Word around the taco cooler is that chef Ricardo Diaz — he of Guisados, Cook's Tortas and Bizarra Capital — is planning to open a fried taco concept in Silver Lake in the coming months, aptly called Duro (that's “hard” in Spanish). Diaz belongs to the clan behind mini Mexican seafood chain El Siete Mares, so it's no surprise that the longtime Eastsider is taking over the Sunset Boulevard sit-down version of his family's restaurant to open something more fun and vibrant on his own.
Of course, all this taco chatter got us hungry, and before we knew it we were in La Puente, home to Diaz's other recent venture: Colonia Taco Lounge. Open since August, the restaurant features a slew of guisados-style tacos, plus craft beers, a small stage, and lots of free parking. Sounds like a winner already.
At Colonia Taco Lounge, the ordering process is simple, if overwhelming. There are about a dozen taco mainstays to choose from: a delicately braised lamb barbacoa, a crisply fried cauliflower, and the doraditos, fried potato tacos that have been run over by a truck filled with cheese and crema. Each of these always-there options is available to view on a handy colored broadsheet that sits by the register. If you don't feel like making polite conversation with the infallibly nice woman working the register, just point to the most mouth-watering image and use your fingers to indicate the number of tacos you wish to shove down your throat.
Looking at the chalkboard menu is where things get tricky. Those same picturesque tacos are present, but there's almost an equal number of previous-unknowns up there as well, scratched on in all caps over the smudges from a lot of previous erasing. Either someone's got a very unsteady hand, or the menu at Colonia Taco Lounge rotates constantly. Knowing Diaz, it's probably the latter.
Taking in the taco options as a whole can be a bit overwhelming, so it's best to break your options down into workable categories. Do you want beef? Opt for the estofado, an Oaxacan-style beef stew taco (pictured above) that arrives with nothing more than a thin coat of white onions and cilantro. Looking for chicken? The only real answer is the tesmole, a masa-thickened mole sauce that is overclocked with spices and tender nubs of chicken, then topped with wide ribbons of onion. For pork lovers, there's the campion, with its smoky strips of thin bacon and warmed Oaxacan cheese, and vegetarians will fawn over both the cauliflower and stewed chayote tacos.
See also: 10 Best Tacos in Los Angeles
The space itself is a sort of relaxed version of Mos Eisley Cantina from Star Wars. There are dark corners and lots of leathery booths, with hard wooden tables chewing up space in the middle of the floor. There's a bar in the back for anyone wanting a taste of Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA or Fin du Monde, and a small stage where you could imagine the Cantina band setting up shop and jamming out some space tunes. Which, after a few tacos and some imported Mexican Cucapa beer, might not sound so bad.
Since Diaz' split with Armando De La Torre, which left the blossoming Guisados taco brand completely in the latter's hands, the chef has lacked a true home for all of his taco sensibilities. That's changed now with Colonia Taco Lounge, thanks to an eclectic menu of Mexican favorites and a handwritten board of wonderfully curated craft beer options. While Bizarra Capital remains Diaz' most forward-thinking restaurant, Colonia Taco Lounge is the most approachable, and in some cases his tastiest. Where Duro, the eventual Silver Lake tacos dorados spot, will rank on that list remains to be seen. But at Colonia Taco Lounge, there's no second-guessing yourself: Just get here now.
Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook. Farley Elliott writes about food, drink and entertainment at OverOverUnder.com.