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Oct 8, 2009 11:23 PM

A few Mid-City Tacos

Finally got around to trying the El Chato taco truck parked on Olympic and La Brea. I found the lengua and al pastor to be above average. One reason may be the good amount of lard they use on the grilltop. I watched as the lady warming the tortillas dip a stack of tortillas in the warming pan of lard and dripping a lot of it over the tortillas on the grill. Nice touch. I also like the grilled onions they include on the plate as well as the onion/habanero slaw they have out for spicing up the tacos. All in all, it's a very satisfying place.

There's now a taco stand near the corner of Pico and Arlington in front of the church there. When no one's around, it can be a lonely stretch around there, but there seem to be a steady stream of people coming and going. Most noticeable is the al pastor spit, and they have the flat grill as well as the well of meat juices in the round grill with cooking meat along the edges (forgot what that's called). The al pastor was above average, but the better filling for me was the cabeza. I found this stand to be the equal of El Chato, and I like that all the sauces/salsas/garnishes are on the table for customizing your way. Really nice folks running the stand. I hope they stick around.

When I was a kid, I used to eat at the Pup 'n Tacos on Pico near Queen Anne Place/West Blvd, so I knew I had to visit Tacos El Compita which moved in to the remains of that forgotten fast food location. (I've already posted elsewhere about the first KFC I tried that is now the Oaxacan restaurant Zapoteca on Pico near Crenshaw, and Tasty Q, which is in the first Taco Bell I ever had). The cabeza and lengua are two of the better options there. Avoid the al pastor. I ordered a lengua burrito, and the counter guy took out a large lobe of tongue stewing in the steam table, peeled the membrane around it, and chopped it up and straight into the burrito. Worth every bit of the $4.50 they charge for a burrito. The cabeza is also kept warm and stewing in a steam table pan, and the flavors of the headmeat melds nicely into a tender hash.

While none of the places above push the envelope of taco making, they're all solid, and will likely satisfy in the neighborhood. If I had to choose the place that will draw me back among the three, it's probably the stand at Pico/Arlington.

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  1. I would add places links but none of these places are available through Chow's databases, so here are the Yelp links

    1. Revisiting a few of my local joints for tacos, I had a couple new revelations. The buche and lengua tacos at El Chato (Olympic/La Brea) are some of the best versions I've had. Both of these are the long simmered and very tender. The asada and pastor are pretty good and reliable, but if you want a real taste sensation, then the buche and lengua are the ones to get (I need to try the cabeza there still).

      I liked Leo's, but I haven't tried it on the weekends when the real al pastor spit is running. I'll wait to pass judgment till then.

      In the meantime, the evening outdoor stand in front of Tacos El Compita was some of the best pastor I've had. If you are a regular at El Chato and don't want to wait with the crowd and want a superior al pastor taco, then take the 5 minute drive over to El Compita.

      I walked over to Zapoteca (Pico near Crenshaw) for lunch this week and had a surprisingly good meal. Though the restaurant was empty and might be a bit off-putting with that bulletproof glass front counter, but the matron of the house was warm and friendly, and fixed everything herself. Good mole negro plate, and surprisingly good was the special zapoteca burrito (doused with a red sauce). Hard to put it into words, but both dishes were perfectly balanced. All the flavors on the plate (rice, beans, meat, etc.) sparkled on the tongue without needing the aid of more hot sauce or other condiments. Perhaps it's not all that to write home about, but it's refreshing to find a place where someone is cooking with this much care.

      Next door to Zapotecas in the little strip mall is Mateo's Ice Cream and Fruit Bars. All the ice creams a made in-house, and include some interesting flavors you don't find at the usual American ice cream parlor. My favorites were nance and mamey (fruits native to Mexico and central America), nuez (walnut), and the banana.

      Zapoteca Restaurant
      4220 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90019

      Tacos El Compita
      4477 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90019

      1. Thank you for this report. I live in the area and it's very helpful. Maybe you can help me find some good carne asada.

        I like carne asada the best. I like el chato's but in my opinion it is not better than king taco's carne asada burrito. Mostly it's the seasoning. When I don't want to drive to Pico/Alvarado, I get el chato's and squeeze a bunch of lime in it. I also like el chato's chicken quesadilla.

        I tried Leo's carne asada and it was not as good as el chato or king taco. I have tried El Parian's which is supposedly the best, but it was so tough I couldn't chew it. I don't remember what it tasted like.This was a couple of years ago, maybe I should try it again. How is the carne asada on the other trucks you've mentioned?

        El Parian
        1528 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015

        3 Replies
        1. re: LuluTheMagnificent

          i went to the above-mentioned el compita to try their much-hyped al pastor, which was quite good, but was absolutely blown away by their carne asada which seldom gets mentioned. of course, you have to go at night when the outfoor bbq is set up. this in my mind rivals downtown's mexicali for best asada i've had.

          Tacos El Compita
          4477 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90019

          1. re: ronsilverado

            I didn't mention the carne asada at the outdoor stall outside Tacos El Compita the first time around since I thought it was just OK, but the second time around gave me something to write about. While my first visit provided a good beefy (with a bit of gristle) taco, the second visit gave me that, plus a nice hit of smokiness from the fire grill (minus the gristle). Really good stuff.

            Tacos El Compita
            4477 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90019

            1. re: ronsilverado

              How late at night Ron?

              I went an tried El Parian yesterday and it was delicious! Maybe it is the best, they screwed my order up so I still can't say it's the best yet, but the burrito was HUGE and the flavor was great. Still some gristle though, but not as bad as the first time. At least I could eat it this time.