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Taco madness, Part One: El Taurino, King Taco, Tacos Por Favor

Inspired by Bandini's taco blog ( http://tacohunt.blogspot.com/ ), and driven half-mad by the recent heatwave, my companion and I have spent many late evenings in recent weeks taste-testing tacos across the L.A. metrosplat.

To keep the tests loosely controlled, I've limited myself to al pastor; my friend has stuck to carne asada. Here are our findings to date:

Our favorite, across the board:

El Taurino
1104 S Hoover St, Los Angeles

This place has so much going for it. First, the non-edible components:

-- Ample off-street parking (with security guard, if it matters);
-- Ample indoor seating;
-- Late hours;
-- Interesting decor (bull- and bullfighting theme
)-- Low-key vibe: lots of friends and families there for late-night meals and socializing (and no nettlesome kid behavior when we were there; just kids chillin' with the adults -- nice to see)

Now, the edibles:

-- Just a kick-ass delicious al pastor taco all the way around. Please note that the sauce has teeth, so be sure to order extra drinks if you aren't a fire-eater!

Running a close second is the King Taco branch right around the bend from El Taurino. Here, the ambiance is more that of a cafeteria, but the food is cranked out more quickly, and the tacos cost one penny less (1.15 plus tax) than El Taurino. (I think that extra cent pays for the wallop in El T's sauce.)

From strictly a food standpoint, I'd put King Taco's al pastor as different-but-equal to El Taurino's. Both are delicious, but El Taurino's just has that extra oomph. And El Taurino has the better overall dining experience (save for the DMV-like ordering/pickup window confusion). Some nights, I simply favor the kinder, gentler King Taco; some nights, I need to Ride the Bull. And some nights, we end up getting tacos at both El Taurino and King Taco: best of both worlds.

King Taco also offers offstreet parking, and a security guard at the door, whose very friendly demeanor makes him seem more of a greeter than bouncer.

King Taco
2020 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles
(many other branches)

A note on the drive, and the neighborhood: the drive from Santa Monica to El Taurino takes us only 15 minutes in the later evening, our preferred dining hour. I've seen comments elsewhere about the sketchiness of the El Taurino neighborhood, but I feel no more concerned for property crimes there than I do on the Third Street Promenade in my 'hood; less so, in fact. And the parking sure is better at El T than in my city.

One "problem" with this newfound discovery of taco greatness is that is raises the bar for all tacos, and I'm now finding that old favorites seem to lack in comparison. Today, I popped into Tacos Por Favor, and had two disappointing carne asada tacos. Maybe it was the off-hour (3 pm), but the tortillas were rubbery, the meat overly tough, and at a relatively steep $1.90, I expect gourmet goodness, damnit! I did, however, enjoy the heck out of the non-tortilla part of my chorizo-and-cheese taco. Dang, that was good eatin'. Oh, and TPF is now OPEN SUNDAYS.

Tacos Por Favor
1406 Olympic Blvd, Santa Monica

One last note: my dining partner has lost 30-plus pounds in recent months by switching to tacos-only for dinner, and making no other changes to his diet or exercise routines. To hell with the South Beach Diet; viva the Pico/Union Diet!

(Part Two to come later: Tacos Llama, Que Rico, La Playita, and some taco trucks)

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  1. Here is a little secret - The farther east you go, the better the food gets. BUT don't go pass the San Gabriel Valley. East L.A., Boyle Heights all the way up to Highland Park all have some great places.

    1. I've been made to salivate by Bandini's blog recently too. I found myself in the Valley today, and so went to El Taco Llama, Magnolia and Cahuenga.

      Not so great cabeza, but awesome asada and al pastor......!

      I will have to compare against Taurino and King T in the coming week.

      1. el taurino or bust! i'm not as schooled in the way of the taco, but i can tell a great one when i have it. and yes, the late hours, close proximity (to me at least), cheap prices, relative healthiness (compared to ramen) ALL make me a new devotee.

        1. Yes, El Taurino and King Taco are great - and here's something you may not have known, but they are owned by the same people, this is why their sauces and food are the same (you can go to www.kingtaco.com and find el taurino's location - you can also look up who registered their respective domain names, and its the same person). Although, el taurino is open later, at least compared to the king taco at pico/alvarado, but king taco is more generous with their red sauce.... either way its a winner. I wish the people over at king taco would start bottling that red sauce, i'd buy a case at a time! great place to go for lunch, dinner, after bar/club, actually... anytime! my personal fav is the pura carne asada burrito, but their tacos are great and so is the al pastor.

          1. We love El Taurino's food but the "DMV' style lines make it very difficult to get hot food. When the place is busy one of us (Her) stakes out a seat while the other (Me) runs the gammet.

            1st line. Order and pay.
            2nd line. Tacos
            3rd line. Burrito's and other stuff.
            4th line. Drinks.

            There is no order to the food pick up lines and you seem to have to constantly ask at counter. Sorta' like the trading floor at the stock exchange.

            Each requires a trip to the saved table and back to the traiding pit.

            To really enjoy the experience you need 3 people, one for each of the food/drink lines.

            It's been awhile. Is it the same?

            1. its kinda like that today... its more like u get yur drink in the same first line that you pay for your food... then you go down the line and the chef makes either yur taco, yur burrito, or wutever you ordered, but you dont go to a different line depending wut you ordered. its been like this for at least 3 years, so i'm assuming you havent been in quite some time.. sounds like they've improved it since youve been... it does get mad busy after bars/clubs let out but the food you get is piping hot and tastes great!

              1 Reply
              1. re: civicisr

                WOO HOO! Thanks for the update about the lines! Next time we're in the area we will go again.

              2. I agree, El Taurino is by far the best of the places mentioned. I too followed Bandini post and wanted to try a place on the Westside and ended up in Tacos Por Favor. Wow - what a shocker. My Al Pastor was burnt, and so was the carnitas, with little to no cheese in site. The carne asada was no better, it had the consistancy of beef jerky - I went on a Friday nite at 6:30 pm. Save for the beer I rather have ate at Del Taco!

                4 Replies
                1. re: jinro1

                  i as well tried tacos por favor in search of a westside king taco/el taurino... but tacos por favor was a little dissapointing... from the tough overcooked beef to the salsa that wouldnt be bad if not for that sweet taste it opens up with.. i *might* give them another chance, however they are far from being a king taco/el taurino.. damnit when will one open up over on the westside!!!

                  1. re: civicisr

                    have you guys tried tacos la flama on pico/barrington? for the westside, it seems to be pretty good... but my last time there was before i discovered el taurino, so...

                    1. re: civicisr

                      i have since given tacos por favor another chance, and they are back in my good list... not king taco/el taurino by any means, but definately a great westside burrito

                      1. re: civicisr

                        The Cemitas Poblanas truck on Venice/Clarington in Culver City, while they make a real good cemita sandwich with milanesa, their carnitas tacos are also very good, with moist, flavorful pork. I've tried all the other tacos here, their carnitas are my favorite.

                    2. You are absolutely right about El Taurino & King Taco's tacos raising the bar. Nothing in the westside compares to those two. Tacos PorFavor? Oh Please!! Food is very average there as many other places in the westside.