L.A. seems to be blessed with so many Taco offerings and new openings, it felt like time for another Taco journey.
Sometimes it seems like food concepts generate trends where multiple restaurants open up within a short span of each other, all following the same trend. Just when I was lucky enough to enjoy the wonders of down home smoky Carne Asada grilled over Mesquite from places like Tire Shop Taqueria and Tacos La Carreta, we get hit with full-fledged restaurants touting the same thing. First Loqui hit Culver City, then we get Salazar in Frogtown and now Sonoratown in Downtown L.A.
Sonoratown sounds pretty legit, with its owners having lived in Sonora, Mexico, looking to bring its authentic flavors to L.A.
Agua Fresca - Pina - Pineapple:
This is a really refreshing Pineapple drink, not too sweet and refreshing in the Summer heat.
They offer 4 types of meat for their Tacos.
Their Chicken (and all their meats) are Mesquite-grilled, with handmade Flour Tortillas. The Chicken is mildly smoky, but too salty and overcooked.
Chori-Man Chorizo Taco:
They've partnered up with a local Chorizo maker (Chori-Man) to make a custom recipe Chorizo for the store. The result is slightly Clove-y, fragrant, spicy and tasty. It's one of the better Chorizo Tacos we've had on this journey.
On our 2nd visit, the Chorizo is pretty consistent, smoky and still moist.
Tripitas Taco - Intestine Taco:
Their Tripitas is unfortunately nowhere near as good. It's funky, chewy, with not enough crispy char on the outside, and too pungent.
It should be noted, their Flour Tortillas are too thin and blistered. As seen in these photos, they are almost see-through thin! And they are overcooked and blistered in places.
Carne Asada Taco:
We were most excited for their Carne Asada Tacos. The owners took enough care to source authentic cuts of Beef for their Carne Asada (cuts not normally seen in America). They use Aguja y Diezmillo Carne for their Asada Tacos (cuts commonly found in Sonora, Mexico for Carne Asada). And indeed the mouthfeel / taste is different.
Sadly, there's not enough smokiness. And during the first visit it's lukewarm.
On a 2nd visit, we try again:
It's warmer this time, but still lacking the wonderful Mesquite-smoky flavor. It's OK overall, but not something I'd return for.
Chivichanga (Housemade Tortilla, Shredded Chicken Breast, Monterey Jack and Mild Cheddar Cheese, Fire-Roasted Tomatoes, Mesquite-Grilled Anaheim Peppers):
Unlike the American unhealthy creation known as the "Chimichanga," the Chivichanga at Sonoratown is a traditional snack food of Sonora, Mexico. And it's delicious!
The Shredded Chicken Breast is stewed, moist and juicy, but it's the blend of Cheeses and the really smoky, fragrant Anaheim Peppers that really magnify this dish.
I'm hoping Sonoratown works out the kinks and gets more smoky flavor into their Carne Asada Taco, and improves their Tortillas. Still, their Chivichangas and the Chori-Man Chorizo Tacos are worth checking out in the meantime.
208 E. 8th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90014
Tel: (213) 290-5184
(I posted about this restaurant in a separate thread, but wanted to consolidate the Tacos we tried into this Taco thread.)
There's been a lot of excitement over the opening of Salazar, Chef-Owner Esdras Ochoa's new venture in Frogtown, the quaint little neighborhood south of Glendale and north of Dodger Stadium.
Converting an old auto shop (the bar sits inside the garage), and featuring ~90% Outdoor Seating Only, it's a curious venture. Initially the reports made it seem like this would be some... unpleasant, hipster-laden locale, with an emphasis on the outdoor dining with a party atmosphere. Showing up on our first visit: It really was like an outdoor party, laden with hipsters, but also locals and some families.
They serve 4 types of Tacos, and their claim to fame is using Mesquite to grill most of their menu items. Naturally this was a chance to try their Carne Asada and see if it could deliver truly smoky, delicious flavors.
Pollo Asado Taco:
The Chicken is lukewarm. And it was really salty. Disappointing.
