Where to find the best tacos in Los Angeles
If you love lamb, the lamb barbacoa tacos at Aqui es Texcoco are positively dreamlike. If you don’t love lamb, the tacos here will convert you. Aqui es Texcoco specializes in the traditional barbacoa of Texcoco, which involves slow-roasting lamb covered with maguey leaves for more than seven hours. For your taco, you can choose lean leg meat, rib, tripe, brains or head ($2.85 each), but you can also opt for non-lamb fillings such as pressed pork belly or blood sausage. They’re all good, but our preference is the tender, fatty and very “lamb-y” rib meat (you may have to remove some bones from your taco). Served with onions, cilantro and salsa, these tacos are both simple and extraordinary. Pair with red wine at the restaurant’s bar (or at home with take-out) and make it a date.
If you see a taco cart at the corner, keep going. This Lincoln Heights stand is more of a full-blown operation, which sits in the middle of a long alleyway. You’ll know it when you get there, because it’ll be a party: There’s usually music, and late-night revelers, families and all other walks of life are here and lined up for some of the city’s best tacos. Al pastor is the staple, and every options here is only $1—just be sure to tell them you want a free broth-soaked potato to go with it, then make your way to the serve-it-yourself salsa stations. Welcome to the party.
The tacos at this Downtown spot are terrific: Try the umami-packed mushroom and garlic ($5 apiece) or the bay scallop with cauliflower and romesco ($9). Trendy chef-designed tacos can often leave us thinking, “That was good, now…where can I get some real tacos?” But these versions from chef Ray Garcia are both innovative and legit—they taste like tacos you know and love, with new twists achieved using balanced, quality ingredients. Finish your feast with an order of amazingly fluffy churros.
One of the tacos available at Cacao Mexicatessen features a chile relleno, made with a tempura-battered, slightly spicy yellow hot pepper stuffed with shrimp and cheese, then topped with a large piece of uni and finished with a soy salsa and wasabi aioli, all overflowing a freshly made tortilla. That sea urchin chile guero taco is even more decadent and delicious than it sounds, more than earning its $7.95 price tag. The rest of the taco menu is solid—the duck carnitas ($4.85) are a popular choice, and we’re partial to the street tacos, which you can find for only $2.55 on Tuesdays; the quality tortillas elevate even the less special items. This casual but charming sit-down spot is a neighborhood favorite in Eagle Rock.
This carnitas truck is all about the meat. The carnitas tacos boast heaping portions of tender, juicy braised pork—obliterating the thin tortillas underneath, which are simply a delivery method anyway. You can order your favorite cut, or try the extra saturated pork scraps on the bottom of the pan (migajas), or go for the popular “aporkalypse” surtido taco with a mix of shoulder, belly and skin ($2.50). This is the spot to pig out on pig. You’ll most often find the truck in their Boyle Heights location, but don’t stop by too late, as the small family operation can run out of several options before closing time due to high demand.
We were turned on to this stand when taco kingmaker Bill Esparza raved about the carne asada. The asada is great, and the vampiro here is our favorite—a taco tortilla fried until crispy and slightly concave, covered in cheese, asada and salsa—just be sure to get the grilled onions and hot peppers, too. It’s a delicious taco, and toward the center, where the meat juices and cheese have pooled and the tortilla is softer, it’s also a little like a delicious cheeseburger. The kitchen is a trailer pulled by a truck, and the stand even includes a covered seating area.
A less-talked-about taco stand in Mid-City, Chiquis offers another great al pastor option. The salsas are not as good as Leo’s and the tortillas are hit or miss, but the meat is terrific and the portions cut from the trompo are more generous. Check to make sure the outdoor trompo and taquero are in action—one of the taqueros here learned the trade in Mexico City and has been honing his skills for more than a decade. Birria tacos are also great here, and the menu is solid and large. They’re parked until 2am, so this stand has a seating area to accommodate a devoted fan base all night long.
With one owner hailing from Nayarit and the other from Sinaloa, the influence of both coastal regions mingles at this small eatery, resulting in an extensive seafood menu. The tacos are varied and fun, thanks in part to two of the owners’ culinary-schooled kids who bring their own twist on the family trade—you see it specifically in the Taco a la Diabla, filled with terrific battered shrimp on a bed of cheese with cream sauce and fresh slaw. Also known for their ceviches, tostadas, lobster nachos and soups, mariscos fans are sure to be pleased.
The Tacos Cuernavaca truck sets up Tuesday to Sunday on the edge of the taco mecca that is East L.A., serving up street food Morales-style. The cecina tacos here feature a thin sheet of excellent cured beef topped with onions and a chile de arbol salsa that tastes as bright as its color—these treats are street tacos at their best. There are other tasty options, too, and for the truly hungry there is the Alambre Ilegal (around $30): a huge pile of greasy goodness (meats, cheese, peppers and onions, and pretty much anything else you can imagine), topped with lobster tails and accompanied by corn tortillas for taco assembling. Not just a taco truck, the extensive menu here includes delicious picaditas, tlacoyos and huaraches. We’ll have one of everything.
