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Traveling East coast hound needs very specific list

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Hi all, I am on a very specific mission. I am the exec chef for a restaurant group in a major East coast city. I previously lived out your way. The guy who owns my group has finally taken my word for it that the taquerias here are shite, and that he can't comprehend what he is missing (trying to explain great taco truck tacos to someone from NY/Boston is like describing blue to the color blind). So we are coming to LA for 3 days (1 probably spent in TJ for other reasons). I am out of touch personally, but gather that El Chato (Olympic and La Brea) is bordering on consensus top 10. Need 5 others, plus 2 or 3 fish taco places. We are coming only to eat, so don't worry if you send us driving all over town. In addition any threads relating to food in TJ or on the drive down. And 1 more thing... Is there a bar/lounge that serves anything you would consider in the top 100 tacos? Some hipster dive with a Mexican run kitchen. Los Feliz maybe or Venice? I appreciate the help. Any top 5 list will do, no need to list all the old threads about this (I am sure there are as many as Boston has lobster roll and NYC has Pizza threads.)

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  1. What a fun trip! For great fish tacos, I personally love Tacos Baja Ensenada in LA (lots of positive talk here about them) and Tacos La Bufadora in Irwindale. There is a great place on the drive down to TJ called South Beach Bar & Grille in Ocean Beach near San Diego. I know I will probably get dinged for mentioning it here, since it should go on the other board, but you may not see it there (sorry CH police!).

    http://southbeachob.com/index.shtml

    -----
    Tacos Baja Ensenada
    5385 Whittier Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90022

    Tacos La Bufadora
    10990 Lower Azusa Rd, El Monte, CA 91731

    11 Replies
    1. re: WildSwede

      Cool. I have been spending days digging around taco truck reviews. Leo's seems to be mentioned often with El Chato. Any thoughts?

      1. re: KilgoreTrout

        only speaking for the al pastor, leo's > el chato by a mile - I visited both within 30 minutes of each other.

        1. re: KilgoreTrout

          don't go to chato's....it's one of the many overrated places in la. even el flamin is better...there's an orange truck with the word 'gordita' (IIRC) that's usually parked 7th, near grand and hope or flower thas pretty good. A lot of good taco trucks, just not chato's.

          1. re: namstermonster

            btw, totally agree w/estone. go to mariscos jalisco..try their shrimp tacos for sure!! they're crispy shelled, w/avocado slices and hot sauce drizzled on top....the filling is a mash of shrimp, potatoes??, etc. so yummz~

        2. re: WildSwede

          Also, you can hardly go wrong with La Estrella's Al Pastor. It is probably the second best AP I have had - the first only does catering now. The location on N. Fair Oaks in Pasadena is best. Although there are several locations aound Pasadena that are owned by different family members. Their ceviche is also really good. Be sure to get the red salsa (a great salsa is also key for good tacos!).

          -----
          La Estrella
          502 N Fair Oaks Ave, Pasadena, CA 91103

          1. re: WildSwede

            OK, which is the BEST al pastor (the catering one)?

            1. re: Jack Flash

              Yep. It was that place that Fernando had in the back of a small neighborhood store on Hammond in Pasadena. Now Fernando just caters and it makes me very, very sad. I have referenced him several times when people ask for taco cart catering. Truly wonderful people with truly delicious food.
              I also forgot to mention that he fish tacos at La Estrella are also really good.

              1. re: WildSwede

                This trip is sounding like a dream come true. 48 hours of eating should equal at least 48 tacos (this is research after all, no slacking off). My only concern is having to piece together a route that takes into account all the various random hours of operation. Thanks again to all the wicked good help for this Bostonian, I am sure there are old threads that I could have picked over, but this was more fun. If you guys are mindlessly wasting time at work and want to throw out some ideas about what neighborhood we should book a hotel in that best facilitates the journey and or the closest good taco to LAX, would love to carry on chatting in this thread.