Al Pastor Taco:
Their Al Pastor is fatty, with chunks of Pineapple (yay). It is slightly warmer than the Chicken, but still about lukewarm temperature. The overall flavor was decent, but not as interesting or snappy as Leo's Tacos.
Carne Asada Taco:
The first bite yields COLD Carne Asada meat. The Beef is cold, even though we saw them take it right out of the kitchen and over to our table. Clearly a sign they pre-made a large batch ahead of time and were just serving them when they could.
Besides that, there's no smokiness! There's a faint smokiness on my friend's Carne Asada. I couldn't taste any in mine.
The Handmade Flour Tortillas are pretty decent, better than Sonoritas and Sonoratown, but probably on par with Loqui, and both of them not as good as stuff from Burritos La Palma's Flour Tortillas.
Seasonal Vegetable Taco (Purple Potatoes, Broccolini):
It's always nice to have Vegetarian Tacos, and this was probably the best Taco on the menu: Lightly seasoned Potatoes, and tender, sauteed Broccolini. It had a great balance of flavors and was warm as well.
You can see the kitchen clearly bathed in smoke from the Mesquite Grill, so it's sad and baffling why the smoke doesn't infuse well in their Tacos.
2nd Visit: We were really hoping that the 1st night's visit was a fluke, so we went back for a 2nd visit.
Carne Asada Taco:
The Carne Asada Beef was tender, with no gristle, but it was again, lacking smoke. It was lukewarm today (still not piping hot), so it's clear they don't cook the Carne Asada fresh to order.
Regarding portion size, their Tacos are $3.75 (+ tax and tip), and are about twice the size of Leo's Taco's $1.25 Tacos.
Catch of the Day - Trout Zarandeado:
Ever since reading our old board's multiple threads on Mariscos Chente, its famous Pescado Zarandeado and going out and trying it years ago, I've been indebted to all our long-time FTC'ers for the great introduction! Seeing "Zarandeado" on the menu here, we were really excited!
Sadly, Sergio was not in the kitchen: The Trout was overcooked and borderline dry. This was a far cry from the heyday of Mariscos Chente and Chef Sergio's famous version of the fish. That version was sublime and an eye-opener. Salazar's version is pedestrian, overcooked, and kind of one note.
And it was littered with tiny fish bones, making it a major hassle to eat. I can't even imagine the landmine / disaster this dish would be at night (when it was super dark outside), seeing if diners could see clearly enough to remove the bones.
Their Handmade Flour Tortillas served on the side for the fish was fine. Freshly cooked and piping hot (unlike their actual Tacos).
A tiny cup of Guac (shown with fork for reference) was $5. During our first visit, they were doing a $9 version made tableside, but they said they can't handle it, and are canceling that option. They said the Guac was the same quality, though, and after tasting it?
I'd skip it. It tasted like underseasoned, fresh Guacamole. Nothing special. I've made better Guac at home and I'm not bragging. It tasted really pedestrian. And their Fried Tortillas that accompanied it were really oily.
Service was a disaster the first 2 visits, but it's not surprising since they just opened. During our first visit, 2 different couples near us complained about waiting for over an hour to get a table (and then the front of the house completely skipped over one group (and we overheard the manager apologizing profusely for the mistake). They forgot 2 items from my order, and never delivered it (even after I asked about it nicely). In the end, we just had them take it off the bill.
During the 2nd visit, they forgot another dish, and another group near us complained about not getting their food at all and had waited for over 45 minutes!
Salazar seems like a potentially relaxing, kickback outdoors dining experience that looks wildly different in both visits: During a later dinner, the hipster, annoying quotient was high (60%+). During our 2nd visit, for an early dinner, it was like 95% families with kids and locals bringing their dogs.
For the quality of the food, there wasn't a single thing that I wanted to return for (except for the solid Cocktails). If I was in the area, I'd stop by for a Taco perhaps, if they can start serving their Tacos warm (or hot) please. But for that smoky Carne Asada Taco, I'm sticking with Tacos La Carreta for now. For amazing Vegetarian offerings, I'd go back to Guerilla Tacos and Chef Wes Avila first, and for Al Pastor? Leo's Tacos.
