Loco for tacos: Craving Mexican? Try these three

WHERE'S THE GRUB?

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At the City Market, Mexican Tacos serves ’em up spiced with guajillo chili. Staff photo. At the City Market, Mexican Tacos serves ’em up spiced with guajillo chili. Staff photo.

I’ve eaten tacos from propane-fired griddles outside my apartment near downtown Los Angeles, and from the street grills off Garibaldi Square while mingling with mariachis between sets in Mexico City. I’ve partaken of the ubiquitous taco stands of Texas and the cozy Mexican diners on the north side of Chicago. It doesn’t make me an expert, but it does establish some frame of reference within which to evaluate well-prepared al pastor wrapped in a perfectly pressed and grilled corn tortilla.

If I am qualified at all, it may be because I have for years subsisted, in more cities than I can recall, on a budget that would make a college freshman struggle with the choice between a month’s supply of Ramen noodles or Xeroxing the pertinent chapters of an essential textbook from the school library’s reserve copy. But I’ve always tried to get the most panang for what was often my last buck, so to speak.

At the Saturday City Market, Mexican Tacos serves impeccably prepared steak (spiced with the guajillo chili), pork, chicken, chorizo, and vegetarian tacos at the corner of Water and First streets, for $2.75 a pop. There’s a lady deftly hand-flattening and grilling corn tortillas one by one, staying only a few tortillas ahead of the incoming orders. The chorizo—the spicy, loose-meat, Mexican pork sausage—they blend and grind at home. Someone is steadily pan-searing chicken on site. They top these beauties off with pico de gallo, and lettuce with a sprinkling of queso fresco, a soft, moist cheese. Then there’s perfectly mild but tasty green sauce on each one, if you choose. The City Market’s last day is the Saturday before Christmas, but it returns in early April.

Tacos and the salsa bar at La Michoacana. Photo: Preston Long.

Over on East High Street is La Michoacana. Edgar Gaona, eldest son of the family operation, reckons they have been at the present location for four or five years, but started out in a food truck more than 10 years ago, back when he was a lad of 10 or 12.

“The health inspector said we were the first taco truck in town,” he said. Gaona’s mother, whose family recipes fuel the operation, is a native of Michoacán, a province west of Mexico City. Similar in style to Mexican Tacos, La Michoacana makes its own tortillas as needed and makes the chorizo from scratch. It offers a broader range of options for $2.25, including tongue, tripe, and barbecue tacos. The kicker here is the restaurant’s three sauces. The milder red and green sauces are jalapeño-based, but the hot green sauce packs its punch with the chili de arbol. There’s also a very spicy, stoutly-pickled carrot, onion and jalapeno garnish, which is not for the faint of tongue.

Taco plate at La Tako Nako. Photo: Preston Long.

As good as those tacos are, I would still opt for La Tako Nako, a neon-belighted trailer parked alongside Hydraulic Road near Commonwealth Drive. The tortillas may be store-bought, but you don’t pick your burger joint because it bakes its own buns. Plus, it’s good to double up the corn wraps to absorb the savory grease from the carne asada and pork tacos. Hey, where there’s fat, there’s usually flavor. Tako Nako lays grilled onions you might expect to come on an Italian sausage over each $2 serving, along with cilantro and some solid homemade salsas. You can feel the tangy, meaty juice hit the back of your throat before you even chew the first couple bites. It’s the kind of savory you just want to drink down in shots, not wanting it to end as the last bits of meat are making their way down your gullet. Plus, there’s a certain charm about eating two or three of these succulent masterpieces among the banter of the almost exclusively Spanish-speaking clientele in the neon glow of a damp chilly night.

  • TacoTaco

    Just to clarify, the default City Market tacos come with cilantro and onions, your choice of mild or spicy salsa (verde or rojo), and queso fresco. I’ve seen them put lettuce and sour cream on their quesadillas and on tacos when people request it, but who would mess with the perfection of the default choice!? :)

  • cb

    La Michoacana over City Market Tacos by a mile.

    • http://c-ville.com/ Giles Morris

      If you like spicey, try the cabrito tacos. They are not, as they sound, goat. They are habanero spiced pork tacos and are delicious.

  • Reneraven

    The owner of La Michoacana is like the soup nazi on Seinfeld, though. I went there often, but one day I decided to try some different things to recommend to friends. He bit my head off (no one else was waiting to order) when I asked him to explain some of the items on the menu. I haven’t been back. City Market people are wonderful, as are their tacos.

    • K

      The last couple times I saw him there, he was being much nicer (maybe he heard about the reviews!) – even though I see it as a sign I’m in the right place when I’m treated like a stupid gringa.

  • Amaya

    A good taco in Mexico doesn’t have sour cream, cheese, or lettuce. If you really want the authentic flavor of a Mexican taco; El Tako Nako serves the best!!!

  • mb

    I drive by Hydraulic and Commonwealth all the time, but have never seen the taco truck–when are they there?

    • Preston

      They park in the lot in front of Hydraulic Wash Laundromat at 2405 Hydraulic Rd. Wouldn’t expect them there before 5pm

  • MB

    El Tepeyac (on Greenbriar across from Guad.) has wonderful $1.95 tacos, too!

    • http://c-ville.com/ Giles Morris

      El Tepeyac just totally remodeled the restaurant, splitting it from the tienda, and Bertha Solorzano’s daughter Maria Gracia moved down from Chicago to run it. Same great food, much cooler atmosphere.

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