Tacos in L.A.: Your Ultimate Guide

Taco sampler at Guisados

G. SnyderTaco sampler at Guisados

If you're living life correctly, every day is National Taco Day. We know that. But hey, why not take another opportunity to celebrate something awesome, and something we do better than anyone else (ha, ha, New York Times, that was a very funny joke).

In order to help you celebrate properly, we've put together this list of 20 great tacos: fish tacos and al pastor, carnitas and octopus, duck tacos and potato tacos. Keep reading for enough tacos to keep you celebrating, at least through next week. Or, if you're doing it right, all year long.

Javier slicing the marinated pork for Al Pastor at Taqueria Cuernavaca.

Anne FishbeinJavier slicing the marinated pork for Al Pastor at Taqueria Cuernavaca.

20. Al Pastor tacos at Taqueria Cuernavaca:

Two stacked tortillas hold a heap of juicy, thin slices of pork, with a few prized nuggets of crispy, caramelized edges buried within. It's all slightly sweetened by the pineapple, and it'll all be gone in two bites. Accoutrements like salsas or limes are unnecessary: a dab at most, if you must. 1117 N. Ventura Ave., Ventura; 805-653-8052.

19. Suadero at Taco Zone:

Suadero (rib meat) is king at this Echo Park taco truck. It arrives thick and moist on its best nights, sort of like a slice of brisket. Top it with one of Taco Zone's fantastic salsas: salsa verde or a none-too-mild roja that steals the taco show every time. N. Alvarado St. & Montana St., Echo Park.

Potato tacos at El Atacor

T. NguyenPotato tacos at El Atacor

18. Tacos de papas at El Atacor #11

El Atacor #11, a well-worn taqueria in Cypress Park, blasts music from its old jukebox whether it's 2 p.m. or 2 a.m.; that it's open so late is a blessing, because the craving for a potato taco doesn't seem to hit until the munchies do, usually after 11 p.m. Indeed, the tacos de papas here are deceptively simple, but maybe that's what makes them so sublime: soft, fluffy potato slathered in a tortilla, deep fried and topped with crema and guacamole. So popular are these tacos that you can order them in multiples of 10; depending on the severity of your munchies and/or the number of people in your group, 10 of these tacos will disappear in no time. If not, they make a pretty great breakfast for the morning after. 2622 N. Figueroa St., L.A.; (323) 441-8477.

Fish taco at Taco Nazo

T. NguyenFish taco at Taco Nazo

17. Fish taco at Taco Nazo:

Taco Nazo's slogan is "the world's best fish tacos," and while the slogan is definitely hyperbole, it is nonetheless a fine place to get a great fish taco. The signature taco uses Alaskan pollock, fried to a nice crunch and nestled on top of two corn tortillas. The taco is a few bites at best; to slow you down, it comes with a chile guerito, lightly charred with a bit of seasoning. A few locations, including the El Monte shop, also serve beer, so you wash that taco down with a cool, crisp Pacifico. 9516 Garvey Ave., South El Monte, (626) 442-5671; 10316 Alondra Blvd. Bellflower, (562) 866-3306; 1267 N. Grand Ave., Walnut, (909) 595-0555; 163 N. Azusa Ave., Azusa, (626) 969-3664; 13032 Valley Blvd., La Puente, (626) 333-1166; 121 South Beach Blvd., La Habra, (562) 690-8078.

Cochinita pibil tacos at La Flor de Yucatan

T. NguyenCochinita pibil tacos at La Flor de Yucatan

16. Cochinita pibil taco at La Flor de Yucatan:

Not too far from USC is La Flor de Yucatan, a bakery that specializes in all things Yucatecan. The specialty of specialties is its cochinita pibil, which is sold by the pound; inevitably, someone will come in for exactly that while you're there. You, too, will likely go home packing a few extra pounds -- but, first, a cochinita pibil taco. The pork, burnt orange from its marinade of achiote and sour orange juice, is soft, tender and delicious; it's topped with red onions pickled nearly pink, making it not only one of the best tacos in the city but also one of the prettiest. 1800 S. Hoover St., L.A.; (213) 748-6090.

15. Carne Asada taco at La Estrella

The carne asada at this Highland Park taco truck, thick with salsa verde and freshly chopped white onions, is close to paradise. It is the unmistakable mix of salty beef and zippy salsa plus a couple of warm, soft tortillas that have kept La Estrella in the L.A. taco lexicon for so long. These are hearty tacos, meant to satisfy the whole family in a taco-crazy neighborhood that could always choose to go elsewhere, but hasn't for years. York and Ave. 54, Highland Park.

Grilled octopus taco at Petty Cash

Anne FishbeinGrilled octopus taco at Petty Cash

14. Charcoal grilled octopus taco at Petty Cash

This taco costs $6.50. How you feel about that will depend very much on how coddled you want your tacos to be, because these suckers are made with a ton of care. Tortillas are handmade and grilled to order by people who know how -- Manzke has hired local Mexican women "who have been taught by their mothers and grandmothers." The resulting tortillas are small, sweet and lightly musky. The charcoal-grilled octopus comes bathed in chile de arbol and topped with peanuts, jack cheese and avocado, and arrives at the table like a diminutive sculpture wrought from sea creature, masa and bright toppings.7360 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-933-5300.

