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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56 El Parian

56 Restaurant Familiar El Parian

November 21, 2010

1528 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015

Pico-Union

A s I have mentioned before and consistent with my general belief in the virtues of rectitude and propriety, I place high priority on respecting the specialty of a restaurant. If the name of the restaurant includes a word like “taco” or “pizza”, then I know what I ought to order. The contrapositive of this fact is that I have avoided sullying my cincuenta taquerías project with reports of places that are not in fact taco shops. But I have made an exception for El Parian, the sign over the door of which says “Birria Estilo Jalisco, Restaurant Familiar,” because of its significance in the tacoscape – to wit, El Parian’s role in the evolving taco-informationscape of the 21st Century.

I first heard of El Parian in the pages of Jonathan Gold’s seminal anthology of restaurant reviews, Counter Intelligence, published in 2000 and now seeming like a relic of a bygone age. Gold describes El Parian as the exemplary one-dish restaurant, specializing in Jalisco-style birria (goat stew). Gold also shows his hand in a statement uncharacteristically and praiseworthily unambiguous for a critic to make: “in my opinion, El Parian’s birria is the best single Mexican dish in Los Angeles.” Gold goes on to end his review by stating the El Parian does also have carne asada on the menu, but implicitly casts aspersions on the manhood of anyone who would order it, writing that “it is on the menu for the same reason ‘Landlubber’s De-Lite’ might be at a seafood restaurant.”

Five years later in 2005, in the bright early days of taco blogging, the pioneering taco blogger Bandini wrote in the Great Taco Hunt of visiting El Parian and, in another wonderfully unambiguous statement: “simply put this is the best carne asada in the history of mankind.” Bandini threw down the gauntlet, reclaiming for a frequently birria-nervous audience of interweb-reading gringos the carne asada that Gold had so contemptuously dismissed. And now Gold has himself taken notice – Gold’s reports about El Parian in recent years acknowledge both the taco blogosphere’s influence on the place and the fact that the carne asada truly is delicious.

Carmen and I met Russ, Shanta and Damien here for lunch on this beautiful afternoon. From the sidewalk all you see is the dingy façade and a half-dozen busy cooks in the front prep area, but passing through the heavy screen door reveals a surprisingly vast and airy, high-ceilinged space, unpretentiously spare with something of the communal feel of an open-air beer garden or a cafeteria. We sat towards the back between a row of arches that seem to be actually holding up the roof, and a row of store-style glass refrigerator doors where the beers and Mexican sodas are stored. Russ, Damien and I ordered tacos – I chose the carnitas and carne asada, $2.99 each but big enough to be worth it. Carmen hewed to the path of righteousness and and took an order of the birria. We waited quite a while for the food, but crowded in our corner of this spacious-feeling, cold, noisy and smelly dining room felt to me like the right place to be hanging out.

My two big tacos came in unorthodox fashion – rather than tortillas flat with a heap of meat atop, the tortillas were already folded over to encompass the heap of meat filling. The heavy, thick, doubled handmade tortillas were quite corn-tasty and structurally adequate for the job. I ate the carnitas first, dismayed by the puddle of carnitas-water forming on the plate around this taco, but the carnitas itself is very good. Moist and flavorful, but far from crispy and with a fairly uniform texture, it possesses the deep pork-alchemical flavor magic of serious earthy carnitas. The thick handful of taco offers many big satisfying bites for the pork lover. And the thick tortillas withstood the moisture to the end.

The carne asada taco could do nothing other than disappoint, as expectations had been so ramped up by the hype. Rather than the “thick strips” that Bandini described five years ago, I found cuboid chunks. The steak was great, don’t get me wrong. It was seasoned sparely and effectively, with visible specks of black pepper. The steak had the fatty taste of marbled skirt steak. The charry, full-bodied steakiness of the cuboid chunks gives it the satisfying “I just ate real steak” impression that you get when you eat a named cut at an American-style steakhouse, as opposed to the anemic feel that finely cut taco carne asada often exhibits. The experience was marred by a few scattered tough bits. This was a great taco that I would gladly eat again, but there have been several steak tacos that I have enjoyed more during this year’s rewarding taco-eating journey.

I sampled the birria too. So flavorful and good, but so goaty and empalagating. Your clothes will smell like El Parian afterwards and you may prefer that they did not. But I think it’s worth it – I found El Parian charming.

Posted: November 21st, 2010
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24 El Taurino

24 El Taurino

May 7, 2010

2306 W 11th St, Los Angeles, CA 90006

Pico-Union

A few weeks ago friend and colleague Zinayda recommended El Taurino, and then when I looked it up, I discovered that the whole internet likes it as well, and that El Taurino is a sibling of King Taco, which recently I so enjoyed. Carmen and I decided to go there this Friday evening for dinner – I couldn’t help it, I was craving al pastor.

We drove to their Pico-Union location and found a taco truck serving tacos in their parking lot, apparently supplementing the action in the restaurant proper; but it seemed like going inside for the restaurant experience was the thing to do. We might have spent 15 minutes waiting in line, though. I tried not to think about how I would have been eating already had we gone with the truck.

The interior is classic Mexican restaurant style, with a spacious dining room, in which the experience is marred only by the constant calling of order numbers over the loudspeaker. The dining experience is greatly augmented by the wall-to-wall bullfighting decorations, and actual taxidermy trophy bull heads mounted on the walls. And it’s called “El Taurino”. This place wants you to know that cattle aren’t just something you happen to be eating, but also a mighty and honorable beast cruelly taunted and murdered for sport! Click here to see my photo of the restaurant interior on Flickr.

Tacos were $1.25 each, and the menu similar to that at King Taco. I chose one each of carne asada, al pastor, carnitas, and suadero, and responded affirmatively when asked if I wanted them spicy. They are somewhat small to average in size, so four make a good meal. The tortillas are the normal kind, fully bilam’d.

First I ate suadero, delivered with a tasty peppery green salsa. This was my favorite of the four – the strips of beef filled the tortillas well and offered great texture and beefy flavor. Next I ate carne asada, which was coated in a smooth red salsa. I took a couple bites and found the steak moist and tasty, fairly spare in its treatment but citrusy. By the third bite, the heat of that smooth red salsa had gone into effect. The green salsa on the suadero was unusually hot, but the rojo on the asada is potent. It’s Franka Potente. I’m pretty sure this was the hottest taco I’ve ever eaten. Is this heaty taco the reason that the majority of the clientele at El Taurino appeared to be Korean? Everything I tasted after this moment was mediated by that heat.

I ate carnitas next, which was delivered with the less hot verde, but through the veil of the hot afterburn of the red, it could have been soggy cardboard and I would scarcely have noticed. It seemed okay, but I won’t presume to judge it.

The al pastor was delivered with the now-legendary rojo as well. I eyed it warily. Carmen encouraged me to scoop off that rojo, but I’m not the kind of man who would do any such thing – this taco needed to be eaten the way it was meant to be eaten. But I did take a bite of al pastor at fork’s end before I got into the taco per se. It was very good, cut from a real rotating spit that you can look at, orange and black, and very sweet, caramelly. Then I ate the rest of the taco and was plunged back into the land of heat and fire.

El Taurino was awesome. It’s not so hot that tears run down the face, but the heat still shows you who’s boss. What it lacks in subtlety is obscured by the visceral experience of fiery rojo.

Posted: May 8th, 2010
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