Carne asada fries don't travel well, practically and ideologically speaking. They're increasingly hard to locate as you drive north from San Diego County, and surprisingly rare in Los Angeles, a city teeming with Mexican food, college students and medical marijuana cards. Piles of freshly fried spuds, laced with spoonfuls of guacamole and sour cream, don't tend to fare well on the short drive home, either. Wait too long to dig into a mound of the late-night favorite and you'll have some seriously bloated french fries on your hands ... and on your shirt ... and on your pants.
Around these parts, catching a fresh pile of cheesy carne asada fries takes some doing. There are a few local spots west of the 405, a couple of options around downtown and Highland Park, and some good leads near Torrance -- L.A. is not exactly a city teeming with the stuff. Still, there are great options to be had, if you know where to look. To the discerning diner, it's possible to sit down with a steaming pile of warm french fries, well salted and crisp, tucked underneath a cow's worth of tender, grilled beef and nearly overrun by fresh guacamole, sour cream and handfuls of gooey melted cheese. It may never make sense to stick fries inside your already overstuffed burrito, San Diego, but when it comes to carne asada fries, you just might be on to something.
10. Chano's Drive In:
The carne asada fries at Chano's near USC are almost singularly responsible for a reduction in the area's violent crime. Rather than having young university students get all riled up in the streets at 2 a.m. with no place to go, Chano's lets them patiently wait in line for a Styrofoam box filled to the brim with potatoes, meat and cheese. These are not the perfectly melted, delicately balanced fries you day walkers may be looking for. No, these are messy, late-night fries, where sometimes you catch a spud that's been overburdened with drippy sour cream, and other times you're munching on a half-naked fry that you just wish would cover up with a strand or two of melted cheese. No matter; by 2:15 a.m., after you and a couple of friends have inhaled your ration and you've stumbled home happy, you won't remember those few scantily clad bites, just the night that led you there. 3000 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles; 213-747-3944.
How you feel about the carne asada fries at Te'Kila in Hollywood depends entirely on your stance regarding something called "Tequila Cream," and the clubby sort of place that would have it on the menu. What certainly looks (and tastes) like regular ol' sour cream is apparently much more, having gussied itself up and ordered bottle service. Underneath that creamy, head-scratching squirt of liquored-up sour cream is a thin pile of fries -- definitely the smallest portion of any on this list, and with a near-$10 price tag to match. Thankfully, the straightforward french fries are loaded on with a well-grilled pile of carne asada, darkened at the edges but not yet crispy. The thick clump of guacamole is also a welcome addition to the mix, offering plenty of buttery bites against the salty meat and starchy potatoes. If you can handle the price point and the clientele, you won't be disappointed. 6541 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; 323-960-2404.
8. Las Anitas:
Ah, the genius of using a waffle fry for your carne asada plate. It's already got the shape of a thicker, potato-made nacho, which is the perfect antidote to the chunky bites of carne asada that Las Anitas on Olvera Street provides. This is some of the best meat you'll find piled onto a plate of fries, grilled into large, beefy mouthfuls that have managed to retain their juiciness. The sour cream drizzle is perhaps a bit spartan when compared with the lump of roughly chopped guacamole, but that's no great shakes. There are clumps of fresh pico de gallo all over this thing to help you get through the skimpy bites, and if the worst-case scenario is that -- gasp -- you're left with just a plate of steak-infused waffle fries, you're doing all right. 26 Olvera St., dwntwn.; 213-623-1153.
7. Taco Spot:
The next time your rich uncle from Torrey Pines is in town and wants a bite of Mexican food, take him over to Taco Spot in Eagle Rock. The shared carne asada fries plate is what the 1 percent wants to eat when they choose to slum it with a pile of loaded fries. Granted, the sizable plate is only $7, but the presentation and segregation of ingredients sure makes these fries a rich visual contender, and the taste isn't far behind. You'll have to do a little legwork (or, rather, wristwork) at the top in order to successfully mix the beef, fresh guacamole and dollop of sour cream, but once that's done, it's a first-class ride to chow town. The cheddar and mozzarella cheese is already melted right into the well-salted, golden fries, so you may need to attack this thing with a fork right from the start. Especially if your snobby uncle is around. 2006 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock; 323-256-7001.
