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Tacos 1986 restaurant opening in Downtown Los Angeles
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

The best tacos in Los Angeles

We ate our way through restaurants and food trucks across town to find the best tacos in Los Angeles—now it’s your turn

By Sara Rashkin, Stephanie Breijo and Time Out editors
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We live in a taco lover’s paradise. From Santa Monica to Commerce, Compton to the Valley, the streets are paved with tacos. Los Angeles is where people from across the country flock to try every possible variation: from crab to carnitas, $8 tacos at a cheffy pop-up to $1 tacos at a perennial favorite in an alleyway, new California cuisine to tacos auténticos representing regions all over Mexico. Whether you’re a visitor or a local, if you want to get intimate with this city, skip the tour of where the stars live and take a tour of the best tacos in Los Angeles. 

Recommended: The best Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles

Where to find the best tacos in Los Angeles

Sweet potato at Guerrilla Tacos
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

1. Guerrilla Tacos

Restaurants Mexican Downtown Arts District

One of the stars of California-inspired and genre-bending tacos, Guerrilla first combined Mexican traditions with California cuisine and culture on a food truck that lit up the streets of L.A. Now that these farm-to-truck goods finally found a permanent home, the menu gets filled out with even more daily offerings. Guerrilla Tacos’ tacos, quesadillas and daily specials feature local ingredients and change regularly, which is part of the fun. Past creations 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, and the killer cocktails—all priced around $10—are a total steal. There’s even a sibling concept around the corner, Guerrilla Cafecito, where you can find coffee, doughnuts and one of the best breakfast burritos in town.

Sonoratown
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

2. Sonoratown

Restaurants Mexican Downtown Fashion District

As the name suggests, this style of taco hails from Sonora—which means delicate, pliant flour tortillas, and this is where you’ll find some of the best in the city—and hell, even the country. Don’t believe us? Check out the awards and the accolades all over the space, or better yet, just take a bite. Smaller tacos ($2.75) spill mesquite-grilled meat, chopped cabbage and a runny avocado salsa, while the larger caramelos throw pinto beans and melty jack cheese into the mix ($6.25). The tacos here are stellar, but you should probably go ahead and order one or two of those chivichangas ($5), 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.

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The Poseidon at Mariscos Jalisco
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

3. Mariscos Jalisco

Restaurants Trucks Boyle Heights

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 ($8.75), topped with shrimp ceviche, octopus and a fiery red aguachile of shrimp.

Tacos 1986 restaurant opening in Downtown Los Angeles
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

4. Tacos 1986

Restaurants Mexican Downtown Arts District

Owners Victor Delgado and Jorge “Joy” Alvarez-Tostado didn’t catch lighting in a bottle with their Tijuana-style tacos; they worked tirelessly, and with equal parts perfect product and total showmanship, the duo created L.A.’s most viral taco stand. Catch their team dressed in all red and tossing adobada from the trompo into tacos ($3.25)—and if Joy’s there, making kissy faces at the crowd—for dinner and a show that can’t be beat. And while the adobada is the star, we’re also partial to the mushroom taco ($3.25)—order it as perron ($5) for cheese and beans—and the vampiro ($5). We mentioned this outfit is enterprising, and they’ve quickly spread across the city: You can catch Tacos 1986 Downtown, Burbank, Westwood and Beverly Grove.

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El Ruso
Photograph: Courtesy El Ruso

5. El Ruso

Restaurants Mexican Boyle Heights

If you’re looking for pura calidad, you’re in the right place. Taquero Walter Soto’s Boyle Heights stand is one of L.A.’s most popular spots for perfectly tender mesquite-grilled meats and just-bubbled flour tortillas, and it operates under that slogan—and man, does it deliver. During the week you can find Sinaloa-style specialties (including corn tortillas, tripitas and tostadas), but from Friday to Sunday you can get El Ruso’s OG menu: The Sonora-style grilled meats stuffed into fresh flour tortillas for some of the heftiest, hottest, most flavorful tacos ($3.25) in L.A.

Tire Shop Taqueria
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

6. Tire Shop Taqueria

Restaurants Mexican South LA

A South L.A. institution, Tire Shop slings $2 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 the massive mulitas ($6) and, well, everything. Just be sure to bring cash, then make your way through the line, grab your plate, and take a seat and make some friends at the large plastic table.

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Pork carnitas tacos at Carnitas El Momo
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

7. Carnitas El Momo

Restaurants Mexican Boyle Heights

This truck is all about the meat. The carnitas tacos boast heaping portions of tender, juicy braised pork—obliterating the thin tortillas underneath, which are, let’s be honest, simply a delivery method for the incredible carnitas anyway. You can also order beef cheeks, oxtails, and a straightforward carnitas, but we recommend the extra saturated pork scraps on the bottom of the pan (migajas), as well as our favorite, the popular “aporkalypse” surtido taco, which involves a mix of shoulder, belly and skin ($3). 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.

