Earlier this month, we released our 99 Essential Restaurants in Los Angeles package for 2017, along with its new sister list, the Freshmen 15 (for the newbie restaurants too young to make it onto the list, but which we love nonetheless). The list contains a ton of Mexican restaurants, more than any other kind of food by cuisine type (if you don't count the amorphous American/New American category, and honestly some Mexican restaurants could even fit into that). Instead of listing all the Mexican places below, we decided to give a taste of some of the city's essential tacos, with a couple of burritos and quesadillas thrown in for good measure. Consider this your guide to L.A.'s 10 essential tortilla-based, portable foodstuffs.
10. Burritos La Palma
What differentiates a burrito and a taco? It’s a question that has launched a thousand food-nerd fights, but the unsatisfying answer is: It depends. The burritos at El Monte’s Burritos La Palma have won taco awards, and they are about the same size as Texas breakfast tacos. Maybe the reason these particular burritos are so beloved in L.A. is actually due to their size — after all, this is a taco town.The signature burrito here is stuffed with birria — the beef version, not goat, even though the restaurant originated in the state of Zacatecas, where they do use the more traditional goat meat. Order two or three at a time, either all filled with birria or with a combo of chicken tinga, carne deshebrada with potatoes, or gelatinous chicharrones. —Katherine Spiers
Read Burrito La Palma's full 99 Essentials blurb here.
9. Cacao Mexicatessen
The deli/restaurant/bar/coffee shop has so many things going for it, it’s hard to know where to start. Of course, there’s the menu, full of hearty, comforting Mexican classics as well as the now-legendary carnitas de pato (duck carnitas), the mole fries, the lightly fried avocado or uni tacos. But this place is as much about the feel as it is about the food. Families cram into booths and feast on tacos. —Besha Rodell
Read Cacao Mexicatessen's full 99 Essentials blurb here.
8. Guerrilla Tacos
If you had to show someone what it’s like to live and eat in Los Angeles and had only an hour to accomplish it, you probably could get the job done with a visit to Guerrilla Tacos. Here’s where you come to eat from a truck that parks in front of the city’s best coffee (and sometimes wine) shops, a taco truck that started as a cart but soon will become a restaurant, where you might find gooseberries on your wild boar taco. —B.R.
Read the full Guerrilla Tacos 99 Essentials blurb here.
Some detractors say that its continued expansion makes Guisados less legit somehow, but the proof is in the pibil … and these tacos are as delicious as ever. The star of the show remains the guisados, and in particular the sampler plate: six smaller tacos, a collection of greatest hits that touches on all the smoky, spicy, saucy goodness this place has to offer. Each vibrant meat (tinga de pollo, cochinita pibil, chicharrón and more) gets its own thoughtful topping — a dab of avocado here, a draping of pickled onion there. —B.R.
Read the full Guisados 99 Essentials blurb here.
6. Kogi BBQ Truck
At this point, Kogi is practically edible academic text, an utterly necessary experience if you want to understand L.A., our food scene and our most visible culinary troubadour, Roy Choi. The fleet of trucks, which daily appear all over the city, are most famously dispensers of the original Korean tacos, a trend that has now swept the globe, for better or worse. At Kogi the existence of the mashup is assuredly for the good of us all, the sweet slightly sour kimchi making beautiful sense nestled against beef short rib or spicy pork and wrapped in a tortilla. —B.R.
Read Kogi's full 99 Essentials blurb here.
5. Mariscos Jalisco
Don’t be fooled by the imitators, the lesser producers, the many other tacos dorado de camaron in L.A. The version at Raul Ortega’s Mariscos Jalisco, the Boyle Heights mariscos truck, is far and away the king of fried tacos, in this city and perhaps in the country. Don’t be confused by the crowds surrounding the other trucks nearby. Go directly to this corner of Olympic Boulevard and wait as they fold the shrimp into a tortilla and fry the whole thing in hot oil, pulling it out at the perfect point of golden crisp, then coat it with creamy slices of avocado and pert red salsa. —B.R.
Read the full Mariscos Jalisco 99 Essentials blurb here.
4. The Quesadilla Lady
There’s a woman working in Echo Park who is creating some of the most soulful food in Los Angeles. Some may know her by her first name, Alejandra, but to weekend warriors, farmers market visitors and local residents out for a stroll, she’s known as “the quesadilla lady.” She’s a true L.A. story, a woman who has created a name for herself based on the strength of her one specialty. She’s the quesadilla lady, because there can be no other. Fridays through Mondays, her rolling grill is usually perched on the southwest corner of Sunset Boulevard and Echo Park Avenue, where she offers her small menu. —K.S.
Read the Quesadilla Lady's full 99 Essentials blurb here.
Revolutionario is further proof that you can put anything in a taco — in this case smoked lamb, chickpea tagine or the Middle Eastern egg dish shakshouka — and it will taste even better. The tiny, low-on-frills-but-high-on-charm Northern Africa taco joint (from classically trained French-Algerian chef Farid Zadi) also deserves bonus points for its location: Situated just west of USC, Revolutionario is a harissa-slicked oasis in something of a restaurant desert. —Mara Shalhoup
Read Revolutionario's full 99 Essentials blurb here.
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2. Ricky's Fish Tacos
Ricky Piña’s Baja-style tacos are the stuff of legend, the delicate white fish cooked to an ideal golden brown, topped with chopped cabbage and pico de gallo and folded into a warm flour tortilla. Ricky’s Fish Tacos started as a makeshift parking-lot taco party and then morphed into a truck (thanks to pesky laws about how and where you can sell food); these days he’s usually parked on Riverside Drive near the entrance to Griffith Park, serving up the best lunch $3 can buy." —B.R.
Read the full Ricky's Fish Tacos 99 Essentials blurb here.
1. Tacos Leo
It’s 2 a.m. You’re hungry. You might not be totally sober. You crave tacos. In these situations, many people would settle for whatever floppy tortillas and dry meat happen their way. But in Los Angeles, there is Tacos Leo, the shining beacon of al pastor. There are few taco trucks in existence that offer such consistent and reliable comfort. —Garrett Snyder
Read Tacos Leo's full 99 Essentials blurb here.