thick and appropriately herby.

The knife-wielding master of the al pastor spit does his work out front of the truck, out in the open. Dozens of pork filets are piled high on the spit in front of what looks like a glowing concrete breeze-block with a fire behind it. Half a pineapple sits on top. When he got the order, the taquero grabbed tortillas, dipped the edge in the puddle of hot oil and drippings beneath the spit, and flung the oil from the tortillas onto his griddle. The tortillas sat there a while, achieving the perfect leatheriness and crispening. For the next step, the taquero scooped up the bilam’d tortillas and with large knife carved slivers of pork directly from the spit into his tortilla hand. The taco full of pork went face-down back on the griddle, to crisp the edges of the meat; and finally before being served, slivers of caramelized pineapple were sliced and placed on top.

I garnished these tacos with spicy rojo and eagerly brought my paper plates to the trunk of Carmen’s car. I ate an al pastor taco first. Sweet heaven, this taco was just right, the tortillas perfectly crisped and the al pastor phenomenal. Neither saucy nor dryrubby, the meat was dense with flavor that seemed integral to the meat, both savory and fruity. The excellent pineapple complemented the pork perfectly. Pineapple is underrated, as it is surely the best tasting of all fruits – the al pastor of fruits if you will.

The other tacos were great as well, although it seems unfair to compare them against the al pastor. The splendor of al pastor crowds my brain leaving all other meats forgotten. I almost feel sorry for the taqueros who work in the truck preparing all the non-pastor items, of which they offer a good variety – every day they have to compete against the man with the spit. It’s not their fault.

The carne asada was a fine specimen of carne asada, sparely furnished, finely diced and well textured. The spicy rojo perfected this taco. The carnitas, bright orange on its exterior, is striking – when I picked up the plate, Carmen and I both looked at it and said “Ooo!” This taco was the largest – its tortilla-filling handful brought to mind its contrast with the relatively diminutive tacos up the street at El Chato’s. We nibbled and I found that the carnitas had the paradoxical oily lightness of having been just-fried, with strong pork-fat flavor. I chose the green salsa for this one, and greatly enjoyed it, although I must admit that I was distracted by memories of the al pastor taco I just ate and by visions of the second al pastor taco that I was about to eat. I was in taco heaven for quite a few minutes.

My experience this evening – eating the best meal I’ll have all month, on the trunk of a car parked in a disused gas station as the sun set over Venice Boulevard on a summer evening, for a grand total of four dollars – this for me is what tacos are all about. The euphoria of another awesome taco experience briefly brings meaning and order to the fuckedupness of everyday life. I have an urge to terminate the cincuenta taquerías project and declare it successful and completed, now that I know I have found that everything I need in this world is available at this disused gas station two miles from my home. But I will soldier on, buoyed by the hope that maybe tacos will bring me good fortune yet again.

Posted: August 19th, 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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05 Tacos Don Jorge

05 Tacos Don Jorge

January 22, 2010

8693 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90034

Mid-City

It’s Friday night, so Carmen and I went out to a taco shop. Tacos Don Jorge is distinguished by its awesome menu – they have tortas, burritos and tacos with your choice of typical meats, and nothing else to worry about or distract you. Their menu is imageable, as a taqueria’s menu should be. Don Jorge started out as a truck, and for the first year after their restaurant opened, the truck remained parked out front on Venice Boulevard, serving as an awesome billboard.

We each had three tacos, one each of al pastor, carne asada, and carnitas. They are slightly above average in size and $1.25 a piece. There is no salsa bar – the tacomasters have determined what salsa and how much of it should be on your taco, and they put it there. The tacos here are delivered pretty saucy. The tortillas are typical – each taco features two laminated together by steam, aka bilaminated.

I started with carne asada. The meat is chewy and a little gamy, and equipped with a quite spicy salsa. It is satisfying. The overflow of meat could not be contained atop the tortilla shell. Juicy sauces and a few chunks of meat spilled out the back when I bit off the front of the taco.

The al pastor was next, and was the standout of the bunch. It was the largest, completely resisting efforts to fold the tortillas into a taco shape around the pile of meat. I tasted the half-cylinder of pastor and thought to myself, this is the stuff, the stuff of the shepherd. It is unusually fruity flavored, and sweet; but also spicy and seasoned with chorizo-like flavors.

The carnitas was typical taqueria carnitas – grey, moist and shreddy, with consistent texture, and not too thrilling. Good carnitas is the kind that has contrasty inconsistent texture with crunchy fried bits in its midst. If I don’t find a good carnitas taco soon, I’m going to give up trying it and switch to guts.

Tacos Don Jorge is open till 1:00 AM, so good for a late night al pastor fix.

Posted: January 22nd, 2010
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