Essential T: Steamed Brain Tacos at Tacos El Pelon

Tracking the beef-head trend in East L.A.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I was fascinated by these boulevards that seemed to have no end at times, nothing defining their cities and intersections. Ventura Boulevard is the mother of all these thoroughfares, 18 miles of shopping and eating, uninterrupted. It’s such boulevards and avenues throughout the Greater Los Angeles metropolitan area that have always delivered fantastic mom-and-pop eateries, or food trucks and stands like what’s on Olympic Boulevard, which is famous for San Juan de los Lagos-style shrimp tacos, tacos arabes, and other regional specialties. But lately, it’s steamed beef-head cuts that perfume the night air in East L.A.

 Tacos Al Vapor El Pelon
Tacos Al Vapor El Pelon

Photograph by Bill Esparza

Tacos Al Vapor El Pelon is a popular trailer serving up Central Mexican steamed beef-head tacos including such prized cuts as lips, tongue, head, and brains, plus the requisite carne asada impersonator—steamed, fried, or flat-top grilled steak, not traditionally cooked over mesquite, but there are no Sonorans around to call bullshit, so it’s just you and I to worry over such details. Just like at East L.A.’s Tacos Al Vapor El Canelo and South Gate’s Tacos El Negro, the line is long but moves faster than you can decide on what to order, so use your brain and figure it out quick before you commit a taco foul.

Speaking of brains, what came to mind for me were brain tacos, which are creamy, tender, and sea-shell white, with the mild, clean flavor you want from beef brains. They’re served on smallish tortillas, known as taquero tortillas, for $1 each. Order five at a time for a taste of street food that’s showing up more and more in East L.A., among other Mexican enclaves. With the attractive price and deliciousness, it’s practically a no-brainer.

redarrow Tacos Al Vapor El Pelon, northwest corner of East Olympic Boulevard and Amalia Ave., East L.A., (323) 680-6210