60 Arturo’s Puffy Taco
December 18, 2010
15693 Leffingwell Rd, Whittier, CA 90604
Sad to say, the Cincuenta Taquerías project is running short on time. This rainy day was my last taco-eating Saturday of the year, which helped justify the lengthy road trip out to Whittier upon which Carmen and I embarked to track down another of the great idiosyncratic tacos of the Los Angeles area, the San Antonio-style “puffy taco” served at Arturo’s. They were pretty great. I can’t write anything more insightful than Jonathan Gold did in his typically persuasive review.
Arturo’s timeless American taco stand is to architecture what junk food is to real food – bringing short-term pleasure and lacking nutritional value. The tiled mansard is interrupted, asymmetrically of course, by a glowing lightbox sign. Arturo’s supergraphics reinforce the theme of general Puffiness that characterizes the food. One orders while standing outside – the defining attribute of a taco stand – but a cozy dining room with vintage built-in tables and booths is there for you too.
I ordered three puffy tacos, one each of the picadillo (ground beef), carne asada, and carne guisada (beef stew). The tacos were $2.00 to $2.50 each.
I started with the picadillo, the default choice and my favorite of the three. The picadillo is a sludge-format of very finely ground beef and seasoning, similar in concept to Taco Bell’s ground beef, but tastier. If you had a large-diameter straw, you could probably drink it like a thick and wonderful milkshake. This type of filling is the ideal complement to the yellow cheddar, lettuce, and red tomato-based salsa that rounds out the puffy taco. The flavorful cheese reminded us both of the cheese that is an essential add-on to the tacos at Tito’s.
I am pleased to report that the puffy taco shell was fantastic. If you accept the tenet that deep-fried dough is delicious, then you must therefore love the puffy taco shell. “Masa” cornmeal flour dough in a thick slab is deep fried; the result is light and airy, oily, crispy and chewy in various parts. Only one of my three tacos suffered a catastrophic failure, but I can’t hold that against the puffy taco because it seems inevitable that a beef stew taco should suffer a failure. The puffy taco shell is delicious with our without contents, which cannot be said for many tortillas or crunchy taco shells.
The beef stew guisada was tasty. It consisted of big cuboid chunks of cheap stew meat slow-cooked to bring out the maximum beefiness. It is not really the right thing to put in a taco, though – my puffy failed and pooped out multiple chunks which I later ate with the help of a fork.
The carne asada is good too. Sparely seasoned, it’s tough in a rewarding way, smoky and charry to the taste, and surprisingly gamy. It works quite well as a puffy taco.
Carmen ate a chile relleno, thickly blanketed with a light and airy eggy batter. We both considered it delicious. We wish that Arturo’s weren’t so far away. It’s 2010 – why hasn’t Google or Apple come out with a desktop 3-D printer/teleporter that can output tacos? The pace of technological development in these times leaves me frustratingly hungry. My computer brings me information about tacos – for example, I first read about puffy tacos at the taco-datascape’s ground floor, Wikipedia’s “Taco” entry. That only makes me hungry! To actually eat puffy tacos, like a sucker you need to put on pants and go do an infinitely long drive.
On the way back, we spotted a bad-ass matte red Hummer with the custom vanity license plate “TAQUERO”. Good to know, in case you need some tacos made somewhere beyond a 22”-high obstacle, a 60% grade, or up to 30” of water.