2012.02 Taqueria Los Anaya

2012.02 Taquería Los Anaya

August 31, 2012

4651 W Adams Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90016

West Adams

Garrett called me with the valuable news that he had caught word of a promising new taco shop on Adams Boulevard just a couple of miles from my home in the Village Green. After joining Garrett, Kirsten, Branden and Russ for dinner there, I am compelled to come out of taco-blogger retirement in order to report on the excellence of Taquería Los Anaya.

The restaurant occupies a cozy space with room for only a few tables, but our party was well taken care of. The menu had some depth and diversity, but I am unlikely to stray far from the taco selections.

Priced at between $1.75 and $1.95 each, the tacos were generous in size – four were quite filling. I tried the adobada, chicken mole, al pastor, and carne asada, as seen from left to right in the photograph. These all were successful.

The adobada consisted of cuby, marinated chunks of pork somehow double-cooked so that certain edges of most cubes had a very crisp, chicharron-like texture. The black mole with chicken was rich and chocolatey with a funky, earthy intensity, and topped with both cotija cheese and a red salsa. This was a strong mole, as pleasing as any I have ever tried. More commonly encountered in a plate dinner than as a guisado-style taco, one might consider a chicken mole taco to be a bit weird, but I would consider this an outstanding way to satisfy an urge for mole for less than $2.00 without being compelled to eat a whole plate of one thing. The carne asada steak was also quite excellent, consisting of cubish pieces cut from a thick portion, and tasting of natural buttery beef complexity rather than of added flavor treatments. The al pastor was solid and pleasingly textured, chopped from grilled, marinated filets rather than trompo-style, but less exciting than the other three I sampled.

The tortillas were thick and handmade, and the tacos were fitted out with different salsas specific to each meat variety.

As should be readily discernible to the reader, Los Anaya was excellent, and having access to it just a couple of miles away is going to have a massive positive impact on my lifestyle.

Posted: September 1st, 2012
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2011.06 Carnitas Los Gordos aka Erika’s Tacos

2011.06 Carnitas Los Gordos aka Erika’s Tacos

Saturday, August 20, 2011

3818 E Cesar Chavez Ave, East Los Angeles, CA 90063

East Los Angeles

Kyle and I were on a bike ride through East Los Angeles on a Saturday morning and Kyle suggested we eat breakfast. I knew that we would encounter something good if we headed down Cesar Chavez, and of course we did – in fact, pulled a quick u-turn after seeing and smelling wonderful smoking chickens on a home-made halved-drum grill. Smoky goodness.

We both ordered one each of the carnitas (one must go with the namesake), chorizo (in honor of breakfast – it wasn’t yet 10:00 AM) and carne asada tacos. They were large, and probably were $1.25 each (the total was $10 for six tacos including two juice drinks). Well prepared, with leathered tortillas; after she handed me my plate, the taquera asked if I wanted grilled onions too. What a lovely question. Later the other taquera came by and brought us each a grilled jalapeño, delivered with a warning. The salsas were rich and spicy.

The carnitas was the champ but the others were great too – befitting a place called “Carnitas Los Gordos,” it was prepared with rigor and care, cooked slow to bring out the natural porkiness. Eating these righteous tacos, this was a fantastic meal, the sort that puts you in a happy place mindful of how good life can be, and life in Los Angeles in particular. The environmental aspects contribute.

Los Gordos has that tiny building, but the action is outside. One sits in a parking lot in front of a house, next to two easy-ups, the space bounded on three sides by small buildings and on the fourth by a wall of chicken smoke. It would be tough to sit down at one’s drafting table and come up with a design for a more pleasant informal space.

Posted: August 24th, 2011
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2011.05 Taqueria el Repollito

2011.05 Taquería el Repollito

Sunday, August 7, 2011

102 5th Street, Coalinga, CA 93210


Just a few miles off Interstate 5, somewhere between Los Angeles and Sacramento, you can find the town of Coalinga. Fortunately or unfortunately bypassed by the big freeway, charming Coalinga maintains a humble and historical character, its economy largely driven by agribusiness and prisons.

