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
- 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.
- Tight Menu
Real craftsmen specialize in one or two regional styles. If they have a little something for everyone, they’re rookies. Move along.
- 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.
- Tortilla Lady
Traditionally it’s the women who make tortillas by hand. Such a dama indicates the place is going that extra mile.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”