Tito's Tacos opened in 1959, and has seemed to have a long line of people waiting to order their food ever since. Obviously, they have a slew of passionate fans, but many others are thoroughly confounded by the restaurant's success, claiming that there are better tacos to be had for less money at hundreds of other spots in the city. Some, in fact, claim that Tito's may not even be the best Mexican food shop on the block. Just next door is Cinco de Mayo, where they are open 24 hours, offer a much bigger menu and never much of a line. For today's food fight, we put both spots' crunchy tacos to the test.
It's been a number of years and a probably a metric ton of assorted tacos since my last bite of Tito's. But before you even get to the taco itself, you have to do some waiting (and waiting). Their service system seems only slightly more involved than the one the drug dealers use in The Wire, and far less efficient. But nonetheless, the taco does arrive eventually, and I must say, Tito's critics do have an argument. The taco shell is very hard, the crunch more brittle than satisfying, the meat is muted, the salsa extremely mild and the other ingredients somewhat inconsequential. Is it enjoyable? Of course-- to a degree. You do have soft meat, a crunchy outside and cheese on top. But is it worth waiting in line for? I guess that depends on how much you like waiting in line.
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At Cinco de Mayo, we look not just at their hard shell beef taco, but also the soft, street-style asada taco. Unfortunately, neither hold up particularly well. The soft taco is bland to the point of total irrelevance, and the meat on the hard shell taco suffers a similar fate. But the shell is probably better than the one at Tito's, the cheese has melted a tad more and the salsa helps to tie it all together a bit. But rather than two fiery, competitive pugilists battling each other valiantly in the 12th round, this fight is more like a pair of apathetic existentialists getting winded in the 2nd, then trying to see if the other one is going to get bored and fall asleep, or just take off their gloves and go home. So as someone who seriously enjoys Mexican food, it's difficult to really condone either of these places. If I craved a taco and was standing at that corner of Washington and Sepulveda without a car, I'd probably pick Cinco de Mayo out of convenience. But in reality, you're better off heading a little further west, and eating at El Abajeño for your Mexican comfort food.
Tito's Tacos, 11222 Washington Place, Culver City, (310) 391-5780., Cinco de Mayo, 11204 Washington Place, Culver City, (310) 391-5354., El Abajeño, 4513 Inglewood Blvd, Culver City, (310) 390-0755.