Where to find the best tacos in Los Angeles
The tacos at this Downtown hot spot are terrific: Try the umami-packed mushroom and garlic ($4.50 apiece) or the plump shrimp ($5.50) with a smear of guacamole or spicy mango salsa. 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.
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.
The Tacos Cuernavaca truck sets up Wednesday 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.
One of the tacos available at Cacao Mexicatessen features a chili relleno, made with a tempura-battered, slightly spicy chile guero (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 ($4.65) are a popular choice, and we’re partial to the street tacos, which you can find for only $2 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.
If you want one of the most popular types of taco from one of the most popular purveyors, grab a couple of tacos al pastor ($1.25) from Leo’s Taco Truck. Your meat is sliced from the hunk of marinated pork flame-roasting on the large trompo (upright rotisserie) 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.
Taco María’s Alta California cuisine blends Mexican and American sensibilities, but stays true to Mexican traditions and flavors, crafting some of Orange County’s most creative, colorful and insightful meals. Chef Carlos Salgado’s prix fixe menu is worth booking, but his à la carte tacos (found at dinner on Tuesdays and at lunch Tuesdays through Saturdays) are worth the drive alone. His handmade heirloom-corn tortillas come 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) for a limited but adventurous list of tacos that, granted, will set you back around $15 apiece, but are unlike anything else.
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 basa 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) 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 farm-to-truck goods at Guerrilla Tacos are seasonal and well-crafted. Chef Wes Avila is one of the stars of the California taco style, where chefs combine Mexican traditions with California cuisine and culture. The small 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 foie gras and oxtail tacos ($8) to Puerto Vallarta-style crab tacos ($12 for an order of 3) to sweet potato and feta tacos ($4). Check Instagram for daily locations, hours and menu.
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 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, topped with shrimp ceviche, octopus and a fiery red aguachile of shrimp.
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.