See also: 10 Best Carne Asada Fries in Los Angeles
Think back, if you can, to a time before food fusion and “mobile gourmet dining experiences.” When late night eating meant a 24-hour Subway, 4 a.m. Thai joint or one of the city's finest taco trucks. Remember the off-white loncheros that have crawled the construction sites throughout Southern California for decades, the feisty machines that vie for avenue space out in Highland Park, the hard to find but always worth it trucks and trailers that have delivered for years on a simple promise to us all: in Los Angeles, great Mexican food can be had, day or night, for very little money, from somewhere nearby.
That social contract is still alive and well, providing us all with the burritos, tacos, sopes, mulitas and quesadillas that this city runs on. Nearly everyone has a “local,” their own favorite taco truck that has fed them when they needed it most, or provided a quick meal when the fridge was blowing tumbleweeds. But there are also those undeniable titans of the genre, trucks so beloved to this city that they belong to us all. We stand in line after the bars let out, we drive across town in 7 p.m. traffic, we make sure to carry cash and practice our Spanish on the way over. Of the thousands upon thousands of fantastic loncheros worthy of such dedication, we think these are the ten best taco trucks that Los Angeles has to offer.
While every truck on this list will be polarizing for some, perhaps none is more hotly debated than Echo Park's Taco Zone. Their hipster popularity is unrivaled (is there another truck that has twenty-somethings pitching in to build them a portable table?), and the number of indie band stickers that dot the boxy trailer is simply staggering. Still, it's an eclectic mix of all shapes, sizes colors and creeds that patiently waits for Taco Zone to dole out their fare. Many opt for the salty carne asada, but that's a fool's gambit. Suadero (rib meat) is king here, which arrives thick and moist on its best nights, sort of like a slice of brisket. But above all, Taco Zone is a salsa spot, which a fantastic salsa verde and a none-too-mild roja that steal the taco show every time. Order up a horchata to kill the heat — you won't be disappointed. N. Alvarado St. & Montana St., Echo Park.
Things are done a little differently at Tacos La Fonda in North Hollywood, and that's largely by design. There are no double-stacked tortillas from a bag to be found here, just thick hand-patted discs of fresh masa that have been firmed up on the griddle. The tacos at La Fonda are wide, yawning affairs, overflowing with citrus-laced al pastor or a slightly peppery carne asada. The tender cabeza (head) is a worthy version, served with a handful of sweetly grilled white onions. For the overindulgent, the salsa bar also a popular focus, with tub after tub of salsas, pico de gallo, halved limes, shredded lettuce and sour cream. There is something to satiate everyone at Tacos La Fonda, from the dedicated taco eater to the wary taco truck newcomer. Northwest Corner of Vanowen and Vineland, North Hollywood.
See also: 10 Best Carne Asada Fries in Los Angeles
As a longstanding member of the taco truck community, this permanently parked operation off York in Highland Park makes the list for good reason. The carne asada, 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. Others may opt for the carnitas, a version which may have no rank with porky purists, but is served warm, tender, and overflowing with juices for the rest of us. 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 & Ave. 54, Highland Park.
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 Avenue, they're the best you'll find in Hollywood. The pastor is perhaps less than passable and the lengua can vary widely between visits, but you could set your stomach by their carne asada and pollo. The hot, salty beef is always fresh off the plancha and still sizzling inside your griddled tortilla, with a straightforward and slightly smoky salsa roja to round things out. El Matador's pollo preparation is also top notching, having stewed the bird for hours in a mix of red pepper flakes and bountiful spices. Anyone looking for a bit more funk to their taco is encouraged to make a run at the buche (stomach), but the fatty, mineral-y bites don't age well, so you'll have to get there early. Lexington at Western Blvd., Los Angeles.
6. 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. You can't rush perfection, as evidenced by the methodical taquero who presides over his bubbling pork vat all day long, and Tacos Los Guichos is the essence of pork perfection in Los Angeles. Corner of Avalon and Slauson, South Los Angeles.
Tacos Leo in Mid-City has attained about as close to rock star status as any operation in the city. It's been loved-on by bloggers and discerning eaters for a couple of years now, thanks almost entirely to their weekend al pastor spit. After the harsh lights pop on at any bar within a twenty minute drive of Tacos Leo, the parking lot fills up and the waiting game begins. Don't bother asking what to order — it's all al pastor, all the time here. 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.
Tacos Tamix is the heftier cousin of Tacos Leo. Both run the Mid-City route, but the thin slices of pork that Tacos Leo provides pale in comparison to the chunky bites of al pastor that Tamix doles out. Every taco is done to near-excess, a rich mound of smoky, crispy-at-the-edges pork that has been infused with peppers and citrus. Even the pineapple that flies off the top of the trompo is heavy. Word has been steadily growing about Tamix as the lines for Tacos Leo have continued to grow, and while that may be good for their business, it's bad for anyone who wanted to keep their favorite al pastor spot hush-hush. Pico Blvd. at Moreland Ave., Los Angeles.
It's hard to stand out as a taco truck in East L.A., but Tacos El Korita has done just that. It may be the vibrant purple paint job or the echo of hand-pressed tortilla after hand-pressed tortilla hitting the griddle, but Korita has managed to emerge from the hardcore taco scene as more than just a contender. Simply put, they dominate. The heavily seasoned al pastor is smoky and littered with onions, the carne asada is dark, salty and crisped at the edges for a perfect balance of texture and flavor. The cabeza is soft and tender, falling into your mouth with little provocation behind a splash of spicy salsa negra. But if you really want to order as the locals do, opt for the off-menu mulita, a cheesy mini-quesadilla of sorts that gives you the best of everything the tacos have to offer, plus extra meat and a pile of perfectly melted cheese. E. Olympic Blvd. and Herbert Ave., East L.A.
Truth be told, there is little that El Chato on the corner of Olympic and La Brea does individually that makes it the best taco truck in Los Angeles. Their al pastor, while griddled up wonderfully after being shaved from the trompo, may not ultimately pull you away from the likes of nearby Tacos Tamix. And their carne asada, perfectly salted as it is and masterfully grilled, doesn't stand shoulders above any other truck in town. No, where El Chato succeeds is at the confluence of preparation and execution, where their perfect pastor marinade meets the expert hands of those manning the plancha. Their smoky chipotle is a dream, the sort of thick, hearty, heat-filled concoction that — if bottled — would make people forget the name Sriracha. And when the al pastor and all that salsa combine under the drape of melted mozzarella cheese inside a crispy-at-the-edges quesadilla, there is no better late night flavor to be had from a taco truck in all of Los Angeles. 5300 W. Olympic Blvd. Mid-City.
So many people love Raul Ortega and his simple Mariscos Jalisco truck, it's no surprise to see his Olympic Boulevard operation atop the list of perennial taco truck contenders. Rather than offering up a bulging menu of pork, beef, chicken and tilapia, Ortega does one thing with absolute integrity: tacos dorados de camaron. A secret blend of vegetables, fresh shrimp and assorted spices are packed inside a corn tortilla and fried altogether, resulting in a crunchy, warm, staggeringly tasty taco dorado, blackened at the edges and overloaded with then red salsa and a few cooling slices of avocado. There are other tacos like those found at Mariscos Jalisco (as legend has it, the current taquero even used to belong to a rival truck, but was kicked to the curb once his recipe was stolen), but there is no other truck in the city of Los Angeles that is as dedicated or as focused as Mariscos Jalisco. 3040 E. Olympic Blvd., East L.A.
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