20 Cemitas Originales Angelica’s

20 Cemitas Originales Angelica’s

April 13, 2010

Venice Blvd between Jasmine Ave and Vinton Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90034

Palms

Twenty taco shops deep into 2010, I revisit my taco roots. I luncheoned today at Angelica’s, or as my friends call it, “Cemitas Poblanas” or simply “Taco Truck”. This truck specializes in the Puebla-style sandwich known as the cemita, which seems to be their biggest seller, but the tacos are still taken seriously. Angelica’s was the first ever taco truck from which I ate, and the first place I discovered the magic of Al Pastor, way back in 2004. Their al pastor is not the best in the city, but it’s still dang delicious, and it remains the benchmark by which I judge all others.

Angelica’s parks in front of the Smart & Final on Venice Boulevard in Palms, one of the only trucks regularly parked in this diverse, dingbat-filled neighborhood.

Today I ordered three tacos, the carne asada, al pastor, and carnitas. They were $1.25 each, slightly larger than average, and served after just a couple of minutes’ wait. I proceeded logically from left to right, first eating carne asada. This taco was such a normal carne asada taco (and keep in mind that normal=delicious in the case of tacos) that I struggle to comment on it – by the time it had cooled down enough to pick up in the hand, it went by in a flash of light, heat and taste that seems to have wiped my memory clean of all thought and anxiety. Tortillas were the normal type, bilaminated. I did suffer a partial tortilla failure on this first taco, but the others withstood. The salsa is thick, pretty spicy and quite strong. The steak was chopped finely and was very beefy, with good texture and the good kind of buttery fatty flavor.

I moved on next to the taco al pastor. It was my favorite. The meat is cut into small pieces, and it’s orange except where it’s been charred to near black, with more textural variation than is typical of al pastor. It’s saucy but also seems a little dry-rubby somehow. The intensity of flavor – a chorizo-like garlic-chile-onion, with salt and citrus pouncing on it – is truly overwhelming, and would be so even without the addition of red salsa on the top. There are plenty of chunks of fat in the meat. Sometimes I find some gristly bits, but not today. It really was a wonderful taco.

Al pastor is a funny thing. I know what it’s hypothetically supposed to be – sliced from a revolving spit with a slice of pineapple sitting on top – but most of the time, I don’t know where it comes from or how they have made it. It’s different every time. I don’t have the vocabulary or the power of discernment to analyze the competing flavors, and I can’t define it in such a way that all examples would be covered. I will not be the author of the Unified Field Theory of Al Pastor. All I can do is taste it and humbly appreciate its stage presence, its tall, dark and brooding good looks and winning charisma.

A lesson: “al pastor” is Spanish for “shepherd-style”. Jesus was a shepherd. By the transitive property, the Taco al Pastor is the taco that answers the question, WWJD? Carmen and I are making a small effort to popularize the phrase “al pastor” as a universal term for praise: as in, “Check out that hot-rodded Honda Ruckus! That shit is al pastor!” or, “The new Herzog & de Meuron project has a really al pastor façade.”

The carnitas taco was third in the lineup. I enjoyed it, but the meat is not remarkable – it’s the grey carnitas of uniform texture and moist stringy tenderness that you find when carnitas is not a specialty. The green salsa was more extraordinary, being a very potent salsa verde, spicy and intensely cilantro-centered. It reminded me of the aji verde I enjoy at Peruvian restaurants.

Posted: April 13th, 2010
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11 Pancho’s Tacos

11 Pancho’s Tacos

February 24, 2010

9609 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90034

Palms

Pancho’s Tacos took over the vaguely Googie space that was formerly Campos’ Tacos on Venice Boulevard in Palms near downtown Culver City. Campos’ was a great place to get a couple extra large, extra sweet al pastor tacos and a Negra Modelo for a cheap and satisfying meal. I took the occasion to see if its successor was any good. As you can see from their sign, Panchos’ boasts of having roots that go back to 1977 – they have another location on Lincoln in Santa Monica.

I stepped inside and noticed some changes. Campos’ had a weird vibe, due to there being what looked like somebody’s private den with sports-blaring televisions and easy chairs in one corner of the dining room. Pancho’s walled off that corner, and instead sports a new mural featuring Mexican revolutionists.

Next I looked up at the menu, and saw that the default taco consists of meat, cheese, lettuce, and tomato, in either soft or crunchy format. Now I’m no bigot opposed to the very institution of crunchy tacos, or tacos containing cheese. I’ll eat half a dozen crunchy tacos at Del Taco any time you put them in front of me. I look forward to documenting a visit to delicious Tito’s Tacos this year, primarily as a rebuttal to all those assheads who rail against Tito’s on Yelp. But the crunchy and cheesy tacos aren’t what this project is about – it’s about the platonic, refined taco of tortilla, meat, salsa, onions and cilantro. So that’s what I ordered – Pancho’s sells them for $1.45 each, and they are called “street cart tacos” or somesuch, and I had the al pastor, carnitas, and carne asada. They were about average in size for tacos.

The carnitas got eaten first, and it was pretty good. It had good color, more brown than grey, and was juicy and flavorful, but lacking the satisfying texture of really good carnitas. Next the carne asada – pure and simple, this was the best of the lot, with salt, pepper and citrus fruit flavors complimenting tasty beefiness. The tortillas were the typical bilaminated sort – nothing special. Lastly, and waiting might have been the biggest mistake I made all day, the al pastor – the meat was sludgy in a thick sauce with lots of grilled onions, and a rich, sweet flavor reminiscent of mole sauce. It tasted like chocolate! The tortillas became saturated with the sauciness and I experienced catastrophic taco failure halfway through eating. I had to finish my taco with a fork. The flavor of this al pastor was unique and still enjoyable, but weird – not a new favorite.

If I go back to Pancho’s, I think I’ll try the crunchy cheesy tacos. There is the theory that if a restaurant has a food item in its name, then that’s what you should order, and Pancho’s is surely named after its crunchy beef taco. It should be noted that their menu features burritos most prominently – is this a burrito joint masquerading as a taco shop? The distinction between burrito shop and taco shop is an important one with seldom a fine line between.

Posted: February 24th, 2010
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