When it comes to Cinco de Mayo, you need to go where the pros go. Jorge Verdin, graphic designer and member of Tijuana music troupe Nortec Collective, could have a degree in torta-ology. Growing up in La Mesa neighborhood in Tijuana and touring all over Mexico (and the world) with Nortec Collective, he searched for the finest torta ahogada and developed some theories about tacos in his adopted home, Los Angeles. Tonight, Verdin debuts his solo project Clorofila at Spaceland, but before the show he suggests a few L.A. restaurants that will make your Cinco de Mayo super especial.
Note from Jorge Verdin:
I have to mention 2 things. I'm sure some people will take issue with this but…
1. Even the best L.A. taco doesn't measure up to a so-so Tijuana taco. Los Angelenos, let's not delude ourselves – the whole idea of having 100% Authentic Mexican tacos is pretty much out the window here. In Mexico, the secret sauce that gives any taco or street food that extra oomph is called mugrita de la calle – the grime from the street, although I should not be taken that literally. Taco vendors don't slide the tortillas across the gutter, (although once in the middle of Manhattan, I did see a shwarma stand vendor sharpening his knife against the sidewalk).
Maybe it's some sort of MSG created in the environment by the interaction of car exhaust, dust and the coming and goings of people. Or it may be as simple as the fact that most taco stands are charcoal fired and that the sauces are in varying degrees or freshness, or the fact that you get actual guacamole as a topping, whereas here, you get some soupy avocado sauce, because avos are so expensive. Either way, I'll avoid recommending any taco places as I've yet to find one that comes close.
2. Proper Mexican food does not contain cheddar or any type of yellow cheese:
Trust me on this one. Cheddar is an America cheese. If I had my way, any place that tops their enchiladas or burritos with cheddar, should be visited by the Mexican Food Cartel and a few baseball bats.
1842 East 1st Street
Los Angeles, CA 90033
You could go to the one in Santa Monica, which is in a nice location, but I've found that the food just tastes better at the Boyle Heights location, which has the strange claim to fame to have been frequented by OJ's defense team on a regular basis. Still, it's a proper “take your date to” sort of place. The decor is that unfortunate style is call “Gringo Mexican Colonial” – what Americans expect a traditional Mexican food restaurant to look like, but their food is tasty and spiced just right in the middle to appease everybody. My favorite are the enchiladas suizas.
1845 E 1st St,
Los Angeles, CA 90033
Across the street but a couple of notches up on the adventurousness scale is this birria joint which only serves the traditional Jalisco roasted goat meat stew. The idea or eating goat is apparently not cool with many non Latinos, as I've seen large groups of hipster trainees come into the place, figure out what's on the menu and leave in a huff. Their loss.
The meat is extremely tasty and the broth it comes in, topped with some cilantro, diced onion and lime juice, make it a perfect hangover food.
3445 N Verdugo Rd
Glendale, CA 91208
This is actually the first Mexican restaurant I ate in LA that didn't make me cry and get homesick. While their lunch and dinner menus are quite good ( vegetarians should definitely try the Nopal salad ), it's their breakfasts that do it every time for me, especially the huevos divorciados. The tortillas are hand made, the salsas you get served are delicious and you get a nice piece of pan dulce to go with your coffee.
14 S Fremont Ave
Alhambra, CA 91801
This is definitely the best torta ahogada I've had in LA and they even kick ass over a few places I've had in Tijuana. The owners are from Jalisco, Mexico, the birthplace of the torta ahogada, and they really do the dish justice. They basically take a bolillo roll, put roasted pork ( carnitas ) inside and cover it half way with a condimented hot sauce that will make your nose run and give you the sweats, but will release your endorphins and give you taste buds a ride.