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Apr 17, 2005 07:06 PM

Tito's Tacos - What's the Big Deal??

  • j

Hi'ya Hounds -

At the risk of offending several of you here (my apologies in advance), I recently took a trip to the much vaunted Tito's Tacos in Culver City and found precious little to love. If not for the cheap prices, I would have left a bitter man.
Now, I realize the joint has a storied place in local history and culture - I understand that thousands of you grew up with Tito's Tacos.. in its 45 year, it has indeed become an institution of the fast food / taco stand industry. But.. having eaten just about everything on the menu, I can't help but ask.. what's the big deal??
Is it simply nostalgia? Is it a taste for food you grew up with? Is it the prices? I've had what I believe to be much better tacos and burritos and tamales and enchiladas.... so I'm having a bit of trouble believing it's the food.

What am I missing? A childhood in a neighboring area?

All the same, they must be doing something right. Every time I drive by the place, there's a line of people waiting out front.

Help me understand??

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  1. I cannot agree with you more. I just dont get the hype.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Seo

      Reality: could have been amazing at one point - but i found it lackluster and 100% average.

      My theory is that when a restaurant starts out, family run, with people who care about what theyre doing and are at risk, they tend to not cut corners or do things hastily.

      once it gets a reputation and a steady stream of customers, the original family is replaced by minimum wage employees who are most concerned about their boyfriend/girlfriend, and the new ringtone in the phone, and could care a hill of beans about your 79c taco.

      now this has not happened to each and every famous place, mostly not to the ones following strict recipes.

      1. re: NoClue

        Ya know, I grew up on Tito's myself.. so I'm not at all partial. But I would like to say that Tito's itself is still a family run operation, and you'll often see the founder's daughter behind the single cash register.

        For me, I just like to slather the tacos with copious amounts of their salsa- I'll often order an extra. Occasionally I'll order a beef tamale, but it's really the tacos for me. Admittedly, my friends and I usually reminisce about how they used to be $0.39, etc.


        1. re: NoClue

          I aggree with NoClue, this place was the bomb when I was a kid growing up in LA. Both me and my sister have noticed the quality went WAY down, which is why our visits there did as well!

          Someone told me they sold it a few years ago, and that's when the quality went down. I think it's gone up a little bit, but we'll see. I still go there every few months, if nothing else, for nostalgia's sake!

      2. As far as flavor enhancers go, nostalgia is many times stronger than msg. Its presence (or absence) is generally enough, in and of itself, to determine a given person's reaction to Tito's (and many other local institutions, I might add).

        1. Why not advise exactly what you ate and why it was good or why it was not {fans of Was/Not Was can skip this step I suppose)? With or without cheese? With or without salsa? If so, red or green?

          1. Tito's may be a place you had to grow up with to fully appreciate. I think it's an acquired taste. Remember, there are reasons for those long lines. People aren't completely crazy.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Redshirt

              For the record I didn't grow up with Tito's, been eating there for 5 years and ADORE their tacos, etc. I didn't love it the first time, but my roommates were addicted to it, and as I keep going there it really grew on me.

              1. re: Ads

                I once worked in an office in the area. Nothing broke up my day better than a coworker coming in at lunch with boxes of Tito's provisions to carry us thru the remainder of the day.

                1. re: Ads

                  Yeah, I hated or wondered what was the draw for that place....totally ordinary tacos not unlike what you would get at home...but then I just started getting a craving for them...the grease, the salsa, the guac.....

                  It grows on ya.

                2. re: Redshirt

                  Yup, I grew up with their tacos. There is something about that simple combination that I have not found anywhere else (which some on this board would say thank goodness for that) - the crunch of the shell on the edge and the chew/tear of the shell in the middle, the texture and taste of the mystery meat, the yellow cheese and the wonderful salsa. That salsa seems very simple but it is addicting and I haven't had anything like that anywhere else, either. I love their rice and for me, one of my favorite meals is two tacos with cheese slathered with the red salsa, an order of their rice, and the crunchy chips. Oh, that is sooo good! Simple is best.

                3. As a Bostonian, Tito's were my first introduction to a burrito other than something bought at 7-11 and heated up in a microwave. This was around 1986, when a friend who'd grown up in Westwood took me and a bunch of guys there.

                  My first reaction was that this was the most disgusting food I had ever had. I didn't know what to make of it. The beans and sauce seemed soupy, and the chunks of meat truly frightened me. The menu simply said "meat," with no explanation, save some reference to "100 percent steer" which sounded odd. The chips seemed really hard, and what was salsa? I vowed never to eat there again.

                  Perhaps 10 years later, after more burrito experience, I returned and found that Tito's was not too bad! Sure, one should avoid the "guaccamole," but those burritos tasted better and better each time. As another poster said, it's an acquired taste.