Metztli Taqueria
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

8. Metztli Taqueria

Restaurants Mexican Virgil Village

There’s no question: This pop-up is serving some of the most arresting and cheffy tacos the city’s every seen—a bold claim in L.A., where tacos often mingle with other iconic California ingredients and cultures, but a true one. Crab tacos ($6) might involve a smoked-chili schmaltz, while the signature barbacoa tacos ($6) come topped with hibiscus-pickled onions and a phenomenal, lick-your-fingers–good miso peanut salsa macha. There are Nashville-inspired hot chicken mulitas, and hoja santa quesadillas, and purslane-sprinkled octopus tostadas all worth an order. (Don’t even get us started on their fresh churros.) Follow along on Instagram, and find them regularly at Melody Wine Bar.

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Teddy's Red Tacos
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

9. Teddy’s Red Tacos

Restaurants Mexican South LA

With multiple pop-ups and locations in South Park, Downey, Montebello, Venice and now Echo Park, Teddy Vasquez’s red-hot birria tacos ($2) are taking over. The taquero’s sudden rise is remarkable, both on the streets and online—with roughly 150k Instagram followers—and while it might have something to do with how photogenic those bright red, dripping-with-sauce TJ-style birria tacos are, it’s really due to the flavor. The long-simmered beef is tender enough, but before it gets served, each taco, quesadilla ($4), vampiro ($3.50) or mulita ($3) gets a ladle of the spicy broth and it’s all fried on the plancha. Crispy, searingly hot and full of flavor, these are the birria tacos to beat.

Guisados taco sampler
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

10. Guisados

Restaurants Dinner Boyle Heights

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 cochinita pibil with pickled onions ($3.25) or the mushrooms with cilantro and queso fresco ($3.25). Of course we’re also partial to the lightly battered fish taco ($3.50) and the tamales ($3.75) are killer. Can’t decide? Get the sampler ($8.25) made of six mini tacos whether you’re dining in Boyle Heights, Downtown, Echo Park, Pasadena, Burbank, West Hollywood or Beverly Hills.

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Angel's Tijuana Tacos
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

11. Angel’s Tijuana Tacos

Restaurants Mexican North Hollywood

Angel’s Tijuana Tacos are packed with flavor and your choice of grilled meat and then, as to be expected from the style, get topped with cilantro, onions and a hearty dollop of avocado salsa. The handmade corn tortillas—which are exactly the perfect thickness—get formed, pressed and seared down the assembly line here and the trompo-shaved al pastor proves its own bit of showmanship, making every visit not only delicious but a feast for the eyes, too. Opt for tacos ($2), mulitas ($6), vampiros ($3), quesadillas ($7) and burritos ($8) in North Hollywood, Eagle Rock, Sylmar, Echo Park and Fontana.

Avenue 26 Taco Stand
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

12. Avenue 26 Taco Stand

Restaurants Mexican Lincoln Heights

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.

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Lamb barbacoa tacos at Aqui es Texcoco
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

13. Aqui es Texcoco

Restaurants Mexican Commerce

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 ($2.95 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, and can come either soft or grilled—though if you want to do it up you can opt for BBQ plates, combos, flautas, sopes, enchiladas and more. Pair with red wine at the restaurant’s bar (or at home with take-out) and make it a date.

Photograph: Courtesy HomeState

14. HomeState

Restaurants Mexican Los Feliz

Homesick Texans can find sweet Tex-Mex relief at HomeState, where the queso flows freely and the breakfast taco ($3.50) selection is tops. Choose either a corn or flour tortilla—both freshly made—then opt for eggs, bacon, cheese, refried charro beans, chorizo, shredded brisket and more in the mornings. (Or, you know, afternoon—you can get breakfast tacos all day.) There are non-breakfast options, and migas, too: crispy corn strips with scrambled eggs, onions and cheese ($7-$10). Oh, and then there’s the Frito Pie in a Bag ($7)—a heartwarming bag of Fritos slathered in chile con carne, black beans, lettuce, tomato and pickled veggies. Welcome home, indeed. Find them in Los Feliz, Highland Park and Playa Vista.

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Fish tacos at Ricky's Fish Tacos
Photograph: Molly Cranna

15. Ricky’s Fish Tacos

Restaurants Street food Los Feliz

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 ($3.50) and shrimp ($3.75) to make amazing deep-fried pillows of flavor always worth tracking down. Crisp jalapeño slices and a smoky red salsa add wonderful kick, making for a fantastic fish taco 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. 