                1. re: KilgoreTrout

                  I would say staying in the downtown LA area makes the most sense (by far) in terms of the majority of these recommendations.

                  1. re: Servorg

                    Also, If you stayed downtown you could take the FlyAway buses to Union Station from LAX for only $6 per person -- big savings vs. cab.

                    1. re: nosh

                      I agree on the downtown rec. Definitely most centrally located. For good Oaxacan food, you can always try Guelaguetza. For delicious Yucatecan food (conchinita pibil and pok chuk - both in taco form) you should definitely try Chichen Itza which is very close to downtown (Exposition and the 110 just south of the 10). You may decide to add their pickled onions to your menu! Delicious!!
                      Along those same lines, maybe a nopal (cactus) taco would be a nice change and something different for the vegetarians out there.

                      -----
                      Chichen Itza
                      3655 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90007

        3. 1. El Chato - went there last week for a taco crawl and felt that it was just okay. Not sure what the big deal is. Also visited TACOS LEO and TACOS TAMIX that same night and TACOS LEO won by a mile - best al pastor I've had in the city and I also visited 5 different al pastor trucks that night. Also significantly better than el chato (imo) w/o the ridiculous wait.

          http://www.greattacohunt.com/2010/07/...

          2. Mexicali Taco Co for carne asada. Also the best I've had. It was the first stop on said taco crawl above and ruined every single carne asada experience aftewards that night.

          http://www.yelp.com/biz/mexicali-taco...

          3. Ricky's Fish Tacos - Been to ALL the CH favorites for fish tacos and Ricky's is the most legit of them IMHO. Every friend I've brought to RFT has become a repeat customer.

          http://www.yelp.com/biz/rickys-fish-t...

          -----
          Mexicali Taco & Co
          1820 Industrial Street, Los Angeles, CA 90021

          Ricky's Fish Tacos
          1400 N Virgil Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027

          2 Replies
          1. re: ns1

            This is the stuff I'm looking for. Thanks. Keep them coming.

            1. re: ns1

              +1 on both Ricky's Fish Tacos
              and
              Mexicali Taco Co

              And Tacos por Favor has KILLER red salsa.

              -----
              Mexicali Taco & Co
              1820 Industrial Street, Los Angeles, CA 90021

              Ricky's Fish Tacos
              1400 N Virgil Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027

            2. Many seem to think El Parian is the best, especially for carne asada.

              My favorite is the Carnitas Michaocan north of downtown and Chinatown, on the N/W corner of North Broadway at 19th. Good carne asada, better al pastor from a rotisserie spit. But the true genius here is the hot sauce -- brickred, thin, smoky, hot, spicy, complex and absolutely delicious. This taqueria got top ranking from The Great Taco Hunt blog for awhile.

              Others to try are Tacos Por Favor in Santa Monica on the S/E corner of Olympic at 14th -- many love their chorizo and cheese tacos, I think their hot sauce is best on the westside. Tacqueria Sanchez, on the west side of Centinela between Washington and Culver is very good, and their shrimp tacos are excellent, with the shrimp chopped but perfectly cooked.

              Enjoy your screenname -- KV, Jr RIP.

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

              Tacos Por Favor
              1406 Olympic Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90404

              1. You'll certainly find pretty much everything you need here: http://www.greattacohunt.com/ Of the most highly rated taco trucks / stands, my personal favorites are:

                Mexicali Taco Co. - Carne asada, chicken and chorizo. Especially try the vampiro (I prefer it with chicken) and the cachetada (I prefer it with asada.

                )

                While I like Leo's Al Pastor an awful lot, I am even more fond of a place that either doesn't have a name or I just don't know it. It sets up at about 8pm on the southwest corner of Cesar Chavez & Hicks in East L.A. It is just east of Cinco Puntos (Cesar Chavez & Lorena) - a fantastic little market / carniceria that specializes in excellent carnitas but is only open during the day.

