19 La Estrella #3 Tacos
April 11, 2010
6103 N Figueroa St, Los Angeles, CA 90042
It was a fine cloudy Sunday, and Carmen and I planned to stop at La Estrella #3 Tacos in Highland Park on the way to a MOCA symposium called “Ugly and Ordinary” at the Pacific Design Center about Venturi-Scott Brown’s Learning from Las Vegas studio. La Estrella is the kind of throwaway, makeshift commercial space which Venturi and Scott Brown might have self-consciously tried to appreciate architecturally, and which Ed Ruscha might have photographed in black-and-white out the window of his car for the book he never produced that might have been called FIFTY LOS ANGELES TACO SHOPS. It’s a perfect, platonic taco stand.
The site is an isosceles triangle, cut along the hypotenuse by the tracks of the Gold Line. If a parcel of this size and shape were created today, the city wouldn’t let you build anything on it at all. Digging a little deeper, we learn that Parcel Number 549-202-5001, also known as “Ralph Rogers’ Resubdivision of Part of Block ‘50’ and Change in Block ‘J’ Garvanza”, is 1,083 square feet. The 664-square-foot building was constructed in 1962. There is no parking. According to public records, the last sale amount for the property was $9, but I think it’s worth quite a bit more than that. La Estrella is a triumph of efficiency, the kind of exploitation of marginal space that you would expect to find in Tokyo or New York, but seldom in Los Angeles.
As we approached, we heard “Smells like Teen Spirit” blaring from inside the kitchen. You stand on the sidewalk to order, and sit on the other sidewalk to eat at one of three primary-colored fiberglass-and-steel tables under a plank-and-beam roof in front of a mural depicting the taqueria itself. If you look close, you’ll see a hog with the word “lust” appropriately tattooed on its rear end.
Carmen and I each ordered the triumvirate – one carne asada, one al pastor, and one carnitas; and I an horchata, and Carmen a piña. The total came to $11.94 – working backwards, I think the tacos must have been $1.25 each. The piña tasted like pure, liquid candy! The serveuse picked up on the fact that Carmen could speak Spanish, and asked where she was from. Carmen said Panama. “You are a lucky guy,” the young, rock and roll-loving serveuse then said to me. “Latin-American women are better than normal women.” Yes, I thought about how true that is. I feel sorry for all those inferior women bravely bearing the burden of their normalcy.
We were quite pleased with the tacos we received, on a plate with radishes and giant juicy lemon slices. First I ate the carnitas. One of the better carnitas tacos I have had this year, the pork was diced into nice little rectilinear bits and had fried character (rather than the juicy stewy character), with good tooth resistance and a smooth porky flavor. La Estrella’s thick, strong salsa roja was a pleasing accompaniment. Tortillas were the normal kind, doubled and semi-bilaminated, but well prepared.
My next mouth-guest was the taco al pastor. So good! Whereas the carnitas taco had been about average in size, the al pastor was fuller and good-sized, due to its bulk forming more of a cylinder-shape than a folded-in-half taco shape when picked up. The meat texturally resembled the carnitas, as Great Taco Hunt’s Bandini commented in a 2006 review. But this meat was bathed in a delicious fruity-chile-spice sauce, and quite flavorful – a totally good, solid taco.
Last, but still appreciated, I ate the carne asada taco. The grilled steak was chopped into unusually tiny bits that reminded me of crumbled sausage – I didn’t mind. The flavoring is streamlined, probably not much more than salt and pepper used here, and beef power is thus set free to dazzle the inside of your mouth. The salsa roja was actually quite hot, and seemed well hotter here than on the previous tacos – was it a different salsa, or did I imagine? Thinking about this taco 11 hours later, while staring at a photo of it, I’m making myself darned hungry.
Sipping my horchata at the end of this lunch, I remarked to Carmen that the presence of La Estrella #3 Tacos might seriously make me consider moving to Highland Park. It’s open 24 hours. It’s open right now, no matter when you are reading this. If it were within a mile, maybe even two miles, from home, I would walk there right now in the rain in my stocking feet for another plate of tacos.