Los Angeles is a taco town, but some are in a class all their own. Consider this your checklist for the best of the best.Less
Crowning the best taco in Los Angeles is like trying to explain to that one relative that he’s texting you through his email - you can’t. But for our money, there isn’t a better all-around taco-eating experience than Mariscos Jalisco in Boyle Heights. This tiny seafood truck on an industrial stretch of Olympic Blvd. only has one taco on the menu, but it is glorious. It’s the tacos de camaron, and it’s a deep-fried shell stuffed with massive shrimp and topped with salsa and fresh avocado.
From the moment you step inside Los Cinco Puntos, it’s clear you’re in for a special experience. The deli/market in Boyle Heights is a true neighborhood institution and sells everything from cheeseburgers to breakfast burritos to hard-to-find spices and chiles, but you’re here for the tacos - and so is everyone else. The carnitas is their speciality, and while it’s some of the best we’ve had in LA, the crispy chicharron is even better.
At El Ruso, everything boils down to the tortilla. Made with flour that owner Walter Soto gets monthly from his hometown of Tijuana, these are the kind of chewy, translucent tortillas that make each bite its own euphoric experience. As far as El Ruso’s excellent mesquite-grilled meats go, the smoky carne asada is definitely our go-to. Don’t leave without getting a burrito wrapped in a sobaquera, a giant Sonoran-style tortilla and the only one of its kind in town.
If you love juicy, fat-simmered carnitas as much as we do, then there’s a good chance you’ll agree that no one does it better than Carnitas El Momo. This Boyle Heights food trailer has expanded to Monterey Park with a full counter service restaurant and at both spots, you'll be greeted by the same amazing porky aroma. Though you can order tortas and quesadillas stuffed with their carmelized Michoacan-style carnitas, the best items here are the standard tacos.
Carne asada competition is tough in LA, but Sonoratown has managed to take a tiny taqueria space in Downtown and build it into a full-on institution for Sonoran-style tacos filled with smoky grilled meats. The legendary housemade flour tortillas here melt in your mouth, and the charred steak that gets tucked inside them is tender with the exact right degree of saltiness. Our move is the caramelo, which comes topped with pinot beans, jack cheese, salsa roja, avocado, and diced cabbage.
Owned by the same family as Holbox, this busy stall inside Mercado La Paloma near USC has been serving traditional Yucatan cuisine for the past twenty years and is still going strong. You're going to want to start with their flagship cochinita pibil, sweet and savory slow-roasted pork that’s been marinated in achiote and sour orange and cooked inside a banana leaf: It's the best version in the city and the one that others are measured against.
You’ll probably smell Tacos Los Poblanos before you see it. This nighttime Tijuana-style taco stand (and Tire Shop Taqueria rival) grills its carne asada over mesquite charcoal, which sends a smoky trail wafting down Slauson Ave. Our usual order goes like this: a few asada tacos, plus a cheese-lined vampiro with chorizo if we’re hungry, then a step back to watch the taqueros thwack-thwack grilled meat with a cleaver and fling spoonfuls of salsa with acrobatic precision.
To find truly outstanding al pastor, it must come from a trompo, a hypnotic vertical rotisserie where marinated pork is shaved off in thin slices like shawarma. If you head to Tacos Los Güichos, a truck in South LA that parks at a tire shop right off the 110, you’ll know immediately you’re in the presence of al pastor royalty. Charred on the edges, embarrassingly juicy, and a touch sweet, the Mexico City-style al pastor here is unmatched.
You can’t fake a great taco al vapor, more or less because there’s simply nothing to hide behind. This purist style from Jalisco involves beef parts cooked for hours over a steam bath until they practically jiggle, paired with corn tortillas that have been warmed to a custard-like texture. And we consider Tacos El Negro, with locations in South Gate and Bell Gardens, the LA al vapor specialist.
This street-cart-turned-food-truck—which relocated from Compton to an industrial stretch of North Long Beach a couple of years ago—specializes in Sinaloa-style chorreadas, a toasted corn tortilla that’s slicked with pork fat, then topped with a mound of chopped grilled steak and a rough salsa thickened with chopped cabbage. It might look a little like a standard asada taco, but your first one will be a near-religious experience.