                One block west of the al pastor guys on Hicks, on the northwest corner of Alma and Cesar Chavez is a stand that sets up at night where they fresh make their tortillas and sopes. I'm not crazy about their tacos, but they do make excellent quesadillas with good quality Mexican cheeses and sometimes huitlacoche -which is a pretty funny thing to find at a street stand.

                I do prefer Ricky's Fish Tacos to Tacos Baja Ensenada.

                Also, you must have a shrimp taco from Mariscos Jalisco - always parked a few blocks east of Soto on Olympic, but only open until about 5pm. There is another mariscos truck that parks closer to Soto and always seems to have a bigger line, but I can't figure out why as Jalisco kicks its ass.

                Farther down Olympic, at night, is Tacos El Korita. They've got very good asada and fresh make their tortillas - which really makes it.

                I'm something of a taco purist and not at all a fan of the various fusion (Kogi, etc.) tacos around town.

                Tijuana, by the way, has some truly astounding high-end restaurants these days. I haven't been yet, but I have heard nothing short of raves about Mission 19.

                Good luck to you, Having unsuccessfully hunted for tacos back east, I know you could really use some good ones.

                -----
                Cinco Puntos
                3300 E Cesar E Chavez Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90063

                Tacos Baja Ensenada
                385 W Whittier Blvd, Montebello, CA 90640

                Mexicali Taco & Co
                1820 Industrial Street, Los Angeles, CA 90021

                Ricky's Fish Tacos
                1400 N Virgil Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027

                1. Bill Esparza, aka streetgourmetla, is a great resource for Latin cuisine around LA as well as Mexico and some other parts of Latin America. If you yahoo or google his name or his tag, you'll find tons of great stuff. If I were to have someone lead me through the eateries of TJ and beyond, he would be The One...

                  http://www.streetgourmetla.com/

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: bulavinaka

                    Definitely second this!

                  2. I suggest you tell your friend that no visit to the greater LA area looking for great Mexican food would be complete without a visit to Cacao Mexicatessen.

                    -----
                    Cacao Mexicatessen
                    1576 Colorado Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90041

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Servorg

                      I second that!
                      also I concur that Leo is much better than El Chato for al pastor.

                      1. re: bad nono

                        Second (or third or whatever) the Leo > El Chato idea.

                      2. re: Servorg

                        Cacao is great. I particularly like the cochinita pibil tacos and the "corn truffle" (huitlacoche) tacos. Even with a GPS, Cacao is easy to miss -- it's right next to the Trader Joe in Eagle Rock, so that's your best landmark.

                        Also agree with the recommendations for Ricky's Fish Tacos. Not to be missed! Last I checked, he's open only Thu-Sun noon-4pm. I've been to Tacos Baja Ensenada and they are good, but Ricky's is in a different league. You also may get recommendations for Best Fish Taco in Ensenada, which makes decent fish tacos, though I think their salsas are disappointing.

                        Even though you're here on a taco mission, I think it would be shame to miss Cemitas y Clayudas Pal Cabron, which will give you a sense of recent developments in LA. It's in K-Town, which you will likely be crossing at some point in your travels. Along with Natura (the raspados place next door), it's the creation of Bricia Lopez, who is a luminary in the LA Mexican food world. See:

                        http://www.streetgourmetla.com/2009/1...
                        http://www.streetgourmetla.com/2010/0...
                        http://articles.latimes.com/2010/aug/...

                        (NB: they moved from Huntington Park to K-Town since these were published.)

                        Finally, I agree with others who think El Chato is missable. Good, but not great.

                        I'm originally from Boston, so I feel like I have a vested interest in your mission!

                      3. You want specifically tacos?

                        Assuming you're coming at the weekend, you MUST go to Tacos Los Güichos. There are two trucks: one does al pastor (one of the best in the city) on Slauson just barely east of the 110 freeway. On the weekends, though, go around 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. to the southwest corner of Slauson and Avalon, in the parking lot of a car stereo dealership. There's a tent there with a giant effin' steel cazo set over a gas fire. In that pot is ten gallons of lard simmering with every pork part you could possibly want.