Vegetarian tacos at Tacos Leo
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

16. Leo’s Taco Truck

Restaurants Trucks Mid City

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 ($1.50 apiece) from Leo’s. 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, then topped with fresh pineapple shavings for a spicy and sweet charred snack. Leo’s now has seven locations, but it’s the La Brea spot that offers the reliable outdoor trompo and talented taquero on weekends and after 5pm on weeknights. Crowds swell for a party vibe in the gas station parking lot.

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Vampiro tacos at Tacos La Carreta
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

17. Tacos La Carreta

Restaurants Mexican Compton

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—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. For those who prefer seafood, La Carreta’s still your destination: Their Sinaloa-style callo de hacha fresco, a plate of full of plump scallops and shrimp, is spicy, bright and a crowd-pleaser. The kitchen is a trailer pulled by a truck, and the stand even includes a covered seating area. Follow along on Instagram for updates.

18. Holbox

Restaurants Mexican South LA

If you love the Yucatecan-forward food of Chichen Itza but wish there were more seafood, well, you (and all of us) are lucky that Gilberto Cetina branched out with Holbox. Drawing on technique, recipes and heritage from his family restaurant, Cetina now runs a seafood stand brimming with bold, bright ceviches, tostadas and cocteles. When it comes to tacos (around $6), the menu changes daily and you’re just as likely to find scallops spilling from corn tortillas as you are uni, crispy octopus or kanpachi.

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Cena Vegan
Photograph: Courtesy Cena Vegan

19. Cena Vegan

Restaurants Vegan Lincoln Heights

Forget the myth that vegan food is bland. At Cena Vegan, generational recipes for salsas and marinades—the kinds of marinades normally reserved for meats—make this entirely plant-based Mexican-food spot home to some of the most flavorful tacos, burritos and nachos around. There are spicy cashew cremas and saucy seitan al pastors and even vegan agua frescas, and when it comes to tacos ($3), they all come served on house-made, hand-pressed corn tortillas that are, you guessed it, also totally vegan.

Taco a la Diabla at El Coraloense
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

20. El Coraloense

Restaurants Seafood Southeast Cities

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 ($4), 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.

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Los Dorados
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

21. Los Dorados

Restaurants Mexican Highland Park

Is a flauta a taco? Look, we’re not here to debate you on this, but yes. And fried up right on the sidewalk, the flautas from the Los Dorados truck provide a meal and a show—and come dripping with refreshing salsas for a perfect hot-to-cold sensation with every crunchy bite. Massive corn tortillas wrap around chorizo, chicken, potato, and our favorite, the lamb barbacoa, all ordered two of each variety to a pair ($6) and topped with a showering of cotija. Find them outside of Highland Park’s La Cuevita on Fridays and Saturdays, and in the Arts District on Sundays, and follow along on Instagram for location updates.

22. Tacos Villa Corona

Restaurants Mexican Atwater Village

The burritos get all the love here, and rightfully so, but this Atwater institution also makes a mean taco—they’re in the name, after all, and they give their flour-tortilla counterparts a run for their money. Choose from nopales, steak, chicken chorizo, potato, or bean at $2 apiece, and whatever you pick, your order will come buried under cilantro, onion and a small mountain of shredded cheese that melts juuuuust right.

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23. Chichen Itza

Restaurants Mexican South LA

Named after the ancient Mayan site, this unassuming cantina from celebrated chef Gilberto Cetina specializes in affordable, authentic Yucatecan cuisine. There are tortas and full plates and tamales and even a handful of breakfast items, but we’re sold on the tacos ($6.45 to $7.45 for two), which come buried in saucy meats and tart pickled red onions. Try the cochinita pibil, the panuchos (miniature stuffed tortillas) and the octopus tacos—though take our advice and administer the habanero sauce carefully: A single excess drop of the fiery liquid will have steam shooting out of your ears.

Birria tacos at Chiquis Tacos
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

24. Chiquis Tacos

Restaurants Mexican Mid City

A criminally under-discussed taco stand in Mid-City, Chiquis offers another great al pastor option ($1.50 apiece). 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 around Arlington Heights until around 1am, so this stand has a seating area to accommodate a devoted fan base all night long.

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Cochinita pibil tacos at La Flor de Yucatan
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

25. La Flor de Yucatan

Restaurants Mexican Central LA

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, here 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, our wallets). The menu expands on the weekends to include harder-to-find dishes such as 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.

Taco María
Photograph: Courtesy Taco María/Anne Watson Photography

26. Taco María

Restaurants Mexican Costa Mesa

OK, so it’s a little like cheating putting these on an L.A. list, but Carlos Salgado is working magic in Costa Mesa. You’ll have to trek to the O.C. for these, but they’re more than worth the drive because 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. Salgado’s Michelin-starred 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.

Discover more tacos in L.A.

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