Taquería el Repollito, in the middle of town, makes a fine place to stop for some road trip tacos. Carmen and I stopped off in the midst of taking the scenic route home from San Jose.

I had one each of the carne asada, al pastor, and carnitas tacos. The tacos ordinarily come with cabbage, which I asked them to hold, but now that I know that “el repollito” means “little cabbage,” I wonder if I made the wrong decision asking them to hold their namesake component.

They were all very good, and big in size.

I appreciate the vaguely informal style of the building – it reads as a rectangle with a ramada-like canopy erected as an afterthought. The canopy’s structure is rather crude, but in an appropriately agricultural way, meeting one’s expectations of what to encounter on the Open Road in the American West.

Posted: August 21st, 2011
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2011.04 Beto’s Tacos

2011.04 Beto’s Tacos

March 26, 2011

Jefferson at Redondo, Los Angeles, CA 90016

West Adams

The other day Pierre made a visit to Beto’s Tacos, a truck that stations itself on Jefferson at Redondo a few blocks west of La Brea – pretty close to where I live – and gave it a strong recommendation. Carmen and I went there tonight for dinner, and found it to be super good.

This stretch of Jefferson next to the Expo Line tracks is industrial in nature and totally quiet at night, but near to a dense residential neighborhood to the north. We were there at about 8:00 on a Saturday night. The industrial nature of the environment contributes to a Blade Runner Urbanism sensibility – here referring to the fact that Blade Runner is supposed to depict a terrible post-apocalyptic version of the city; but to the viewer, the dense, multi-ethnic, urban downtown in which Deckard enjoys his street-vendor noodles is a pretty appealing vision of Los Angeles.

Beto’s establishes a little outpost of urbanity here in the wasteland. The truck is parked on the street, and a tarp is tied from the truck’s canopy to the steel fence of the adjacent empty parking lot, creating a low roof over the sidewalk and transforming it into a quite cozy dining room, trapping warm air and creating an intimate acoustic environment. Unlike most trucks, Beto’s is configured so that you can really see the action inside, and watch your tacos being made. The staff was friendly and quite obviously conscientious about making tacos righteously.

I ordered one each of the carne asada, al pastor, suadero, and carnitas tacos, reasonably sized and very inexpensive at $1.00 each. They were photographed before I applied cilantro, onion and salsa from the condiment bar on the counter.

The asada was finely diced and surprisingly gamey, reminding me a bit of lengua. It is boiled in a big wok-looking thing with a brownish water and some big onions. I enjoyed it. The suadero and carnitas both had a similar texture of friedness, finely diced and oily-crispy. But the big winner was definitely the al pastor. Beto’s runs a trompo inside the truck, topped with an onion. When my order came up, the taquero sliced a bit of blackened-orange exterior off the trompo into a big scoop and then did a final prep on the griddle. The al pastor purists often state that the most righteous al pastor is that cut directly off the spit and into the tortilla in which it is served, but I can’t claim definitively that the plancha finish might not add something valuable. The al pastor here was delicious, savory, with great texture and richness. It’s not as good as Tacos Leo, because you don’t get any big slices of pineapple on top, but it was better than any non-trompo pastor I’ve had.

I am made happy again to find even more awesome tacos, right here in the Blade Runner-scape, near my home, in my belly.

Posted: March 26th, 2011
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2011.03 Tacos Guadalajara in L.A.

2011.03 Tacos Guadalajara in L.A.

March 1, 2011

In front of “R” Ranch Markets Bodega on Adams at Redondo, Los Angeles, CA 90016

West Adams

I was out this evening doing reconnaissance for the LoMos blog and couldn’t resist stopping at this truck for a snack when I passed it along the way. This used to be a stopping point for a Tortas Ahogadas truck, although I didn’t have the presence of mind tonight to ask if they belonged to the same operators. As I mentioned to Bandini (who reviewed this truck during his “30 Trucks in 30 Days” challenge in which he demonstrated the principle of Working Hard to Stay Awesome), I have seen a sidewalk trompo out front of this truck on weekend evenings, but never had the good sense to stop and try it out. Tonight, no such trompo luck (trompo luck is the best kind of luck), only the routine good luck of great tacos for $1 each.

