Los Angeles has the best Mexican food for miles and is, without a doubt, a taco town: Loncheros and taquerías and everything in between can easily be found in every neighborhood of city. With enough cheap eats for less than $10 and leftover change for at least a gallon of gas, seek out the best tacos in LA from East LA to the beach.
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A former sous chef at Chef Gary Menes's Le Comptoir, Wes Avila has branched out to apply his considerable talents and fine dining experience to the taco, a food group all its own in this town. Every Tuesday and Friday morning (9am-noon, 9am-2pm) and Wednesday night (5-8pm) his Guerilla Tacos stand sets up in front of Handsome Coffee Roasters. There's a short menu of tacos ($4-$8) filled with ingredients otherwise found at top-notch restaurants: Weisser Farm potatoes paired with chorizo, braised lamb neck carefully nestled with root vegetables and topped with a fried egg, Bay scallops with a tomatillo and tomato confit. On a plate, any of these would be stellar; but in a taco, it’s perfect.
When Ricky Piña tweeted that he was temporarily shutting down his Los Feliz fish taco stand, a good segment of the Twitterverse nearly had a meltdown. Ricky’s famed fish tacos ($2.75)— beautifully battered slabs of basa (a catfish), gently fried and topped with strips of cabbage, crema and salsa—are not just the best Ensenada-style fish tacos in Los Angeles, but arguably one of the best tacos this side of the border, period. It was an enormous relief, then, when Ricky began popping back up at various locations around town. Frying up his fish and shrimp tacos in parking lots (and tweeting his locations along the way), it’s business as usual.
The Westside isn't exactly known as a taco destination, but Tacos Punta Cabras is changing LA’s food landscape. Chefs Josh Gil and Daniel Snukal—they also run the popular underground dining club Supper Liberation Front—recently opened this small, cozy space tucked away on Santa Monica Boulevard. The focus here is Baja-style seafood tacos ($3.50). Try scallops, subtly sweet and battered in crispy tempura, on a fresh, chewy tortilla that elevates the bite. Specials like cardoons topped with a "63-degree quail egg" go fast, so come early… and come often.
This tiny storefront may be every Angeleno's ideal taquería: Easy parking, almost disarmingly friendly service, excellent salsas, and, yes, terrific tacos. Great options include the usual suspects—carnitas, asada— but a few less-than-ordinary items stand out such as the deeply flavorful chicken mole ($1.75) and the beautifully tender lengua ($1.95). All served on homemade tortillas and topped with just the right amount of salsa, cilantro and onions—it's LA comfort food at its best.
The uninitiated of Guisados' tacos—braised and stewed meats and vegetables fill tortillas for a taste of Mexico City's street food—are in for a treat at this LA institution in Boyle Heights and, more recently, Echo Park. Newbies can opt for the taco sampler ($6.99), which offer six mini-tacos with various fillings: Cochinita pibil, chicken mole, frijol con queso, and so on. Tacos are just $2.50 each and served on Guisados' distinctly thick tortillas, which admirably stand up to the intensity of the stews. Pros pile on the joint’s lethal habanero salsa. A word to the wise: The horchata (small, $2, large $3) works wonders.
At first blush, CaCao Mexicatessen seems like it is one too many things—coffee shop, deli, market, restaurant. And yet, it all comes together and works quite well, owing, no doubt, to the strength of a menu that includes a few fantastic tacos. Chief among these is the carnitas de pato ($4.25). Duck is cooked in its own fat, then shredded and topped with slivers of radishes, pickled onions and avocado. Vegetarians can also can also get their fix with the flor de Jamaica taco ($3.10), filled with beet-red hibiscus flowers, guacamole, pico de gallo and cheese.
Leo's al pastor taco is a thing of beautiful simplicity: A tortilla, a few thin slices of tender, marinated al pastor shaved off a rotating spit, and a critical bit of pineapple, flicked on top by a knife-wielding taquero. There's nothing else needed other than maybe, maybe, a squeeze of lime. At a buck each, there's enough loose change in your pocket for a few more. Happiness, it seems, comes cheap.
El Parian's unassuming storefront is nearly hidden in plain sight that it almost always looks closed. But follow the lunch or dinner crowd filling up on a soulful bowl of birria—perhaps the restaurant’s most famous dish is its goat stew—and the equally formidable carne asada taco ($3.25). Fresh corn tortillas are piled with generous chunks of unabashedly salty, juicy and tender pieces of meat and topped with a smattering of cilantro and tomatoes.
Raul Ortega has been operating his Mariscos Jalisco truck for more than a decade, longer than most food bloggers have been blogging about loncheros like this one and more than long enough to earn a devoted following. Indeed, you'll queue up with folks from near and far who make this taco pilgrimage. The menu item to order: tacos dorados de camaron ($1.75)—a taco stuffed with fresh, plump shrimp, cleanly fried, doused in a mild salsa and topped with avocado. Claim a spot on the curb and you'll no sooner devour this tasty plate than go right back in line to order another.