2490 N.Fletcher Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Tacos Los Poblanos Estilo Tijuana
Thanks to @JeetKuneBao for this recommendation, we couldn't wait to try this out! One of my friends geeked out, hoping this was yet another stellar, authentic Carne Asada specialist.
Even a couple of blocks before we walked up to Tacos Los Poblanos, we could smell the Mesquite going.
We first tried their Chorizo. Spicy, salty, smoky. It was a solid Chorizo Taco, and their ample amounts of Avocado Salsa was a great balance.
Carne Asada Taco:
Their Carne Asada is pretty solid. It's only slightly smoky, but more enjoyable than Sonoritas, Sonoratown and Salazar's offerings (at a fraction of the price). And it has more Mesquite-flavor than all 3 of those places, sadly.
Wed - Mon
6:00 p.m. - 1:00 a.m.
Tacos Los Poblanos
5711 S. Central Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90011
Leo's Tacos #1:
To double-check our taste-buds, we had to stop by some of our favorites to reconfirm the flavors, LOL. First up, Leo's Tacos #1.
Al Pastor Taco:
Delicious! These $1.25 rounds of goodness are still the tastiest Al Pastor Tacos in the city. It makes what we ate at Salazar feel even more like a ripoff.
Leo's Tacos #1
1515 S. La Brea Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Tacos La Carreta (3rd Visit)
Started with their Agua de Cebada:
I love this drink! It's a traditional Mexican drink of Toasted Barley, Cinnamon and Vanilla. It's refreshing, and tastes very close to Horchata, but it's slightly nuttier, but just as refreshing.
And of course the reason to visit:
Carne Asada Taco:
To say these humble tacos of fragrant, smoky Mexican Mesquite-grilled Carne Asada Tacos are delicious would be an understatement! The family running this little operation in the parking lot of a automotive business on weekends continues to churn out succulent, savory, smoky, crave-worthy Carne Asada Tacos that are better than anything I've tasted in L.A. so far! And at $1.50 per Taco, they are a bargain. So good!
Saturday & Sunday Only
3:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Tacos La Carreta
(Inside HB Tire & Wheels Lot)
413 N. Wilmington Ave.
Compton, CA 90220
Tel: (562) 500-5581
Guerilla Tacos (Revisit)
There were just too many awesome dishes on Chef Avila's constantly changing farmers market-driven menu, so it was time for a revisit, LOL.
Melon Agua Fresca:
Wow! Chef Wes Avila is now churning out consistently awesome Aguas Frescas. Today's was an amazing Melon-based version. It tasted like Weiser Farm's best Seasonal Melons distilled into liquid form. Just awesome! And never too sweet.
Local Calamari Taco (Cherry Tomatoes, Red Peppers, Escabeche):
Perfectly cooked Calamari (how Chef Wes does this consistently inside a basic Taco Truck is even more impressive), tender, only slightly chewy, with a great Escabeche seasoning. It's slightly piquant, but savory and just a great Taco!
Pork Taco (with Chile Morita, Sumac Onions, Stone Fruit, Cilantro):
Nice meaty chunks of seared Pork, and his signature Chile Morita Salsa gives it enough heat, and is balanced by the Sumac Onions and Cilantro and Stone Fruit. Definitely agree with @djquinnc, delicious!
Beef Colorado & Foie Gras Taco (with Arbol Chile, Flowering Herbs):
The Beef is firm, with a good bite, but still tender. The Foie Gras felt a bit lost in this Taco, though, but it still added a lush, beautiful taste at times, especially with a bite of the slightly bitter (awesome) Flowering Herbs.
Check their website for Locations and Menu:
Rocio's Mexican Kitchen
I remember recently wondering whatever happened with the former beloved Chef Rocio Camacho, whom some local publications called the "Mole Queen", creating a myriad of unique and interesting Mexican Mole Sauces. I remember sadly, when she moved to Sun Valley, and had one location somewhere else in the Valley as well. It seems one of her locations burned down and the other is no longer affiliated with her.