I rolled up and would not have been sure they were open for business, except for the man standing on the sidewalk enjoying a plate of tacos. There is no menu board. I asked the young assistant what was available and she recited the list. I asked for one each of the carne asada and the al pastor. Later the young assistant flattered me by asking about my cargo bike.

This truck is unusual, as Bandini described, insomuch as it is not occupied from within, but rather opened up and operated from the sidewalk. More than meets the eye, this truck is a friendly Autobot. A stainless steel diamond plate apron folds down from the truck to create a secure standing platform. The taquera is standing in front of the plancha, and next to the young assistant below the bags of Cheetos and Taki is a fully stocked salsa bar with lidded, built-in compartments. If like me you also harbor secret dreams of throwing off that conventional, suburban lifestyle in favor of urban loft living in a vast, disused warehouse space (like in the classic movie Quicksilver), where a gutted conversion van rolled into the space can serve as your bedroom and your kitchen is a taco truck, then this would be a good style of taco truck to consider for that purpose.

The taquera prepared the al pastor on the griddle upon my ordering it, abundant with caramelized onions (sorry about the blurry photo). It is sweet and rather saucy, and not unlike an Asian stir-fry dish. I garnished both tacos with the rojo, medium in spiciness and unusually tart. The carne asada was fairly average, and I preferred the pork. The tortillas were bilaminated and excellently leathery. These were solid tacos to enjoy on the sidewalk at the righteous taco corner of Adams and Redondo.

Posted: March 1st, 2011
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60 Arturo’s Puffy Taco

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.

Posted: December 18th, 2010
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59 Cemitas Poblanas Juquilita

59 Cemitas Poblanas Juquilita

December 12, 2010

532 S Lorena St, Los Angeles, CA 90063

Boyle Heights

My coworker Diana offered a few suggestions for Eastside Mexican food. Diana has bona fide roots in the Mexican state of Puebla, so I took her recommendation of Pueblan specialist restaurant Cemitas Poblanas Juquilita seriously. Juquilita had a taco truck parked across the street, a classic signifier of Street Cred in this business.

After reading a few reviews of Eastside Pueblan restaurants on Yelp! I learned that many offer an item called “tacos árabes,” which according to online speculation is a seasoned al pastor-style pork cut from a spit and served on a thick flour tortilla, and so called because this shawarma-inspired item was originated by Lebanese immigrants to Mexico. Sounds pretty good, Puebla, with your old-timey “fusion” cuisine.

Carmen and I went to Juquilita today for lunch – only 15 minutes away by the freeway – and became overwhelmed by meat. We did not know how to order, and consequently ordered way the hell too much food. We saw no written menu, but only a series of photos with images of their items and names, and no prices listed. I ordered a taco with barbacoa (goat) and an arab taco, and Carmen ordered a taco ranchero with steak and an arab taco, and with two Mexican sodas the total was $28. That was the first sign that we had ordered too much food. We’ll be in leftovers for days.

On this heaty 85-degree December day we found a table in the pleasant indoor-outdoor hybrid space out back, bounded by walls on three sides and a roof, and open to a compact and pigeon-filled parking lot.

The enormous tacos arrived, bringing on an immediate sense of “scalefuck,” a term taught me by a professor in architecture school for the disorientation experienced when something appears grossly out of normal proportion. Look at the photo and see how the Jarritos bottle looks like a half-size miniature and the plastic fork looks like a pretend toy fork. Here I can be seen on the internet pretending to eat this taco like a taco, but in truth this is less a taco than an ENORMOUS meat plate that happens to have a giant handmade tortilla lining the plate. This “taco” makes the Grand Central Market taco look like a Yorkshire terrier. I was picking it up because I had eaten as much as humanly possible and was about to insert it into that undersized take-out container.

Next time I go to a Pueblan restaurant, I will order with more care.

