These seemingly eternal houses built from flour tortillas and kept afloat by mild salsa are as embedded in our cultural landscape as our beaches and our freeways. Check the link for a complete list of 38 restaurants.Less
You don’t need an excuse to visit the touristy and quaint Olvera Street, but a meal at El Paseo Inn is as good as any. The restaurant, founded in the 1930s and in its current iteration since 1953, has a great patio and a spacious central dining room. Try the shredded beef enchiladas or the surprisingly good sopes, essentially an open-faced sandwich on a thick tortilla, covered with beans, chicken or beef, salsa and salty cotija cheese.
The cars line up down the block for Pepe’s at all hours of the day and night. The cheerful yellow tables out front of Alhambra’s location host cardboard boxes stuffed with rolled tacos, chips and guacamole, while the larger foam containers carry heaped-high asada fries, forearm-sized burritos and tortas. At this 1962-founded enterprise, the rice is always drizzled with a spoon or two of the chain’s chile verde sauce (which is red), the portions are massive price is right.
Located on a stretch of Las Tunas Drive mostly occupied by Chinese restaurants and tea shops is Casa Calderon. Opened in 1963, it’s a small, no-frills place in a white building with a tile roof that looks like it could have been part of the nearby San Gabriel Mission. You can order any variation of combination plate, but your server will mostly likely steer you toward the mariscos section of the menu; specifically, to the bacon-wrapped shrimp.
A sprawling hacienda-style complex for combo plates, brightly hued margaritas, stone-ground salsas and piquant ranchero-sauce-smothered enchiladas and burritos, Mijares has served as a banquet hall, a destination for warm homemade meals for travelers, and a celebration spot for more than a century. Classics and combos here are worth an order — especially the chile relleno, with its cloud-like, fluffy batter — but don’t be afraid to opt for the Mijares takes on newer Mexican American classics.
For Angelenos in the mid-’90s (especially if you lived in the San Fernando or San Gabriel valleys), the salad of the moment wasn’t the Cobb, the wedge or even the classic Caesar. It was the Mexican Caesar from El Torito. It is still a staple, tasting the same as it did decades ago, and the dressing is what makes the salad. It’s a cross between a Green Goddess and a pepita and cilantro pesto that’s creamy and herbaceous. There’s a reason they bottled it.
A roadside gem since 1947, Johnny’s Mexican Food is a landmark beloved for its beefy burritos, freshly made corn and flour tortillas, and hard tacos covered in a snowing of shredded cheese. You’re going to want to go big here: The corn burritos are a regional specialty; the more traditional burritos, when served wet, arrive drenched in enchilada sauce; and there are pints of Johnny’s long-simmered chile verde and beef colorado on offer, which you’ll want to bring home.
Today guests flock to El Tecolote not for its owl-themed decor but for generous portions in the combination plates, the show-stopping sizzle of the fajita platters, the goblet-sized margaritas and some of the best chile verde in the area — a tart, garlicky original recipe from Loza himself. Upon entering the old-school ranch-style building, check the chalkboard for specials such as chamorro.
The only thing better than a Tito’s Taco is two, or so the song goes in the restaurant’s vintage commercial. The hard-shell beef tacos have a cult following, with fans willing to stand in line at all hours. The tortillas are delivered warm from La Gloria Tortilla factory. The chuck is trimmed, chopped, cooked, seasoned and shredded before it’s loaded into a taco-folding machine that preps 1,500 tacos per hour. They’re fried to order and stuffed with freshly grated cheddar cheese and lettuce.
Mitla Café (opened in 1937) along Route 66 is a spacious, dimly lit restaurant with lamp bases shaped like cactus and syrup containers full of hot sauce on the tables. It’s kitschy and charming. It’s also a vital part of Southern California history and a rite of passage for anyone who enjoys tacos. The taquitos dorados are said to have inspired Taco Bell founder Glen Bell and his hard-shelled tacos, though the fast-food tacos are without comparison to the original.