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Tacos Leo: Authentic Al Pastor Comes to Venice and La Brea

Tacos al pastor from Tacos Leo

N. GalutenTacos al pastor from Tacos Leo

UPDATE: We spoke yesterday with the Bureau of Specialized Surveillance and Enforcement, who confirmed that Tacos Leo was cited on Friday night, and that the trompo was confiscated, as it was not classified as "commercial equipment." When asked for the source of information for their investigation, they told us that their "sweep team was out, and happened to be in that area." We also asked them if they use blogs and newspapers as a resource for investigation purposes, and were told, "we do use any reports we can get, but I don't believe that is the case here."

In addition, we spoke last night with workers at Tacos Leo, who told us that Norbito, the al pastor taquero, is currently "on vacation, probably drinking a lot of cervezas," but that they are using, "the same cut, same ingredients, same cooking," for the al pastor. (Updated on September 21st at 9 a.m.)

UPDATE: As of Friday night, city officials have shut down the outdoor grill table. The truck is otherwise still operational, and they are currently cooking the al pastor inside. Further information on this matter will be posted as it becomes available. (Updated on September 20th at 11:04 a.m.)

(This article was originally published on Friday, September 17th at 2 p.m.)

Back in January, another taco truck set up shop in another parking lot, serving cheap food like tacos, quesadillas, and mulitas. It is a food truck, yet it doesn't have a website, a Facebook page, a publicist, or a Twitter account. But Tacos Leo has been gaining some serious traction in the L.A. food scene over the past few months thanks to one thing: they just might be making the best al pastor -- shaved, marinated pork -- in Los Angeles.

As is often the case, the talk began on Chowhound, leading to a number of different posts on various respected blogs around town. Then our local authority on traditional Mexican food, Bill Esparza, pronounced on his blog that, "Finally, a real al pastor specialist has come to Los Angeles."

Norbeto Martinez slicing al pastor at Tacos Leo

N. GalutenNorbeto Martinez slicing al pastor at Tacos Leo

Tacos Leo is owned by Raul Martinez, who spoke to us in Spanish with the help and translation skills of Esparza. Martinez was previously at Tacos El Gavilan, a company with several outposts around town, and decided that after 11 years of working for someone else, it was time to open his own business. "I had the help and support of my brother," said Martinez, "I found a location, and here we are."

But what makes their al pastor so special? "The difference is the taquero who we have," he said, "his seasonings, his style." That taquero is Norbeto Martinez (no relation), who Raul found by talking to other Oaxacans in the L.A. community, and who came highly recommended. So Raul hired Norbeto, who was still living in Oaxaca at the time, to come and work for him in Los Angeles.

Typically with Mexican food trucks in Los Angeles there are fewer employees (Tacos Leo staffs five people), and there isn't a trained specialist who works exclusively on the al pastor. But Norbeto is a serious al pastor taquero, who marinades the pork leg, stacks it on the trompo (a shawerma-inspired spit), and expertly cooks, carves, and serves it all night long. He prepares the tacos -- garnished with freshly sliced pineapple -- himself, but if someone orders anything else with al pastor, like a burrito for instance, he slices the meat, then hands it to the cooks in the truck.

Norbeto even has a young apprentice, Guillermo, who happened to be living in the same complex as Raul Martinez's brother, and was invited to come work for them.

But despite the extra care, cost, and labor that goes into the al pastor at Tacos Leo, the price of a taco is still the same as it is almost everywhere else: just one dollar. The hope, Raul tells us, is that they'll make up for it simply by selling at a higher volume.

Tacos Leo is located at the 76 Gas Station on La Brea Avenue and Venice Boulevard. The truck operates Sunday-Thursday from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m., and Friday-Saturday, from 5 p.m until 3 a.m. Norbeto arrives with the al pastor around 6, and is usually ready to serve it by 6:30.

Tacos Leo, on La Brea and Venice

N. GalutenTacos Leo, on La Brea and Venice