Essential T: Four Must-Eat Tacos That Aren’t Quite Tacos

Because Central America plays by its own rules

If you ordered a taco in Central America, you might be surprised what lands at your table. It will most likely be a tiny, deep-fried, rolled variation—something that might be labeled a taquito in L.A., or maybe a taco dorado depending on what part of town you’re in. But in Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras—the five most represented Central American communities in L.A.—tacos are just another dish among the many antojitos and make up a fairly small part of the cuisine.

That said, Central America is no stranger to the delights of a delicious stew wrapped in a hot corn tortilla or grilled steak and melty cheese oozing from a flour wrapping, they just go by different, regionally specific titles. Didn’t Shakespeare say something about a taco by any other name? Anyways, here are four destinations for food lovers to explore for some tasty tacos that aren’t exactly tacos.


Photograph by Bill Esparza

Garnachas from Casa de Las Garnachas & Beer, 8755 Parthenia Pl., North Hills, (818) 891-0100
This is one of two garnacherias that has sprung up recently signaling that a new generation of Guatemalan restaurateurs is interested in bringing their food to L.A. Sip their award winning national beer, Famosa (called El Gallo in Guatemala), while you snack away on lightly fried tortillas covered with seasoned ground beef, tomato sauce, dry salty cheese, julienned lettuce, and onions.


Gachos from Ella’s Belizean, 3957 S Western Ave., Exposition Park, (323) 298-1310
Though not officially on the menu, you can still order world-class gachos at Ella’s. The popular Belizean breakfast item is generally filled with refried beans, cream, and a crumble of Dutch cheese, with a thick flour tortilla resembling that of a Northern Mexican burrito. Everything that comes out of Carla Dawson’s kitchen is as good as any food stand in Belize City—just don’t toss the word gacho around your Spanish speaking friends.

Quesillo from La 27, 1830 W Pico Bl., Pico-Union, (213) 387-2467
This is one of the most traditional foods in Nicaragua. You take a corn tortilla, top it with cooked sour curd mixed with Mozzarella cheese (hence the name quesillo), pickled onions, cream, and salt to taste. This roadside staple is easy to miss on the menu boards of L.A.’s best Nicaraguan restaurants, but for anyone who’s been on the highway from León to Managua it’s a comforting taste of nostalgia right in the heart of the Byzantine-Latino Quarter.


Baleadas from Rincon Hondureño, 1654 W Adams Bl., Adams Normandie, (323) 734-9530
Of all these dishes, baleadas are the most ambitious‚and the best place to get them is at this hole-in-the-wall located in one of L.A.’s Central American centers. Here you get thick flour tortillas filled with refried beans, cheese, and cream; or you can go deluxe with scrambled eggs, slices of avocado, and grilled meats with a dusting of dry cheese.