One order of the carne asada fries at Alberta's and you'll be stuck -- weighed down deep into your booth, and burdened with the knowledge that such satisfying bites require a lengthy commute down to Wilmington. The oblong plates of slightly under-salted fries are given an impossible weight, thanks to mounds and mounds of shredded yellow cheese, thick bites of soft, moist steak and a smear of refried beans. These are heavy fries, with only the vibrant touch of a bright, fresh guacamole and some pico de gallo to keep eaters from oversaturation. Don't expect fast food, call-up-your-buddies style fries; these are for snacking at the table among a large group. Say, around 12 people or so. 1304 W. Pacific Coast Hwy., Wilmington; 310-518-9462.
Taqueria Chihuahua has been serving up good-for-the-area Mexican fare to the Westside for decades, and its popular lengua is among some of the tastiest you'll find near the 405. Yet it's the gooey box of carne asada fries that truly stands out, overloaded as it is with delectable toppings. The thick fries are nothing too spectacular, and could in fact use a bit more fry time, but the small chunks of grilled asada that arrive drowning in a pile of melted cheese and thin guacamole more than make up for the subpar spuds. Trying layering in some of the excellently smoky chipotle salsa for a fully realized carne asada fries experience. 505 Washington Blvd., Marina Del Rey; (310) 827-8775.
4. Taco Sinaloa #3:
Taco Sinaloa is already a bit of a Torrance legend, serving up around-the-clock Mexican food in spartan digs on Carson Street, directly across from Ramen Hayatemaru. The place gets absolutely stuffed on late-night weekends, and one of the most popular items being pushed out of the kitchen is the carne asada fries. The beef here is exactly as you'd get it on a taco: flat, thin strips of salted and slightly smoky flap meat, chopped small and served warm. The box of carne asada fries is then assembled like a bean dip. There are thick, pillowy, crinkle-cut fries, a thick paste of refried beans, a few hefty pounds of beef, a robust squirt of almost peppery salsa roja, lime green guacamole and a large handful from the shredded cheese bag. One fully layered bite is all you need to understand what makes Taco Sinaloa #3 so popular. 1647 W. Carson St., Torrance; 310-328-4208.
The carne asada fries at this Lincoln Heights local practically defy description. Everything inside the Styrofoam has been reverse-engineered for maximum flavor, even if that means doing away with the typical notion of what should sit on top of the fries. First those potatoes: wavy crinkles that have been perfectly fried so as to shatter at the edges and leave a soft, fluffy, starchy interior completely intact. Then the asada, a straightforward production of the protein that's seen a good bit of time on the grill and wears the flames well, but won't independently blow you away. Then the cheese, an almost soupy nacho variety -- but without all that oily, processed flavor -- that's laced with a crawling jalapeño heat. One or two bites and you might not notice, but after five or six you'll be reaching for a napkin, then diving back in for more. These are barely classifiable as carne asada fries, but with flavor like this, your mouth will be too full to speak up. 1901 N. Broadway, Lincoln Heights; 323-224-9044.
It may take you a few trips up and down Centinela Avenue in Marina Del Rey to find Pepe's Tacos. There's not much signage for the shoebox-sized corner taqueria, and even less chatter online to drive you there in the first place. Once inside, though, you'll realize that Pepe's is all business, from the huge griddled burritos to the Bailey's-backed flan dessert. Pepe's also doesn't fool around when it comes to the carne asada fries. The overflowing platter is enough to satisfy more than just you and your friend, with pour after pour of crema and a very fresh guacamole. The beef is tender and wide, with enough salt to give off a clean, satisfying bite underneath all that melted cheese. The addition of a zippy pico de gallo certainly adds to the overall effect, but the slices of jalapeño are the real stars of the show, offering a nice textural contrast to all the slathered-on sauces, plus plenty of heat. 4582 S. Centinela Ave., Marina Del Rey; 310-391-8667.
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Just down the street from Taco Sinaloa #3 sits Alfredo's, another in a long line of Mexican joints attempting to trade on the name of the popular Alberto's franchises throughout San Diego County. Alfredo's doesn't get the foot traffic that Taco Sinaloa #3 receives, but its loaded pile of carne asada fries would be worthy of a crowd. The thick pile of chunky asada is masterfully salted and well portioned, hanging all over the thin, fresh, slightly crisp fries with every bite. Stringy melted cheese creates a warm, hearty base for satisfying forkfuls. The sour cream and guacamole is hidden under all that cheese and meat, but not for long; this is some of the best guacamole you'll find on top of fries anywhere. It's thick, buttery and sturdy, with small chunks of fresh avocado blended throughout, the perfect cool and creamy antidote to all of the warm, cheesy, meaty excess the rest of Alfredo's carne asada fries comes packed with. 1619 W. Carson St., Torrance; 310-533-1880.
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