Los Cincos Puntos, one of our favorite places for a taco, is located right near a cemetery. This is fitting, in a way: After all, in Los Angeles, nothing can be said to be certain except death and tacos. Indeed, we're willing to bet that if you peeked in backyards across town during Memorial Day weekend, you'll find tortillas and carne asada grilling on the Webers as readily as you'll find hot dogs and buns, and kids will be adding salsa to their tacos the way your 10-year-old self topped your hot dog with relish. Summer can't come soon enough.
Beyond the backyard, we're fortunate to have a landscape dotted with great taco trucks and taquerias. And while there are countless ways to connect these dots to come up with a top 10 list, ours is comprised of tacos that are not only stellar in their own right, but so fantastic that we would drive clear across town for them. Turn the page for the full list.
10. Tacos Por Favor:
Tacos Por Favor's first and original location is located, somewhat improbably, in Santa Monica, a large space to accommodate the crowd of Westsiders looking for a place to get their taco fix. Don't miss the fantastic salsa bar, though the chorizo and cheese tacos pack so much flavor that you might not need much salsa at all. And while Tito's Tacos is just fine for what is, it's the hard-shell taco at Tacos Por Favor that will fill that gringo taco void in your life. 1406 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 392-5768; 11901 W. Olympic Blvd., L.A., (310) 479-2818.
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.
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.
See also: 10 Best Carne Asada Fries in Los Angeles
Turn the page for #7, etc…
On Wednesdays, Tacos Baja Ensenada's small parking lot is as disorganized and congested as a Trader Joe's parking lot on any day. The former, at least, has a pretty good reason for its controlled chaos: Wednesdays are 99-cent fish taco days, an absurdly small price to pay for one of the best fish tacos in the city. And everyone around knows it, too: The line often snakes out the door and down Whittier Boulevard. So long as your tolerance for crowds is roughly equal to your need for a fish taco, though, your wait will be manageable; it moves quickly, and orders are filled just as fast. If you glance around while in the queue, you might spot the Taco Bell across the street, sitting pretty. And, probably, empty. 5385 Whittier Blvd., L.A.; (323) 887-1980.
There are several things to appreciate at Los Cinco Puntos. There's the great mural painted bright on the wall outside. There's all sorts of meats you can buy for tonight's dinner, and then some. But what you probably will come to appreciate most are the ladies in the back, scooping masa out of a giant bin and flattening it into thick discs. Order a short stack of those freshly made tortillas to eat at home, and a few tacos to eat then and there; the carnitas are particularly good. Really, though, almost everything is secondary to that fantastic, slightly sweet corn tortilla. This is strictly a takeout operation, meaning you'll take it out the parking lot and, along with everyone else, devour it all while leaning against your car. 3300 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave., L.A.; (323) 261-4084.
L.A. Taco's Taco Madness 2012 co-winner Mariscos Jalisco's pièce de résistance is its tacos dorados de camaron, a huge taco stuffed with shrimp, fried and set down, bottoms up, in a shallow pool of salsa. It would be understandable, then, if you're initially a bit intimidated by this behemoth of a taco and hesitate before diving in, and only then because your hunger bested your fear. But, like all such exercises in building character, you'll see that you are the better for it, and you'll bravely go back for more. You can easily eat three of these in one sitting, as people do, squished next to each other on a nearby brick ledge or on the curb facing busy Olympic Boulevard. No fear. 3040 E. Olympic Blvd., L.A.
Turn the page for #4, etc…
4. Tacos Leo:
Ideally, you've figured out the telltale signs of a great lonchero by now: There's the time (around midnight), the crowd (somewhat disorganized) and the location (random). If it was Tacos Leo that taught you how to read these signs, you wouldn't be its first student: Ever since word got out about its al pastor, spinning and marinating on a spit, the gas station where it parks at La Brea and Venice has been perpetually crowded with people waiting, patiently, for their tacos al pastor. The pork is shaved right into the tortilla, topped with a bit of pineapple and finished in two or three bites. At just $1 a taco, this might the best bang for your buck in the city. Corner of La Brea Blvd. and Venice Blvd., usually after 7 p.m.
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.
Frustrated by the lack of proper Ensenada-style fish tacos in Los Angeles proper, Ricky Piña did what any enterprising former florist might do: Empty a filing cabinet, cut a hole in it, McGyver a fryer of sorts to sit in said hole, find the proper fish for his perfected batter and make the best fish tacos in the city. And so he did. He eventually filed that cabinet away as a fond memory of a simpler time and upgraded to a double fryer; nowadays you can find him and his wonderful fish and shrimp tacos in a lot near a now-defunct Blockbuster in Los Feliz. And while fish and shrimp remain his forte, he often has lobster and, recently, stingray and angel shark. Ricky is generally open Thursdays through Sundays from noon to 4:30 p.m., though check his Twitter feed before heading out just to confirm. 1400 N. Virgil Ave., L.A.
Turn the page for our #1 pick…
The most difficult thing you will encounter at Guisados is the menu. There are so many guisados — stewed meats and vegetables — and only so much room in your stomach. And so, unless you're really set on a particular filling, your best bet is to order the sampler plate that come with six mini-tacos, each one filled with a fantastic meat or vegetable housed in a deliciously chewy handmade tortilla. These tacos are the reason why Guisados tied for first place (along with Mariscos Jalisco) in L.A. Taco's Taco Madness 2012, and we wholeheartedly agree with the vote. After you finish those six samplers, you might still have room for at least one full-size taco, which will bring you back full circle to your original dilemma of so many flavors, so very rapidly decreasing stomach capacity. You'll have to choose wisely now, but rest assured that you can never choose incorrectly. And don't forget the tamales. 2100 E. Cesar E. Chavez Blvd., L.A.; (323) 264-7201.
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