                        Yes, it's carnitas—carnitas the way it's supposed to be made, not the stringy, dry shite they serve in every other Mexican or "Mexican" restaurant. You can order individual cuts such as ear, skin, maw, lips, shoulder, but the best thing to do is order "tacos surtidos"—variety of cuts. Go early, because they'll run out of carnitas by noon, almost guaranteed. They blow Carnitas Michoacán's poor, barely edible carnitas offerings out of the water.

                        For fish tacos, Mariscos el Tetos is a trailer that parks on Lankershim, all the way up half a block from its north end in a really gritty (not unsafe, just industrial, dusty and uuuuuuugly) part of Sun Valley. I believe they're there 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Amazing fish tacos, and also you should try the cahuamanta (manta ray soup).

                        On your way down to Tijuana, stop in Santa Ana, on Cubbon St. just west of Main St., a few minutes south of the Main St. exit from the 5 and 5 carpool. Alebrije's Grill is a pink taco truck that parks outside the Northgate González market. Order a taco acorazado "con todo", a speciality of Cuernavaca that this truck makes better than anyone else. It's a huge, thick, handmade tortilla with Spanish rice, fried-to-order milanesa, onions, chiles jalapeños, chiles dulces, tomatoes, avocado, and nopales. Dress it with the lightest of the green sauces in the holder. It's a huge taco, but well worth the $4 (it'll feed two, especially as a stop).

                        In San Diego, on 36th and University, is Super Cocina, a guisados store with all sorts of "soupy" dishes such as pork neck and purslane (espinazo con verdolagas), or amarillo de pollo (yellow mole with chicken). It all varies by day, but they will give you as many samples as you want, and you can get what you want in tacos.

                        You should definitely go to Tijuana—don't pay attention to what jackattack said (sorry dude, but it's obvious you haven't been off Revolución—Tijuana's got the best tacos north of Mexico City, and I feel more in danger in LA than in TJ, where if you look upset or unhappy people will ask you what's wrong). I'll put some suggestions, gleaned from trips with and without streetgourmetla, on the Mexico board and link back here when done. You are in for some effing delirious-making tacos.

                        And welcome to California, Alta and Baja.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                          Beautiful stuff. This is what I'm looking for. Manta Ray soup!! cant sell that in Boston, but want to eat it now. If you needed to choose 6 varieties to specialize in, what would you do? Pastor, carnitas, pescado, milanesa, chorizo and... Big Muslim population here, can get goat whole or leg. Any goat stops to make?

                          1. re: KilgoreTrout

                            Here's the Tijuana post. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/790808

                            Yes, birria de chivo. One's in Pacoima (another streetgourmetla find—the man is a pinche dowsing rod for great Mexican food in LA) and one's down here in Santa Ana. (I live in OC.

                            )

                            The place in Pacoima is called Birrieria Apatzingán (10040 Laurel Canyon Blvd.) and specialises in Michoacán wet-style birria de chivo. It is unbelievably tender. Just thinking about a bowl of it with their homemade tortillas is making me drool.

                            The place in Santa Ana is called El Cabrito and is at 1604 W. First. Dry-style birria de chivo. Make sure you ask them for their outstanding salsa de aceite ("oil sauce", which is charred-black chiles pureed into an unappetizing-looking but amazing-tasting sludge). This is the best non-Korean hangover cure in Orange County.

                            -----
                            El Cabrito
                            1604 W 1st St, Santa Ana, CA 92703

                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                              Links to Bill Esparza's blog posts about Mariscos el Tetos and Birrieria Apatzingan:

                              http://www.streetgourmetla.com/2010/0...
                              http://www.streetgourmetla.com/2010/0...

