There’s no disputing that Los Angeles is home to some of the best tacos in the world. With the city’s proximity to Mexico, it was only natural that some of the finest techniques and ingredients would find their way over the border. Taco purveyors have come to L.A. and used the city as their stage to experiment, using the tortilla as a canvas to showcase the best of their country’s traditions, as well as adapting to the city and creating some modern tacos with an Angeleno twist. The taco truck has become a symbol of Los Angeles, the mascot of the city’s food scene. And no one understood that better than the taco cheerleader himself, Jonathan Gold. “The taco honors the truck,” was one of Gold’s five rules for dining in Los Angeles.
These Are the Six Best Tacos in Los Angeles
We set out to honor the truck (and a couple of brick and mortar taco spots, too) in the ultimate L.A. taco crawl. We researched the most popular tacos in town right now, checked all hours and locations, mapped out a plan of attack, and gathered some taco lovers to join in our quest: to find the best taco in Los Angeles. We reviewed six taco joints in total, but there was one spot that stood out from the crowd, the unanimous favorite for all four of us. Keep reading to see our full L.A. taco crawl and discover which of the six best tacos in Los Angeles we liked the most!
There’s only one way to start a taco crawl in Los Angeles – with breakfast tacos! One of Jonathan Gold’s golden rules when searching for great tacos is to always look for fresh tortillas – if you see packages of pre-made tortillas, run away! One of the best things about HomeState, the Texas-style taco joint in East Hollywood, is their house-made flour tortillas, made fresh to order in the back of the restaurant. It was mesmerizing to watch the workers shape balls of dough, put them through the tortilla press, and fry them on the griddle until they puffed up with steam. We tried the Guadalupe (chorizo, egg, and cheese taco), the Trinity (bacon, egg, cheese, and avocado taco), and the brisket taco with guacamole. There’s always a line outside this place, and, after tasting these tacos, it’s easy to see why.
Last fall, a Tijuana-style street taco stand arrived on the streets of Los Angeles, and just months later was opening a brick and mortar to keep up with demand. The signature at Tacos 1986 is the adobada, marinated pork meat cooked al pastor. Be sure to ask them to cut it fresh off the trompo (the rotating spit) for maximum juiciness, and order it con todo (“with everything” – guacamole, cilantro, and onions). The other crowd favorite here is the mushroom taco – a vegetarian alternative that packs an umami punch. We suggest ordering both as quesadillas, which means the taco will come served with a disc of crispy cheese on top of the corn tortilla. Skip the vampiro, a crunchy tostada sandwich where the tortilla to meat ratio is off and the hard shells are too dry. Tacos 1986 is a great late-night option – they’re open until midnight most nights, and until 3am on the weekends. Do the tacos look familiar? Tacos 1986 is from the same people behind the popular Los Tacos No. 1 in New York.
A line stretches out the door, festive mariachi music plays over the speakers, a cloud of wood-fired mesquite smoke hovers in the air. Can you smell it? You’ve arrived at the best taco joint in Los Angeles. Sonoratown’s flour tortillas are the stuff of legends – after all, they were the champions of the “Great Tortilla Tournament,” a contest ranking all of the tortillas in Los Angeles. They’re made with melted lard, which gives them a buttery, slightly porky flavor, and they’re so thin that they’re almost translucent in color. This is thanks to the Sonoran flour they’re made with – an heirloom wheat from northern Mexico that is extremely soft and pliable, which allows the tortilla to be rolled very thin. This flour is so essential to their recipe that the owners used to drive to Tijuana just to bring large bags of it into California. After a couple issues with border patrol, however, that was no longer an option. So now, the owner’s mom brings small amounts of flour over the border and they pick it up from her every month. If you’re wondering if the flour is worth all that trouble, it is – these are the best tortillas we’ve ever had. But obtaining the perfect ingredients is just the beginning – it’s Sonoratown’s resident tortilla expert, Julia Guerrero, who brings the tortillas to life. She’s in the back of the restaurant all day churning out fresh tortillas by hand.
So, how to consume those tortillas? You’re going to want to order a chivichanga (otherwise known as a chimichanga) – we tried one filled with beef, roasted chile peppers, and blistered tomatoes. You’re also going to want to try the caramelo, which comes stuffed with chorizo, pinto beans, cheese, avocado, and red salsa. If you just want a taco, the costilla (grilled steak) one we had was fantastic, thanks to the wood-fired flavor. Like the meat, the tortillas are also lightly grilled over the mesquite fire, rounding out your taco with that ultimate smoky bite. Sonoratown was the unanimous favorite on our taco crawl. It’s our new favorite taco joint in all of Los Angeles, and, dare I say, the world?
Burritos La Palma
Yes, we’re including burritos on our taco crawl, which may seem sacrilegious to some, but bear with us: these aren’t like any burritos you’ve had before. These burritos are the size of tacos, just presented in a different way, with the tortilla folded around all the good stuff in a slender, compact tube. They look extremely simple on the outside, but there’s a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes. The magic of Burritos La Palma starts with their homemade flour tortillas, made from a secret family recipe. They’re buttery, pliant, and doughy, the perfect vehicle for the juicy, saucy fillings. Their small size allows you to try a few flavors – our favorites are the birria (beef stew) and the bean and cheese. Luckily for us, Burritos La Palma has expanded beyond their original El Monte location, so you can also find their burritos in Santa Ana, at The Fields food hall, and at Smorgasburg on Sundays.
Jonathan Gold’s favorite taco truck in L.A. and a long-time resident on his 101 Best Restaurants in L.A. list is the famous Boyle Heights taco truck, Mariscos Jalisco. They’re famous for one thing here – the tacos dorados de camarones, crispy, fried shrimp tacos that are assembled and then submerged wholly in a vat of bubbling frying oil, dunked and fried as one. It was one of Jonathan’s favorite bites in L.A. – a crunch from the hard shell, a juicy burst from the shrimp nestled within, and a freshness from the tomatoes, onions, and avocado slathered on top. If you can handle some heat, you should also try the aguachile here – a crispy tostada, topped with shrimp, cucumber, and avocado. It was the spiciest thing we ate all day!
Los Originales Tacos Árabes
Did you know the origin of al pastor tacos is the Lebanese shawarma? That’s right, the tradition of cooking meat on a vertical trompo was introduced by the Lebanese when they immigrated to Mexico. Although, when the Mexicans copied this technique they decided to roast pork on the rotating spit instead of the lamb that is traditionally used in Middle Eastern cooking. The best taco árabe (“Arab taco”) in Los Angeles can be found at Los Originales Tacos Árabes, another taco truck in Boyle Heights just a few blocks from Mariscos Jaliscos. Since they serve other types of tacos here too, be sure to specify that you want the taco árabe which comes on pan arabe (Lebanese taco bread), basically a flour tortilla/pita hybrid. It tastes like a shawarma taco, filled with garlicky, roasted pork. They’ll ask if you want your taco topped with Oaxacan cheese, avocado, and smoky chipotle sauce. Our answer, of course, was yes.
Looking for more great spots for food and drinks in L.A.? Check out our city map of Los Angeles!
What’s your favorite taco in L.A.? Let us know in the comments below!
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Anders Husa & Kaitlin Orr