It is hard to miss Chicas Tacos, the latest taqueria to grace downtown L.A.’s rapidly growing restaurant scene. Despite being housed inside the small and unassuming bodega space on South Olive Street that once housed Mama’s Asian Cuisine, a tall neon sign points to the newly renovated space below.
If the sign doesn’t catch your attention, then the shiny silver Airstream trailer across the driveway might. It is parked on top of vibrant green Astroturf next to red picnic tables covered in bright yellow umbrellas. Edison bulbs are strung above everything. It looks as though someone extracted a section of the VIP section of Coachella and dropped it in a parking lot in the middle of downtown’s Jewelry District. But that's not to say Chicas Tacos is inauthentic.
"This trailer back here was hers,” explains owner Chris Blanchard, referring to the restaurant’s muse, a woman named Carmela. He and his brother and business partner, Jon Blanchard, met her on a childhood trip to Valle de Guadalupe. "She [later] came to the States in that. So we have it here to pay homage to her." The "Chica" in the restaurant's name refers to Carmela. Everything from the blue Mexican tiles that line the back of the kitchen to the aprons that her aunt made in Tecate to the organic corn tortillas is in some way a tribute to her.
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Park in the $5 lot and enter the tiny bodega. Grab a whole coconut or Mexican Coke while you decide between steak, fried fish, chicken, braised pork or veggie tacos. At $5 each, they are not the cheapest in town. But the 6-inch tortillas, piled high with organic ingredients, are high in value. Each taco is inspired by the Blanchard brothers' travels to various regions of Mexico. The Baja fish taco, for example, has its genesis in their trips to Ensenada. The fish is beer-battered, fried and topped with Caesar salad, as an ode to the restaurant of the same name in Tijuana where the salad was invented.
House-made guacamole and salsas, including a bright orange carrot-habanero, add complexity to the tacos. Wash it all down with watermelon-cinnamon aguas frescas, and for a second you'll forget you're sitting in a parking lot.
Chicas also has a substantial secret menu including "flauta-style" tacos, salads with added protein, nachos and quesadillas. Those in the know can order their tacos "Mama's style:" a baked layering of tortilla, fillings, cheese and toppings. The Mexican-lasagna style dish is available for eat-in or takeout. "It’s like a cheesy heaven in your mouth," Blanchard says. "It’s 2-pound, blow-your-mind goodness.”
728 S. Olive St., downtown; (213) 896-0373, chicastacos.com.