                            2. re: KilgoreTrout

                              For goat, I am rather partial to El Parian, though I also enjoy the preparation at Monte Alban. You have gotten lots of great recommendations for authentic taquerias but it might also be interesting to throw into the mix one or two of the "modern" or "fusion" places just to get other takes on what can be done; among the ones worth looking at from a restauranteur's point of view might be Loteria Grill, Taco Asylum, Tinga and the Korean-infused Kogi Trucks (also available at the Alibi, since you asked about bars serving tacos).

                              -----
                              Monte Alban
                              11927 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

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

                              Loteria Grill
                              6333 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90036

                              Alibi Room
                              12236 W Washington Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90066

                              Loteria Grill Hollywood
                              6627 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90028

                              Tinga
                              142 S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036

                              Taco Asylum
                              2937 Bristol St, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

                              Loteria Grill
                              12050 Ventura Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 91604

                          2. Thanks to all the L.A. hounds!! I will be out there in 3 weeks. I am "collating" a list and from all these recommendations (keep them coming) and trying to put together a route. Will report back right before for last minute fine tuning and after trip with results.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: KilgoreTrout

                              Yes, please report back!

                              And just for contrast (high end tacos), try the tacos florales at Rivera, which is an upscale modern Latin restaurant in Downtown.

                              1. re: J.L.

                                yes, their tortillas with avocado butter are special

                              2. re: KilgoreTrout

                                Guisados - new spot at 2100 E Cesar Chavez Blvd near Chicago . .. great tacos.
                                For Manta Ray soup - try El Siete Mares on 2118 N Broadway in East LA. . . they often have it as a special either at their main restaurant or the "stand" El Siete Mares Playita just a block away.
                                And check out a little place on 2510 E, CChavez just East of Soto called Antojitos Carmen. Fabuous flavors. They were a taco truck until about six months ago . .. the guisado tacos there especially deliciousl. (I'm a Bostonian married to a Mexican for 40 years. . . )

                                -----
                                Antojitos Carmen
                                2510 East Cesar E Chavez Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90033

                                Guisados
                                2100 E. Cesar E Chavez Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90033

                                1. re: KilgoreTrout

                                  And
                                  Los Cinco Puntos. 3300 E CChavez Blvd Thick handmade corn tortillas being made there on the spot with excellent fillings. - carne asada, carnitas, etc

                                  -----
                                  Cinco Puntos
                                  3300 E Cesar E Chavez Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90063

                                2. I agree with El Chato, I like their carne asada and their lengua(tongue) is really good. I like Leo's, but as I don't eat pork, I can't report on it other than to say it is always crowded. I went to Mexicali Taco with some out of state friends on a taco run(El Chato, Leo's) and it was really good. We ate at tables under the stars at midnight.
                                  For seafood tacos, I really like Senor Fish, though alot of people will disagree. I used to love their shrimp burritos, they are still good, but now I like to get their scallop and a shrimp tacos. They have all kinds of fish, either fried or grilled. Their shrimps are not baby shrimps but good medium to large ones.
                                  Do you only want taco truck food, or do you want some other ideas?
                                  I would like to mention that if you are going to these places, especially the tacos trucks, find out their ours as they vary. I know that El Chato doesn't open til 9p.m.
                                  Please report back with your findings.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: paprkutr

                                    Forgot to mention Yucca's Hut on Hillhurst. I know I will get flack for this, but the machaca at El tepyac is great, one of the best, if you want something a little different.

                                  2. For meat and offal tacos I'd recommend Taco Zone, which is a van/trailer combo that parks on Glendale Blvd. (north?) of the intersection with Alvarado in Silver Lake/Echo Park after 8pm each night. They are known for suadero tacos but I really do like their cabesa - beef cheek - and tripas the best. Their salsas are also pretty great.

                                    As for fish tacos, I believe that Ricky's has already been mentioned.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: JeMange

                                      Not a truck, not loved by purist CHers, and expensive relative to the trucks, but we love the tacos at Tinga, on La Brea. I could (and do) eat the short rib taco weekly or even more frequently. If you are looking at the kinds of tacos to serve at a restaurant group, these would be worthy.