Carne asada tacos at El Sauz

T. NguyenCarne asada tacos at El Sauz

13. Carne asada taco from El Sauz:

The line can be somewhat slow and the woman who often takes your order can be downright curt, but if you have a generally sunny disposition and, more importantly, a penchant for carne asada, you'll wait patiently and order politely. El Sauz's nuggets of carne asada practically pop with flavor, with charred bits here and there for added punch. A taco with all the toppings includes onions, cilantro and a salsa that practically glazes the meat. If you want more of this salsa, it'll be an extra quarter. This would be but a small price to pay for a fleeting moment of bliss. 4432 San Fernando Road., Glendale; (818) 246-9701.

12. Pollo taco at El Matador

Parking nightly within fifteen feet of another truck is no issue for El Matador -- they're not just the best taco truck on this stretch of Western Ave., they're the best you'll find in Hollywood. El Matador's pollo preparation is top-notch, having stewed the bird for hours in a mix of red pepper flakes and bountiful spices. Lexington at Western Ave., Los Angeles.

Marlin taco at Coni'Seafood

Anne FishbeinMarlin taco at Coni'Seafood

11. Smoked marlin taco at Coni'Seafood:

There are some people who make it a matter of routine to call Coni'Seafood before heading out to the Inglewood to confirm that chef Sergio Peñuelas is in the kitchen that day, sort of like making sure that Yasiel Puig is in the Dodgers' starting line-up before committing to the drive to Chavez Ravine. As the story goes, then, the restaurant's famous pescado zarandeado tastes its best only when Peñuelas is there, not to mention everything else on the menu, especially a smoky, delectable, delicate marlin taco that is a perfect appetizer or side order to the snook. Lest you fail to confirm the chef's whereabouts before going to Coni'Seafood, rest assured that even if he's not there, the food is great. It just might not be sublime. 3544 W. Imperial Hwy., Inglewood; (310) 672-2339

Kogi taco

Anne FishbeinKogi taco

10. Short rib taco from Kogi BBQ Truck:

Sweet, marinated short ribs tucked into freshly griddled corn tortillas with shredded cabbage and a super-tart Korean relish of scallions, soy, sesame seeds and citrus, lashed with chile -- perhaps the first taco innovation since the Poblano taco arabe worthy of standing beside the sainted trinity of asada, cabeza and al pastor. The Kogi short-rib taco is forever. 323-315-0253.

Tacos carnitas de pato with duck confit from Cacao Mexicatessen

Anne FishbeinTacos carnitas de pato with duck confit from Cacao Mexicatessen

9. Duck carnitas taco at Cacao Mexicatessen:

As served at Cacao Mexicatessen, the Mexican deli in Eagle Rock, duck carnitas sort of splits the difference between carnitas and confit. Cooked down to a rich, soft, fibrous mash, it tastes very much like duck but with a lingering presence that suggests the bird was cooked in pure lard -- in a way, it's porkier than the restaurant's regular carnitas, which hasn't near the intensity. The duck carnitas makes a splendid taco filling, mounded onto one of Cacao's thick, freshly made tortillas and garnished with slivered radish and a strand or two of pickled onion. A duck carnitas taco is about as much happiness as three dollars can be expected to buy. 1576 Colorado Blvd. Eagle Rock; 323-478-2791.

8. Carne asada taco at Mexicali Tacos & Co.:

To find Mexicali back in the days when it set up in a parking lot on First and Beaudry, all you had to do was look for the plumes of smoke. Because if you followed the smoke, you'd find the fire: powering a big grill, with two guys -- Esdras Ochoa and Javier Fregoso -- cooking up the finest carne asada in town. After losing their parking space, the guys came in from the cold and opened up their own brick-and-mortar on Figueroa above Cesar Chavez. They're no longer grilling in what was essentially downtown's backyard, but what they lost in theatrics, they have more than made up for in permanence. You also can now add a fried egg to your carne asada taco, an option that wouldn't have worked in Mexicali's previous incarnation, but is exactly what you didn't know you were missing this entire time. 702 N. Figueroa St., L.A.; (213) 613-0416.

Carnitas tacos at Tacos Los Güichos

Paul BartunekCarnitas tacos at Tacos Los Güichos

7. Carnitas taco at Tacos Los Guichos:

Tacos Los Guichos does not play fair. They are so far above the rest of their carnitas competition that it's embarrassing to every other pork purveyor within a 30-mile radius. And the true travesty is their schedule: weekends only, get it before it's gone. This Mexico City-style operation uses a stainless steel cazo to slowly boil away at all parts of the pig for hours, resulting in lavishly tender cuts that range from trompa (snout) to cuero (pork skin). The most common bites are the maciza (shoulder) and costilla (rib meat), straightforward options that have the depth of long-simmered meat, plus fried and crispy edges that are absolutely addicting. The salsa verde flows cooly all day long, providing another layer of nirvana to the hand-pressed tortillas, made fresh while you wait for your pork. Corner of Avalon and Slauson, South Los Angeles.

