Mexicali Taco and Co. Photograph by Lisa Romerein
The Mexico City-style street food favorite has grown from a legendary Breed Street vendor to a Boyle Heights institution. Carmen Ortega is masterful with masa: Her huaraches are covered with inky huitlacoche; puffy gorditas are stuffed with salty chicharrónes. » 2510 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave., Boyle Heights, 323-264-1451.
Birrieria Flor del Rio
Central Mexico has a weekend tradition of slow-roasting goat to make birria, a soulful stew with a wallop of dried chiles that will cure whatever ails you. This East L.A. dive is the city’s premier purveyor of the cumin-laced dish, which comes in bowls and is accompanied by warm handmade flour tortillas. » 3201 E. 4th St., Boyle Heights, 323-268-0319.
Most of L.A.’s Sinaloan restaurants are seafood centric, but this homey joint is dedicated to the meatier side of that state’s cuisine. Devour enchiladas del suelo (open-face chorizo enchiladas) or an earthy dish of chilorio (shredded spicy pork) wrapped in a homemade flour tortilla with pork-infused refried beans. » 8646 State St., South Gate, 323-566-5522.
Mexicali Taco and Co.
In February L.A.’s top carne asada jocks moved from a street cart into their first brick-and-mortar. Begin with the prized carne asada taco, then sink your fangs into a cheesy vampiro, which begs to be drizzled with Mexicali’s garlic sauce. The combo proves Dr. Van Helsing wrong, but it tastes so right. » 702 N. Figueroa St., downtown, 213-613-0416.
Flor de Yucatan
The cuisine of the Yucatán is expressed simply at this old-line bakery and storefront near USC. Grab a plastic seat on the patio and dig into cochinita pibil (pork slow roasted in banana leaves) or papadzules (hard-boiled egg tacos). Every weekend is a tamale fest—get ’em while they’re hot. » 1800 S. Hoover St., L.A., 213-748-6090.
L.A. has the third-largest number of Oaxacan restaurants in the world—holy mole! At this Mid City find from David Padilla and Maria Ramos, the mole negro boasts a blend of more than 30 ingredients. For $8 you can order this or the sweeter mole coloradito, which blankets a plate of chicken and rice. The barbacoa enchilada with roasted goat is a meat lover’s ideal—we kid you not. » 4163 W. Washington Blvd., Mid City, 323-737-5050.
In partnership with Armando De La Torre, Ricardo Diaz is building a Mexican American restaurant empire in East L.A. At Guisados his one-of-a-kind tacos are made with braised meats and homestyle stews. We love the hearty steak picado and the blistering hot cochinita pibil, both of which come on tortillas made from freshly hulled corn. » 2100 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave., Boyle Heights, 323-264-7201.
In the ’60s and ’70s, the official L.A. taco was composed of a hard shell, yellow cheese, and ground beef drowned in “taco sauce.” Feeling nostalgic? The California-classic version survives at one of the Valley’s retro mainstays, which has been crafting gringo tacos with fresh ingredients for more than 50 years. Add beans and you have Henry’s “tostado”—a delicious example of Mexican Americana. » 11401 Moorpark St., North Hollywood, 818-769-0343.
There weren’t many ways to sate our late-night cravings for Oaxacan until the sleepy Westside café Juquila fired up a truck and parked it on Santa Monica Boulevard. Till 2 a.m. you can get tacos with tasajo (salted beef) or cesina (adobo-rubbed dried pork). The clayuda—pizza’s Oaxacan cousin—makes for a curbside fiesta platter. » Corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and Barrington Ave., West L.A.
Mar Azul Truck
Don’t bother asking Felipe Cejudo what’s in the squirt bottles at his undersea-themed truck. His proprietary creams, secret sauces, and coleslaw enhance sweet and tangy shrimp cocktails and Mexico City-style seafood dishes, including a cool octopus tostada. » 4700 N. Figueroa St., Highland Park.
The torta ahogada, Guadalajara’s sauce-soaked sandwich, is not for the faint of heart (or the heartburn prone). This raspados (shaved ice) shop is the only source in L.A. for a version made with shrimp. Prepared with fiery salsa and served on La Brea Bakery bread, the spicy concoction will have you thanking Dios for the shaved ice. » 6102 Vineland Ave., North Hollywood, 818-310-5415.
Ricky’s Fish Tacos
Fish tacos are as emblematic of Southern California as flip-flops, and Ricky Pina, wearing a fedora and a grin, fries up the region’s finest. At his Los Feliz street cart, he elevates sublime strips of battered basa with homemade condiments that are 100 percent Baja love. If you’re lucky, his lobster taco might be the special. » 1400 N. Virgil Ave., Los Feliz, 323-906-7290.
In Mexico City al pastor carts flood the streets, their vertical spits spinning like sweet-savory merry-go-rounds of pineapple and pork. The custom lives on at this achiote--stained truck, where au--thentic al pastor comes in a mulita, or taco sandwich. Don’t miss the spectacle of deft taqueros sending chunks of pineapple flying into warm tortillas. » Corner of Venice Blvd. and La Brea Ave., Mid City.
You won’t believe you’re on La Brea Avenue: This taquería puts a modern stamp on the taco but sticks to tradition where it counts. Tortillas are made fresh for versions packed with spicy braised short rib and flatiron steak and drizzled with lethally hot “dog snout” salsa. » 142 S. La Brea Ave., Mid City, 323-954-9566.