The giant barbacoa taco you see in the picture, the one that looks like Zoidberg, featured a black bean slurry coat first, then several goats-worth of magical goat chunks, and topped with smoky red salsa (per my specification), avocado slices, and a big sliced paddle of chewy cactus. The goat was slow-cooked carnitas-style and had the same textural variation and delights as good carnitas, with blackened crispy bits contrasting with melt-in-your-mouth tender and juicy bits. The flavor is intense and gamy. I hardly made a dent in this bad boy and I have still been tasting goat all afternoon.

In the background you see the plate with the two tacos árabes, which only look small because they appear next to the Gargantua and Pantagruel of tacos. They are really the size of small burritos, like the kind you get at Taco Bell or Del Taco. I had asked for pork and Carmen asked for beef, but we believe that they both came with the beef. Fine with me, because it was deliciousness from the first bite. The meat was cut into long thin strips and marinated in a profound and complex admixture of spices, familiar-seeming but not like anything I have encountered in a taco. I applied a measure of the chipotle-smoky red salsa and ate it like a burrito, and it was pure delicious within a pleasant flour tortilla.

I look forward to visiting more Pueblan restaurants and trying more varieties of tacos árabes. The taco universe is ever-expanding, and the more of it I see, the farther away the taco horizon gets.

Posted: December 12th, 2010
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58 Worldwide Tacos

58 Worldwide Tacos

December 4, 2010

2419 W Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90008

Leimert Park

Worldwide Tacos may be the most idiosyncratic of the taco shops I have visited thus far. This idiosyncrasy can be quantified with two numbers: 154, which is the number of varieties of tacos listed on their menu; and 105, which is the number of minutes we waited today to be served our taco order.

Damien and I met at Worldwide this afternoon and put in an order for six tacos at about 1:00 PM. Our order hints at the diversity of fusiony options available on the menu – we ordered one each of the Jerk Chicken; Chili-Cheese Beef; Curry Beef; Grill Carne Asada; Raspberry Chipotle Chicken; and Thai Chicken tacos. Taco prices ranged between $2.95 and $3.85 each. We paid at the little window facing King Boulevard, and left a phone number on which to be called when the food was ready. We were warned by the serveuse that it would take 45 minutes. I’m glad she didn’t say it would take an hour and 45 minutes, though, because I might have lost my nerve.

Time on our hands to be killed, we walked down King as far as Crenshaw before turning around. About 45 minutes had passed. We talked about all the things that there are to talk about. We then encamped in the Worldwide parking lot. A corrugated metal canopy extends from the west side of the building, sheltering a few surprisingly comfortable chairs, making an ideal vantage point to spend an hour watching the traffic on King Boulevard, admiring the International Orange façade and ad hoc detailing of the Worldwide Tacos stand, and sneaking peeks through the window hoping for a glimpse of our tacos.

At 2:00, an hour had passed and our tacos were late. I gradually became convinced that, despite the hype about how awesome and totally-worth-the-wait Worldwide’s tacos are, they couldn’t possibly be good, because surely tacos that take an hour must be the soggified result of inattentive cooks. By 2:30 we were both waxing eloquent about how damn hungry we were, acknowledging also that any food would be greatly enjoyed at this point; not to mention increasing awareness of a nagging sense of fullness emanating from the the urinary bladder region of the torso. Should we walk down to 7-11 for a Big Bite to hold us over? Our number came up at 2:45. About four customers were served their tacos during the hour we waited.

We sped off to my nearby home for the eating, and somewhat to my surprise at this point, I found all the tacos quite tasty. They were not soggified and seemed fresh even after a car ride home to the Village Green. You might be thinking, of course they’re good, otherwise why would they have customers despite the slowness? Clearly the Worldwide business model is best suited to a clientele based in the neighborhood that can keep otherwise busy while waiting for their number to be rung.

Worldwide’s delicious tacos are exclusive. The fact that they are so hard to get only makes them more desirable – rarer and more delicious, like any hard-to-find delicacy. Being forced to wait strips away your sense of self-importance. Think you’ve got stuff to do today? Fuck you, your whole afternoon is now at the mercy of some tacos. These tacos field-strip you down and reduce you to your bare trembling essence. Enlightenment in the form of tacos is only delivered when you have been humbled, redeemed. You must release the ego and accept the fate. You end up with a kind of taco Stockholm Syndrome.