At this bakery specializing in all things Yucatán, a tiny storefront provides a community hub for those seeking traditional baked goods and stewed treats, including Yucatán specialty cochinita pibil (marinated pork roasted in a banana leaf). The tacos are not on freshly-made tortillas, and Chichen Itza (another popular Yucatán eatery) is just a few minutes away, but the juicy, lip-smacking cochinita pibil here has our hearts (and at around $2.50). The menu expands on the weekends to include harder-to-find dishes, tacos rellenos negros (black turkey stew) and blood-sausage tacos. The friendly service often leads to enthusiastic conversations on the subject of Mayan culinary history, so feel free to speak up while you chow down.
Chef Wes Avila is one of the stars of the California taco style, where chefs combine Mexican traditions with California cuisine and culture. And now that his farm-to-truck goods finally found a permanent home, he’s been filling out the menu with even more daily offerings. The menu here features local ingredients and changes regularly, which is part of the fun since you can try something different each time. Past creations have included everything from pork char siu ($5) and foie gras and oxtail tacos ($8) to Puerto Vallarta-style crab tacos ($15 for an order of 3) to sweet potato and feta tacos ($4). The tacos are the move, but don’t neglect the tostadas or daily specials, either.
A slightly thick, freshly pressed corn tortilla does its best to wrap around piles of fillings so good it’s impossible to choose a favorite here. Armando de La Torre and his son, Armando de La Torre Jr., built an L.A. taco empire whose foundation is in the very name of the business. Guisados, flavorful hours-long braised and stewed meats and vegetables, are what make these so special, whether you’re opting for the spicy conchinita pibil with pickled onions ($2.95) or the mushrooms with cilantro and queso fresco ($2.95). Of course we’re also partial to the lightly battered fish taco ($3.25) and the tamales are killer. Can’t decide? Get the sampler ($7.50) made of six mini tacos.
If you want one of the most popular types of tacos from one of the most popular purveyors, grab a couple of tacos al pastor ($1.25) from Leo’s Taco Truck. Your meat is either pulled from the plancha or else sliced from the hunk of marinated pork that’s flame-roasting on the large trompo and topped with fresh pineapple shavings for a spicy and sweet charred snack. Fun fact: This technique arose from Middle Easterners in Mexico whose lamb shawarma evolved into the seasoned pork on the spit for tacos al pastor, reminding us that one era’s fusion tacos are the next era’s traditional tacos. Leo’s has several locations, but it’s the La Brea spot that offers the reliable outdoor trompo and talented taquero on weekends and after 5pm weeknights. Crowds swell for a party vibe in the gas station parking lot.
You’ll have to trek to the O.C. for these, but they’re more than worth the drive. Taco María’s Alta California cuisine blends Mexican and American sensibilities, crafting some of the most creative, colorful and insightful tacos we’ve ever seen. Chef Carlos Salgado’s versions—found at dinner on Tuesdays and at lunch Tuesdays through Saturdays—involve handmade heirloom-corn tortillas stuffed with seafood (fried black cod with charred scallion aioli), veggies (shiitake chorizo with queso fundido) and a range of meats (Jidori chicken with almond mole). The menu is limited and tacos will set you back around $15 apiece, but they’re unlike anything else.
Come on, did you really think we wouldn’t include these guys? One of the long-standing heroes of the old-school taco trucks (aka loncheros), Mariscos Jalisco has earned a deservedly loyal and devoted following. Their signature tacos dorado de camaron ($2.25) are far from a secret, but they live up to the hype with flavorful and fresh shrimp folded into a corn tortilla that is then fried to a golden brown and topped with thick slices of avocado and a vibrant and complex salsa roja. You’ll also want to save room for their legendary tostadas like the Poseidon ($8.25), topped with shrimp ceviche, octopus and a fiery red aguachile of shrimp.
Yes, we hear you haters—Ricky’s Fish Tacos doesn’t make their own tortillas, and in other Ensenada-style tacos you can occasionally find more traditional angel shark instead of the cheaper catfish used here. But there is some serious deep fryer magic going on at Ricky’s: Crunchy oregano-flecked batter surrounds fluffy fish and shrimp to make amazing deep-fried pillows of flavor. Crisp jalapeño slices and a smoky red salsa add wonderful kick, making for a fantastic fish taco ($3.50) that packs more than a few crave-worthy bites. We aren’t the only ones who feel this way—expect a line. Check Twitter to confirm the truck’s hours each day.
As the name suggests, this style of taco hails from Sonora—which means flour tortillas, and this is where you’ll find some of the best in the city, and hell, even the country. Smaller tacos ($2) spill mequite-grilled meat, chopped cabbage and a runny avocado salsa, while the larger caramelos throw pinto beans and melty jack cheese into the mix ($5). And while the tacos here are stellar, you should probably go ahead and order one or two of those chivichangas ($4), the rolled-thin, burrito-like tubes stuffed with shredded meat and grilled Anaheim peppers. You should probably go ahead and grab some extra napkins, too.
A South L.A. institution, Tire Shop slings $1.50 Tijuana-style tacos absolutely dripping with avocado salsa. Mesquite-grilled meats provide flavor and texture from the smoky char, especially the carne asada. The kicker? Tortillas here are made to order, then folded into little paper-wrapped cones that ooze the green salsa out of one end. Of course we’re also partial to the freshly grilled chorizo and the complimentary charred peppers and, well, everything. Just be sure to bring cash.