How to Tell if That Taco Stand Is the Real Deal

L.A.’s ultimate taco trailblazer shares his criteria for quality munching

You’re driving by a street corner when you spy an exposed lightbulb and a plume of smoke. It sure smells good, but how do you know it is good—or even, y’know, safe? Here’s what to look for

  1. Tidy Salsa Station
    Look for color and organization. Sides and salsas should be fresh and well stocked and maintained. Empty bins and spills are evidence of a slacker.
  1. Tight Menu
    Real craftsmen specialize in one or two regional styles. If they have a little something for everyone, they’re rookies. Move along.
  1. Speedy Taqueros
    Taco masters spend years on their craft. The man behind the tronco, (wood) cutting board, should be a blur of knife skills and choreography.
  1. Tortilla Lady
    Traditionally it’s the women who make tortillas by hand. Such a dama indicates the place is going that extra mile.
  1. A Line
    A crowd isn’t a foolproof sign—what is it they say about lemmings? But if customers are chatting up the taqueros (preferably in Spanish), they’re probably regulars.
  1. Multiple Workers
    A cashier on duty signifies cleanliness. If it’s a solo operation, the taquero should put on a glove before taking your cash.
  1. A Region in the Name
    When a vendor calls out his place of origin, there’s a lot at stake. No self-respecting taqueros would risk their hometown’s rep on mediocre grub.


This article appears in Los Angeles magazine’s June 2015 cover story, “Taco City.”