Featured in the photograph are the carne asada taco (in the “crunchy” tortillaway) and the raspberry chipotle chicken taco (in the “soft” tortillaway). I ate the carne asada first. The details are getting fuzzy in my recollection, but I found it delicious this afternoon. The lettuce was fancy, the tortilla shell with just the right oily crunchiness; the hot sauce pretty spicy, the cheese strings fine and melty. The steak was good, satisfyingly a bit chewy like a real steak cut.

The raspberry chipotle chicken taco is fascinating. The soft tortilla worked well, seeming similar to the crunchy tortilla but halfway fried rather than fully fried. The thick fruity compote in the taco called to mind raspberry jam. Chicken chunks were large and satisfying.

Thai chicken featured peanut sauce and curry, with big chicken chunks. The curry beef resembled the carne asada, with the addition of a moderately spicy curry sauce. I enjoyed them all. Damien thought that the jerk chicken was the best. My favorite permutation was probably the beef and the crunchy shell. Tacos of interest for my next visit include the Meatball, Orange Beef, B.B.Q. Beef, and Beef Pastrami. I would be glad to go back to Worldwide Tacos, and it’s not just about the tacos, but about the masochistic pleasures of being brought to my knees waiting for deferred gratification.

Posted: December 4th, 2010
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57 Mrs. García’s Tacos y Burritos

57 Mrs. García’s Tacos y Burritos

November 22, 2010

9905 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232

Culver City

This place is five-minutes’ walk from my office, and yet I’ve been putting off giving it a try for two years. It’s next door to an El Pollo Loco, where I have been at least a dozen times, and never set foot in Mrs. García’s. I expected it to suck. On the outside, it looks like a phoney chain restaurant that would only be patronized by a captive market of office workers. I would suppose that Sony Pictures employees make up the majority of their customers. But I finally went there for lunch today, and while it was better than I feared, it was also somewhat pricy as I had feared, and nearly as “meh”.

I ordered the three-taco combo plate, consisting of three tacos, rice and beans, a basket of chips, and a small soda, for $8.25, choosing carne asada, chicken, and pork (carnitas). The soft tacos are available a la carte for $2.25 each. They are above average in size, so it’s not a terrible price, but not competitive with real taquerías. Mrs. García’s isn’t really in The Game, so to speak, but it’s good enough to stay in business despite the robust competition of a Pollo Loco next door.

The tacos are served unadorned, but various salsas and condiments are available for the dressing of tacos. I tried the salsa roja and the salsa tomatillo. The former was bland, the latter decent, a bit smoky with some depth, though not very hot.

I ate the carnitas first. This was the standout of the bunch, with good flavor and decent texture with a bit of toothiness, dryish rather than moist. I would order it again. I hypothesize that the thing to get at Mrs. García’s is burritos with either chicken or the carnitas, and I don’t entirely mean that as a disparagement, because I am not a burrito-hater. Burritos are Easy.

With credit to the sound advice Garrett has passed on to me: it’s okay to like tacos, but make burritos your favorite food. You’ll have a much easier time of it in this life we are living.

The tortillas were okay, but a bit dry. These tacos were all on the dry side, which is better than the watery-taco side of the street where you’re liable to find catastrophic taco failure or taco dumping syndrome. They could really use a little more oily griddling. Maybe they want more lard.

The chicken was okay. It had a chickeny marinated flavor. It should be in a burrito with an easy and accommodating flour tortilla rather than a taco with an attention-seeky corn tortilla.

The steak was also okay. I struggled while eating it to form an opinion about its taste. It was mildly treated with carne asada seasoning, pretty spare. The texture and moisture levels were appropriate. It seemed wholesome. If I ate nothing but carne asada from Mrs. García’s every meal, I would probably live to 99.

I can foresee visiting again. The dining room is acceptably pleasant. The menu has some choices. I will have something other than tacos.

Posted: November 22nd, 2010
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56 El Parian

56 Restaurant Familiar El Parian

November 21, 2010

1528 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015


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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