From humble taco tables to neighborhood trucks to brick-and-mortar joints, Los Angeles has no shortage of taquerias. Yes, that might be the understatement of the century. The rub is that while we're awash incarne asada
, Mexico City-style
are something of a rarity.
They're uncommon enough most anywhere in L.A., but we never expected to find them near MacArthur Park, a neighborhood whose culinary delights are dominated by Langer's Deli. Wandering around Alvardo and 7th with bon vivant and food blogger Bill Esparza of Street Gourmet LA (who knows a thing or two about authentic tacos de guisado), we recently stumbled into Tacos Carmelita, hidden in the back of a battered theater-cum-strip-mall a couple doors down from Langer's.
Lingerie, blankets, national flags, an engagement ring to go with that lingerie... You can find all that in the Westlake Mall. Not to mention the killer tacos de guisado at Tacos Carmelita.
A catch-all term, tacos de guisado refers to a broad range of stewed fillings rather than the grilled or fried meats common at most L.A. taco vendors. On a typical day, Tacos Carmelita offers four types of guisado, all warming on the tiny shops' counter in the steam-tray equivalent of cazuelas. Think of the menu painted on the wall as merely a reference point. Just ask what's cooking.
Fatty slabs of tender chicharrón in sharp salsa verde or perhaps bistec in a bold pasilla sauce. There's chicken-on-the-bone in a deceptively modest chipotle crema that starts slowly but leaves a lingering heat in the back of your throat before your taco is half-finished. Every bite of every taco I have ever eaten at Tacos Carmelita has been a treat, and I've hardly begun to work my way through their repertoire but no matter what else I order, I get a picadillo. Another catch-all term, picadillo could mean any type of ground meat with all sorts of vegetables, even fruits. Here, the picadillo is ground beef with potatoes, green peas and carrots. Like all the other tacos, it's served on a medium-sized tortilla atop rice and refried beans.
The place is small. Inside, there's not much to look at, and there are fewer places to sit: one table and a small counter. A couple more tables in the mall's courtyard round out the seating options. It feels like you're in yourabuelita's
kitchen -- if your grandma happened to be a petite, polite lady who came from the Basilica de Guadalupe neighborhood of Mexico City and could make aguisado
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sing like the Mormon Tabernacle choir. And when you ask, "Cuanto lo debo?" ("How much do I owe?"), you'll pay around $16 for six tacos.
Like many Mexico City establishments, Tacos Carmelita reverts to more of a comfort food menu on the weekends: carnitas, menudo and a pig's foot pozole that Esparza swears by -- but we'll let him tell you about that.
Tacos Carmelita: 710 S. Alvarado St., LA. (Inside the Westlake Mall.)