But I found out she moved to Bell Gardens and is now cooking at Rocio's Mexican Kitchen! We couldn't wait to try her Mole again. Speaking with the manager, she created the entire menu, so it's not just featuring her Mole.
Aguas Frescas: Pina y Chia - Pineapple with Chia Seeds:
Like Guerilla Tacos, Chef Camacho seems to take care in crafting even potentially "basic" things like Aguas Frescas. The Pineapple with Chia Seeds is so refreshing! It's only lightly sweet, but fragrant and the Chia Seeds add this nice textural contrast, like a healthy version of Boba or something like that, LOL.
Carne Asada Taco:
Their Carne Asada Taco is rather straightforward. It's the standard flattop seared version (no Mesquite), but it's sufficiently tender and actually has a slight beefy taste. But the Corn Tortillas are immediately noticeable for being better than the standard type (more on this later).
Their Chicken Taco is hand-shredded Chicken Breast, and it tastes fresh (made that day) and delicious! It has a compelling lightly spicy marinade that is strong enough to stand alone as is, but when adding her House Salsa (Chile de Arbol, Garlic, Pepper, Habanero Chile), it really elevates the flavors even more.
Pipian Rojo Mole with Pork Chop:
Now this is what we came here for, LOL. Chef Rocio Camacho's Pipian Rojo Mole (Pumpkin Seed Mole) is as fragrant as the version I had years ago! It's slightly nutty, but complex, slightly spicy (a light heat), and just compelling.
The Pork Chop is just a standard grilled Pork Chop (nothing special), but still juicy. It serves as a vehicle to enjoy her Mole Sauces (seriously). You can also order her Mole Sauces with Chicken, Salmon, Mahi Mahi, Shrimp or Chile Relleno.
But then the server brings us this basket of happiness - Handmade Corn Tortillas:
Just amazing! These are hefty, fragrant, warm rounds of some of the best Tortillas I've had since Taco Maria and Broken Spanish! These are thick (but not overly so), wonderfully toasty, soft, and delicious!
And then the magic happens:
Add Chef Rocio's awesome Pipian Rojo Mole onto the Handmade Corn Tortilla, a bit of the tender, stewed Vegetables and the Pork Chop... So good! Tortilla fiends like @Dommy would really enjoy these rounds.
I can't wait to go back and try her other Mole Sauces like the Mole Oaxaca, Mole Poblano, Mole Verde, Manchamanteles, Velo de Novia and others.
Rocio's Mexican Kitchen
7891 Garfield Ave.
Bell Gardens, CA 90201
Tel: (562) 659-7800
The first thing to overcome is the utter maze / mess to find Taco Maria. Located inside SoCo Collection, a giant sprawling multi-building open-air mall of furniture shops and other buildings, we had never been there before. In fact one of my friends going with us (living in OC) had never been either, LOL.
The outdoor area is beautiful and serene, but very "OC" and their directory was awful, pointing us in the wrong direction for Taco Maria's building, which is the "OC Mix" inside the "SoCo Collection".
When you finally find the OC Mix building, then it's another warren of shops with little help on locating Taco Maria, but thankfully after wandering a bit, we found it.
Aguas Frescas - Strawberry:
Seriously awesome! This leg of the journey has been so good for drinks! From the Cebada (Barley) at Tacos La Carreta to the Farmers Market Melon Aguas Frescas at Guerilla to the Pina y Chia at Rocio's, and now Spring-like, aromatic Strawberries distilled into a chilled, cooling fresh drink.
Aguachile (Hokkaido Scallop, Cucumber, Citrus, Serrano, Herbs):
Seeing Hokkaido Scallops on the menu of a non-Sushi restaurant already shows that this place means business. And the Hokkaido Scallops are very fresh, tender, and the heat from the Serrano, with the piney Cucumber essence works. The Citrus is a bit too powerful at times (for the pieces that were totally submerged at the bottom), but most of the pieces were fine.
Hearing @Ns1 calling Taco Maria (and Guerilla) the winners at Tacolandia made me want to try out Taco Maria even more, so we were glad to finally visit.