                  Now I am fairly addicted to a meat and beans burrito, no cheese, with extra salsa inside. I go there perhaps twice a month.

                  A couple odd things about Tito's:

                  - until recently, the Cokes were tiny. They've always been mixed very well, however.
                  - if your change is over 50 cents, you ALWAYS get a fifty cent piece back
                  - the lines are long partially due to the bizarre ordering system: One woman takes your order, than departs to prepare it. She then returns with the food, having to find you as you have nowhere to stand while you wait. She then takes your money and has to go to a central cashier. Finally, she returns again with your change. It's incredibly inefficient!

                  14 Replies
                  1. re: Scooty

                    Great post. I think the homey inefficiency (in this all-too-efficient country) is one of the most charming things about Tito's!

                    1. re: Ads

                      Some friends and I discussed this chaotic ordering system the other day; it does seem archaic and inefficient.

                      Could it be a low-tech solution to minimize cash loss? Servers have to take the cash to the cashier (IIRC, a family member of the owner) in order to get change. The only chance for an employee to pocket a payment is if the customer has exact change, plus with only one cash register (and an owner manning it), opportunites to pilfer the till are minimized.

                      I recall reading an LATimes article on a local taco chain that flourished in the '70s or '80s (Burrito King or something...). At its height it had about 30 locations, but is now down to one or two. The owner mentioned that employee theft of cash was the main reason for the downfall (yeah, there was likely mismanagement on his part, but he didn't bring that up). Could be that the Tito's Taco family is trying to avoid a similar fate.

                      Granted, they could computerize the process and track orders and cash flow digitally; the little banh mi places seem to be doing that...I don't think it would be cost prohibitive. Or they could systemize the work and make it more of an assembly line process. That would speed things up. Like you wrote, maybe they feel the chaos is part of Tito's charm? Gives the regular customers the feeling of being "in the know" if they can handle the process? I dunno, but I feel there's something to that.

                      We tried to figure out the purpose behind the 50 cent pieces but couldn't come up with one...more irritating than charming IMHO.

                      1. re: Yclops

                        I've always thought the process was to control the cash. Seems logical.

                        Just a side-note for the new-to-Tito's: For some reason, the lines inside are almost always much shorter than the ones outside. I guess people don't notice there are order counters in both areas, or they just prefer the outside.

                        1. re: Midlife

                          For what it's worth, if I remember corrrectly, Tito's itself used to have three locations (definitely at least two).. They're also back down to the one original one, I think.


                          1. re: Julian Hsu

                            There was a short lived one in Orange County--Anaheim, I think.

                            1. re: mc michael

                              Actually, that location is still there, but under a different name and management - it's called Tom's. They still use the same recipes, so the food is identical, with one difference: They have chicken tacos.

                            2. re: Julian Hsu

                              Yea, the was one by Disneyland and it was pretty bad, did not last very long.

                          2. re: Yclops

                            Maybe the long lines are a marketing strategy.

                            1. re: Mao

                              When I see a long line I usually keep driving.

                              1. re: 2chez mike

                                When I see a long line, I pull over and sample! :)

                                1. re: Scooty

                                  me too!! :0
                                  Tito's is a perfect example of a "one-off" that has beeen doing something right, knows it and is smart enough to not change it.

                                  Personally I love these type of places.Finding these type of places is a big reason why I am here.For work, I travel alot around the country and I am always asking the local people where they like to go to eat. Sometimes they try to direct me to a chain but I just ask for a local place, whats popular, and I never get tierd of the adventure and sometimes find great places with excellent food presenting me with a snapshot of that regions culinary tastes.

                                  I love Tito's tacos with their unique tomatoey salsa and the course ground pickled jalapenos, also I appreciate their chili colorado burros and fresh tortilla chips.
                                  I don't care for there tamales though.

                              2. re: Mao

                                When I see a long line it usually makes me suspicious.

                                Pink's, for example, always has a long line.

                              3. re: Yclops

                                Having gone to Tito's since the late 60's I can tell you why the ordering/pay one money changer system is the way it is. Back in the early days none of the employees spoke english and did not give back change correctly most of the time. It would be a normal occurance to order something, give them your money, have them make the change themselves, and give you back more money than you gave them in the first place. As a 10 or 12 year old boy, what could be better: not only getting some great food but your money + more back in change. We made it a habit to hit Tito's whenever we could! When they moved from their old building on the corner to the present one is when they changed their system.

                            2. re: Scooty

                              I, too, came to LA from Boston, but in 2003. Since Boston's Mexican food is absolutely nothing special (that I ever found, please correct me if I'm wrong so I can try it on future visits), I thought Tito's was awesome. But I quickly discovered $1 street tacos and have acquired that taste instead.

                              I don't really get the lines at Pink's, either, but I realize that's a whole 'nother thread.