Essential T: Compton Is Your New Hot Spot for Vampire Tacos

They’re slinging traditional Mazátlan-style <i>vampiros</i> and <i>chorreadas</i> at Tacos al Carbon

As soon as Javier Morales sets up his taco stand on a residential street in the city of Compton—around 4 p.m. each Friday—there’s a hungry crowd gathered for Mazatlan’s favorite nighttime pursuits: vampiros and chorreadas. “I used to set up on Saturdays but everyone is having parties, so on the weekends I do taquizas,” Morales said as he hammered away at a few hulking cuts of beef shoulder.

Tacos Al Carbón, which means tacos cooked over coals (sometimes you’re too busy to come up with a name), has been open for a year and mostly functions as a catering operation. But on Fridays from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., it’s the place to go for vampiros (taco with melted cheese on a hard comal-toasted tortilla) and chorreadas (like a vampiro but made with a slick of unrefined pork lard). And Javier isn’t the only one in Compton making real deal Mazatlán-style tacos: his brother, Jose Morales Sr., is the taquero behind Tacos La Carreta

If you happen to brave the traffic and show up at Tacos Al Carbon promptly at 4 p.m. on a Friday, you’ll see a sizable queue and get the full effect of Mexican street taco ambiance. The covered stand sets up opposite Compton’s Whaley Middle School on S. Gibson Ave. at E. San Carlos Street; it’s a good idea to stand on the sidewalk at night as drivers carelessly race up and down the quiet street, and cars roll up to the stand to place orders. The set up is simple: a table, a taquero rig with a comal and a barbecue grill. The only ingredients necessary to make the best steak tacos.

After cooking over mesquite, the steak is stored on camping pots to retain moisture and temperature before being handled on a tree trunk base cutting board. The small taquero tortillas are splashed with hot pork lard are toasted on the flat top with melted cheese as a base for the chopped beef shoulder or grilled chicken. Add pico de gallo, chile salsa, avocado salsa, and season with a pinch of cilantro and onions and you have a legit vampiro.

Vampiros were hard to come by a few years back—good ones anyway—but our growing band of Sinaloan taqueros has broken the curse. I don’t know why they call them vampiros, and neither do any of the taqueros I’ve been frequenting throughout the Mexican state of Sinaloa going back to the early 2000’s. Finally, one bothered to answer: he deadpanned, “Transylvania”, and then asked how many do I want. Maybe we’ll never know. But, what we can say for sure is that serious vampiros and chorreadas are now available from Friday through Sunday from the brothers Morales, starting with Fridays at Tacos al Carbon.

Tacos al Carbon, S. Gibson Ave. at E. San Carlos Street, Compton, (562) 634-3342, Fridays only from 4p.m. to 10p.m.