Jardineros Taco (Shiitake Mushroom Chorizo, Crispy Potato, Queso Fundido):
I was really excited to try this one because I love Shiitake Mushrooms, but my reading comprehension failed me LOL, because only after we tried this Taco did I realize the "missing" comma, and it was actually "Shiitake Mushroom Chorizo" (not "Shiitake Mushrooms, Chorizo..." LOL ), so I was initially slightly disappointed at the "missing" Mushrooms. But overall, it's an excellent Taco, the Potatoes are seared and crisped, with the Chorizo made with Shiitake Mushrooms giving it a lighter, more umami flavor than the standard Chorizo flavor.
However, at a whopping $10(!) per Taco (includes tax & tip) this feels egregious. Chef Wes Avila's Sweet Potato Taco at Guerilla Tacos is half this price, and tastier.
Mole de Pollo Taco (Jidori Chicken, Ancho-Almond Mole, Queso Fresco):
Even with all these fancy ingredients, this Taco falls short: The Jidori Chicken tastes old. The Ancho-Almond Mole is too salty. It probably didn't help that we just tasted Chef Rocio Camacho's amazing Pipian Rojo Mole, but this one just didn't compare (even though the base ingredients are different, the lack of nuance and salinity detracted from this one). Disappointing.
Pescado Frito Taco (Local Black Cod, Charred Scallion Aioli, Cabbage, Kumquat Fruit):
And then we got to the Black Cod Taco.
WOW! The Black Cod is luscious, tender, moist, flaky, super fresh, and seriously THE best Fish Taco I've had! The Batter is light and clean, but it's the Black Cod that shines here.
Be sure to add some of the Salsa Negro (Chile de Arbol, Chile Oil) to elevate this even more. It lends a slightly smoky, gorgeous gentle heat (not very spicy).
Arrachera Taco (Hangar Steak, Roasted Chilies, Applewood Bacon, Queso):
They cook their Hangar Steak over Citrus Wood, but sadly, there's no smokiness. The Hangar Steak itself is still juicy and the spice marinade gives it an OK flavor, but without the smokiness, it feels like it's missing something. The Applewood Bacon is a crispy, perfectly cooked slice, so that's a bonus.
Tocino Taco (Pork Belly, Piloncillo Glaze,Grilled Cactus, Black Beans):
Finally, the Tocino Taco arrives. While the Pork Belly craze has come and gone (now it's just a standard option on many menus), it feels like these days many restaurants using "Pork Belly" just aren't cooking it very well. It's usually gross, chunky fat, or not cooked to the right consistency and tenderness.
Not so here: This is seriously the most unctuous (I hate that word LOL), succulent, tender piece of slow-cooked Pork Belly that I've had since some of those great Buta no Kakuni (Japanese Stewed Pork Belly) dishes that @bulavinaka and other members recommended on our old board.
This giant slab of perfectly, slow-cooked Pork Belly literally melts when you bite into it! It's fatty, yes, but the way Taco Maria prepares this makes it very pleasurable, with even the lean meat portions being so tender (but we ended up splitting the Tocino Tacos, half a Taco for each of us LOL, except one friend). It's very rich, but slightly sweet from the Piloncillo (Mexican Cane Sugar), and the Nopales Cactus gave it a nice slight crunch to contrast each bite. Ridiculous delicious!
And a word about their amazing handmade Corn Tortillas. There have been articles written about how the chef-owner sources high-quality, excellent Masa for the Tortillas. And you can taste it. Some of the best Tortillas in the city.
Taco Maria is kind of hard to recommend. Their Tacos are a rather ridiculous $10+ per Taco, but when you have the Black Cod Taco or the Tocino (Pork Belly) Taco, it feels worth it... once in a while. Seriously, though, Ricky's Fish Tacos makes an absolutely delicious Fish Taco (sure it's not Black Cod), at less than half the price. And Guerilla Taco's offerings are generally more interesting and delicious, and they usually go for $5 / 6 (+ tax) for most of them. But regardless of price, there are some standouts here, and some disappointments.
3313 Hyland Ave.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: (714) 538-8444