6. Fish taco at Tacos Baja Ensenada:

Over a decade ago, Tacos Baja Ensenada converted a burger stand into a taco one and began serving Ensenada-style seafood. Over the years, it has weathered all sorts of storms -- presidents, recessions, the beginning and end of The Sopranos -- but it nonetheless has consistently served up one of the best fish tacos in the city. These are strips of fish, delicately fried to a light crunch, topped properly with ribbons of cabbage, salsa and a swoosh of crema. You will eat one in a breath and a half and so you will eat three in less than a sentence. On Wednesdays, the joint runs its long-standing, and incredible, $1 fish taco special. 5385 Whittier Blvd., L.A.; (323) 887-1980.

5. Al pastor taco at Tacos Leo:

Order with the man at the spit (yes, the one with the large knife) and he'll slip off a few slices of deep red pork, still dripping from its citrus marinade and holding on to a touch of char from the flame. Then comes the topper, a thin chunk of pineapple from the top of the spit. The resultant taco needs no other accoutrement: It just needs to be paid for. Once the food is free and clear, walk it back to your car slowly, letting the rest of the line catch a whiff of what they're in for. Then, sitting on the hood of your car, try not to bite your fingers as you cram each little morsel into your mouth. Wait a few minutes, then get back in line to order some more. 1515 S. La Brea Ave., Mid-City.

Puffy tacos at Bar Ama

Anne FishbeinPuffy tacos at Bar Ama

4. Puffy tacos at Bar Ama

During a visit to Bar Ama, Josef Centeno's ode to the Tex Mex of his childhood, you'd be remiss not to indulge in the puffy tacos -- they've been deep-fried so the tortillas puff up into savory clouds, at once brittle and stretchy and more than a little wondrous. Your kids will love them. You will love them. 118 W. 4th St. Los Angeles; 213-687-8002

Taco dorados de camaron at Mariscos Jalisco

T. NguyenTaco dorados de camaron at Mariscos Jalisco

3. Tacos dorados de camaron at Mariscos Jalisco

The taco dorados de camaron at Raul Ortega's Mariscos Jalisco is an amazing affair: Shrimp is folded into a corn tortilla and fried until the ends are charred. Salsa is then ladled on top of this semicircle, avocado slices are placed on top and onions are showered on like confetti. How you eat this depends on how much you value your shoes; ideally, you'll perch on the ledge in front of the truck, with the plate carefully balanced on your lap. More likely, you won't bother with such formalities and will just start noshing the second the taco is handed to you from the truck's window, inevitably splashing your kicks with the bright red hues of the salsa. No matter. You needed a new pair of Converses anyway. 3040 Olympic Blvd., L.A.

Taco sampler at Guisados

G. SnyderTaco sampler at Guisados

2. Taco Sampler at Guisados

The Boyle Heights taquería -- best known for its braised and stewed fillings and its thick, chewy homemade corn tortillas -- offers the Taco Sampler, a platter of six medallion-sized mini-tacos that are picked from about dozen menu options. It's their most popular item, and for good reason. The tacos arrive in a blooming mosaic of colors, with each selection pointed out by a helpful server. There might be a smooth dark molé with shredded chicken, or a sautéed squash with cheese and corn, or a smoky cochinita pibil dabbed with habanero salsa. There might all of these or none of these -- the decision isn't really yours. Consider it a miniaturized Latin version of the Japanese omakase , which loosely translated means "trust the chef." And yes, this is the kind of place that rewards your faith. 2100 E. Cesar E. Chavez Blvd., L.A.; (323) 264-7201. 1261 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park; (213) 250-7600.

Fish tacos at Ricky's

T. NguyenFish tacos at Ricky's

1. Fish taco at Ricky's Fish Tacos:

Here's Ricky: A sunny guy in a straw fedora pulling basa out of a thick, well-seasoned, mustard yellow batter and carefully placing it in the fryer. As the fish bubbles and bubbles in the fat, Ricky asks how you've been since the last time you came around, and the people in line behind you also chat, sometimes retelling their own story of how they followed Ricky around in his early days as he set up in and around Sunset Junction.

Just in the nick of time, Ricky pulls out a perfect, delicate, now perfectly fried, strip of fish, places it onto a hot tortilla, tops it with with shredded cabbage and pico de gallo and hands it to you. It's your turn now, and you can apply as much, or as little, tangy crema and salsa as you'd like. Then you sit at one of the slightly uneven tables set down on the decline of the cement, and eat. It's light, it's crispy, it's tender, it's flaky. It's perfect. 1100 N. Main St., Los Angeles.

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Mexicali Taco & Co.

702 N. Figueroa St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012