                                      A digression in response to happybaker: I ate at La Super Rica Taco this week, and had the fabled #16, and found it to be kind of a gloppy mess--I think perhaps in the 80's this was as good as it got, but no longer. I prefer Tinga--and it is 100 miles closer.

                                      -----
                                      Tinga
                                      142 S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036

                                      1. re: coffeebrownies

                                        Coffeebrownies - I have never had the #16 at La Super Rica, I tend to enjoy stuff featured as their daily specials the most.

                                        But I'm thrilled with your rec of Tinga - far closer and sounds excellent.

                                        -----
                                        Tinga
                                        142 S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036

                                    2. Hey all hounds. Looks like we will be staying in the Omni @ California Plaza downtown. Seems to be the best price/quality/location ratio to be had. Will be attempting to map out a course in a day or two and will post my proposed itinerary. Does Friday to Monday allow for the most options? It seems like it at first glance. Thanks again.

                                      -----
                                      Omni
                                      , Moreno Valley, CA 92551

                                      8 Replies
                                      1. re: KilgoreTrout

                                        Your better going for Friday. A lot of the places close on Sunday and Monday. El Chato, Mexicali Tacos are two that come to my mind immediately.

                                        1. re: KilgoreTrout

                                          Just thought of something else, just in case you want to look at some of the other food trucks, there are a lot of them parked weekdays in front of LACMA on Wilshire near Fairfax. There are usually around 20 trucks of all kinds.

                                          1. re: paprkutr

                                            just say NO to fancy trucks.

                                          2. re: KilgoreTrout

                                            At that location, you might want to amble over to Grand Central Market and hit up some of the taco stalls there: Ana Maria's, Roast-to-Go, et al.

                                            -----
                                            Grand Central Market
                                            317 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013

                                            Ana Maria
                                            317 S Broadway C-9-10, Los Angeles, CA 90013

                                            1. re: mc michael

                                              And in the evening, next to Grand Central is La Cita (335 S. Hill; Grand Central has entrances on Broadway and Hil). No tacos that I am aware of, but lots of cervezas and a taco lifestyle flavor.

                                            2. re: KilgoreTrout

                                              while you might lose out with the trucks, you will definitely win with the traffic if you avoid weekdays. Los Angeles is not particularly navigable on weekdays from 4:30 to 6:30 or so any which way you might want to go.

                                              1. re: coffeebrownies

                                                True, but a lot of these trucks are only open at night, so they could really miss the traffic. Do one part of the city during the day, rest, and then do another part at night. I've done them at night and hit a lot of them. The main point is to see when the trucks are around and plan around that.

                                              2. re: KilgoreTrout

                                                I will second the recommendations to not do most of it on Sunday and Monday due to truck availability. Many of these trucks will be around after 7 or 8 when most of the traffic is much more manageable. I'd say try to plan your day to hit the ones out at daytime between 11-3. Then sit out traffic at a nice bar somewhere between 4-6:30 while building the appetite back up. After that resume the crawl.

                                                Logistically I'd think that's best way to deal with weekday traffic and finding the most trucks available.

                                              3. Taco festival later this month, in case you're interested...

                                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/791142

                                                1. I am lucky to have just moved to town within walking distance of Leo's (and not far from El Chato). Leo's beats El Chato by a mile. Even the truck across the street from Leo's (El Gallito) I would venture to say is better than El Chato (El Chato may have a slightly better salsa but the meat itself is eh).

                                                  Another place I found recently which is nice since there are two other trucks nearby is right next to a carniceria in Highland Park, Food4Less. I don't know what the name of it is, it's a setup right outside, not a truck. FANTASTIC pollo and asada, pastor I am spoiled by Leo's but it was still tasty. Also they had tripa, cabeza, and forget what else, wasn't hungry enough to try. All looked good.

                                                  I will personally come have a taco with you at Leo's, just ask.