4 Great Quesadillas in Los Angeles

The Vampiro at Mexicali Taco
The Vampiro at Mexicali Taco
Farley Elliott

Leading up to this year's Best of L.A. issue (coming out Oct. 3), we'll be bringing you periodic lists of some of the best things we've found to eat and drink around town. Ice cream sandwiches and bowls of tsukemen, fish tacos and dan dan mian, cups of boba and glasses of booze. Read on.

What's not to love about quesadillas? Large, perfectly crisped tortilla; warm, gooey, heart-stopping cheese; salty, perfectly portioned meat. It's a time-tested ratio that has worked on taco trucks, food carts and inside sit-down taquerias since forever, and with L.A.'s current focus on Mexican food with flare, the results are tastier than ever.

We've been scouring the streets, stalls and late night Mexican spots for the best quesadillas we could find. The greasy, cheesy, meaty results -- and the related clean up -- couldn't possibly all be chronicled here, so we've picked four of our favorites from across the quesadilla spectrum. Turn the page.

Blue corn quesadillas at Mercado Olympic
Blue corn quesadillas at Mercado Olympic
Paul Bartunek

4. Blue Corn Quesadilla from the Mercado Olympic

For thick, freshly fried quesadillas with a smack of salty Oaxacan cheese, get yourself down to the Mercado Olympic. The weekend-only sidewalk market is open to all, and stretches west from Central Avenue for more than a city block. There are endless food vendors on hand, and more than a few hawk their southern Mexican blue corn specialties. The quesadillas aren't as voluminous or overwhelmingly cheesy as what you may be used to from your local taco truck, but the thick, freshly fried blue corn masa is near to perfection. Warm and pliant, with browned edges that crisp up wonderfully, these quesadillas give way inside to all manner of cheese and meat, though chorizo or squash blossoms are by far the most common. If you're looking for a touch of funk, give the huitlacoche option a try. Weekends only, at Olympic Blvd. and Central Ave.

The Vampiro at Mexicali Taco
The Vampiro at Mexicali Taco
Farley Elliott

3. Carne Asada Vampiro from Mexicali Taco

You know what your quesadilla needs? Onions and garlic. That's the idea behind the vampiro, Mexicalo Taco's much-beloved spin on the usual late night snack. There is cheese, sure, and lots of sizzling bits of Mexicali's signature carne asada, but the first and last thing you'll notice about the vampiro is how it rocks your nostrils. The quesadilla hybrid is infused with so much oily garlic you can practically see it wafting off the top in long, wavy lines. Tucked inside the spotty tortilla is a treasure trove of funky flavors: salty, smoky beef, fresh cheese, a dash of pepper and the unmistakable tang of onion. There's even a strip of green onion laid over top, slightly wilted from the flames of the grill in the back. Or from every vampiro eater's stinky breath, perhaps. 702 N. Figueroa, L.A.; 213-613-0416.

See also: 10 Best Taco Trucks in Los Angeles

 

Blackjack Quesadilla from Kogi BBQ
Blackjack Quesadilla from Kogi BBQ
Paul Bartunek

2. Blackjack Quesadilla from Kogi BBQ

Everyone orders the short rib tacos at the Kogi BBQ truck, and for good reason. They're a near-unstoppable contraption designed to end world hunger and stop hangovers in their tracks; they single-handedly started a food truck revolution. But anyone with a Kogi BBQ history has ventured beyond the signature taco, and many have ended up firmly in the blackjack quesadilla camp. Utilizing Kogi's spicy pork as the underlying base, this quesadilla is loaded up with cheddar and jack cheese, plus caramelized onions for a rounded touch of sweetness. It's all packed into a waiting flour tortilla and fired to an impossible crispness, thanks to lots and lots of oil. As if that weren't enough, the final product is overrun with the truck's onboard salsa verde. Greasy, oily, cheesy, crispy and packed in with spicy pork, the blackjack quesadilla from Kogi still stands up after all these years. Even if the short rib tacos are the ones getting all the attention.KogiBBQ.com.

Al Pastor insides at El Chato
Al Pastor insides at El Chato
Noam Bleiweiss

1. Al Pastor Quesadilla from El Chato Taco Truck

If Tacos Leo is the reigning al pastor champion in Los Angeles, El Chato seems happy to play the underdog role. Their spinning pastor spit never leaves the truck, and you won't find taqueros deftly slicing off pieces of pineapple for your order, but the smoky, well-griddled pork from El Chato is among the best in the city, especially when stuffed into a quesadilla. The combination of all that seared, spicy meat and the overwhelming globs of stretchy cheese makes this quesadilla an absolute beast. The flour tortilla is Chipotle-sized -- that is to say, huge -- and suffers a mighty fate on the blazingly hot flattop inside the truck, resulting in a perfectly realized ratio of crisp-to-cheesy-to-spicy-to-meaty. It's simple math, folks.

Best of all, your quesadilla comes bordered with just-grilled onions, browned and goopy and oozing with a stinky sweetness. You'll also get a cup of El Chato's thick, earthy chipotle salsa. It's an entirely unnecessary addition, but a welcome one nonetheless. Use the spicy liquid to kick your quesadilla up a notch, or save it for tomorrow's leftovers. With a quesadilla this overwhelming, there will almost always be leftovers. Olympic & La Brea, Mid-City.

See also: 10 Best Carne Asada Fries in Los Angeles


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