In the middle of a Mexican grocery store parking lot in the City of Industry, there is a barely marked Mexican food shack that changed the way I think about tacos.
The week before my first visit, I had written about Petty Cash Taqueria in the Arts District, where I spent $12 on two tacos that were of small size and above-average quality, in accordance with L.A.’s nuevo modern-Mexican food revolution. Paying $6 for a taco gets you a handmade tortilla (using heirloom blue-corn masa), humanely raised strip loin carne asada, sustainably caught octopus or mahi mahi beer-battered with Negra Modelo, and salsa pureed from farmers market tomatoes.
These are all great things and, depending on your definition of value, might be worth the price. L.A. has long been a city of $1 tacos, a landscape of traditionally cheap and dingy street carts and walk-up taco stands that only in the last few years have raised prices to a whopping $1.25. The emergence of $6 tacos is downright sacrilegious for people who grew up eating tacos from these open-air grills.
What I ended up leaving out of the piece I wrote about Petty Cash was that after eating there — still hungry despite spending $50 (on two beers and three items for two people) — I drove over the bridges and through East L.A., stopping at Tacos La Guera on Soto Street for some simple carne asada in a tortilla.
For $1.25, you get a heap of greasy beef, pulled from the gurgling pot of frying innards at one end of the stand and plopped on a store-bought tortilla. I slathered four them in in salsa roja and let the burn cut the fat of the meat as I sat on the curb and inhaled them all. And $5 later, I was finally full.
Today, these are the two kinds of tacos being talked about in L.A.: fancy tacos of the new-wave gourmet sort that hover around the $5 to $6 mark, and traditional $1.25 tacos that satisfy some innate Angeleno need for Mexican street meat. Fans of the $1.25 ones cry blasphemy at the $6 price tag, while the $6 taco lovers cite quality over quantity, satisfied with paying more for something better sourced.
The perhaps overblown obsession with the $1 taco is a topic that's already been explored by other food writers in this city. A taco that costs six times as much, though, is hardly a viable alternative. Like America itself, the taco market in L.A. would appear to have lost sight of its middle class.
But then there are places like Teddy’s Tacos, the supermarket-adjacent shack hiding in a part of L.A. County more known for its strip clubs than dining options. It’s here that, a week after gorging on tacos from opposite ends of the pricing spectrum within an hour of each other, I found a year-old operation that had taken over a failing Mexican fast-food stand and replaced it with a menu of thoughtfully prepared tacos that cost around $3 each.
This, I thought in a Goldilocks moment, is the sweet spot.
The tortillas are not made there, but they’re not pulled from a pack of Guerreros, either. You’ll never know the name of the ranch where the carne asada's cow was grass-fed (if it was grass-fed), but the meat is lean and cut into strips instead of the tiny nibs of god-knows-what cut of leftover beef usually found on street corners. For toppings, there is an avocado cream that slays and beans de la olla and grilled vegetables with more flavor than some cheap meat
From the chile-steeped chicken tinga to the relatively rare smoked marlin to the chorizo on a tortilla with crispy grilled cheese, Teddy’s tacos are worth every penny of their $2.75.
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The same goes for the $3 fried fish tacos at Ricky’s Fish Tacos in Silver Lake, arguably one of the top Ensenada-style tacos in the city. Ditto Chichen Itza’s two-for-$5.50 cochinita pibil tacos. Guisados’ tacos are $2.75 as well — $3 for those filled with seafood. At Revolutionario, you can get delicious weirdness like goat and pumpkin, duck hash and shakshouka on tacos for no more than $3.45. Factor in the roving taco trucks — Tacos Arabes, Tacos Quetzalcoatl, even Kogi — that serve superior tacos for slightly more than their $1 competitors, and you have a lot of fairly priced, quality options.
All this is not to demonize the $6 taco (or its cousins, the $4 and $5 taco) but to champion the middle ground. Not every day is a special enough occasion to splurge on Ray Garcia’s stellar clam and lardo taco at B.S. Taqueria (an order of two will set you back $14) or on Tacoteca’s hunky pieces of prime outside skirt steak, served on a tortilla with chimichurri for $6.25 a pop.
Every taco has a time. And the time for the $3 taco is now.