Where to find the best tacos in Los Angeles
Chef Wes Avila is one of the stars of California-inspired tacos, 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. 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.
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 ($3) from the trompo—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)—order it as "perron" for cheese and beans—and the vampiro ($5). For now, you can catch Tacos 1986 every Sunday at Smorgasburg in the Arts District, from 10am to 4pm, but keep your eyes on these guys because they've got a brick-and-mortart restaurant in the works. (And when it opens, we'll race you for being first in line.)
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 ($2.50) 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 ($5.50). The tacos here are stellar, but you should probably go ahead and order one or two of those chivichangas ($4.50), 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.
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.
With multiple pop-ups and locations in South L.A., Pico Rivera and now Venice, Teddy Vasquez's red-hot birria tacos ($1.99) are taking over. The taquero's sudden rise is remarkable, both on the streets and online—with roughly 100k Instagram followers—and while it might have something to do with how photogenic those bright red, dripping-with-sauce TJ-style tacos are, it's really due to the flavor. The long-simmered beef is tender enough, but before it gets served, each taco, quesadilla ($3.50), vampiro ($$2.75) or mulita ($2.99) 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.
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 simply a delivery method anyway. You can order beef cheeks, oxtails, straightforward carnitas and more—try the extra saturated pork scraps on the bottom of the pan (migajas)—but our favorite is 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.
Texans living in L.A. can find sweet Tex-Mex relief at HomeState, where the queso flows freely and the breakfast taco selection is tops. Choose either a corn or flour tortilla—both freshly made—then opt for eggs, bacon, cheese, refried charro beans, chorizo, shredd 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. Oh, and then there's the Frito Pie in a Bag—a heartwarming bag of Fritos slathered in chile con carne, black beans, lettuce, tomato and pickled veggies. Welcome home, indeed.
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, and can come either soft or grilled. Pair with red wine at the restaurant’s bar (or at home with take-out) and make it a date.
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 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 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.
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 the massive mulitas 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.
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 ($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 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.
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, which come buried in saucy meats and tart pickled red onions. Try the cochinita pibil (marinated pork), 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.
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.
The Tacos Cuernavaca truck sets up Thursday 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.
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. For those who prefer seafood, La Carreta's still your destination: Their 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.
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.
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 intriguing items. This casual but charming sit-down spot is a neighborhood favorite in Eagle Rock, and even if you're not of the neighborhood, we bet you'll become a repeat customer, too.
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 $10 for two), 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.
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.
A less-talked-about 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 2am, so this stand has a seating area to accommodate a devoted fan base all night long.
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.