Los Angeles is a city obsessed with tacos. One of our most beloved taco stands has a James Beard award. When taco trucks were threatened by city bureaucracy a few years ago, angry Angelenos took to the streets and the internet with the slogan "CARNE ASADA IS NOT A CRIME!" And even with the rise of the gourmet food truck, taco trucks and roach coaches remain indispensable. This is not a comprehensive guide, just some of my favorite places in central L.A. that serve authentic tacos, burritos, and other Mexican street delights.
What other Mexican taco shack can claim a James Beard award? Yes, Yuca's is the grand abuelita of taco shacks in Hollywood. You can't go wrong with the tacos, but I recommend the burritos, especially the pork and green chile. The slow-cooked pinto beans (never refried) have a creamy, earthy flavor that takes me back to the comfort food of my childhood. The cheeseburger is surprisingly one of the best in a town obsessed with gourmet burgers (the secret is that the grill infuses the patties with all the flavor of the carne asada). Go on the weekends and say hello to Socorro, the original owner, as she takes order from her longtime stool.
Cactus #1 was the first taco shack I've found in Hollywood that served authentic al pastor. I've been coming here for over 10 years now and it just keeps on getting better. Anything with al pastor is fantastic - tacos, burritos, quesadillas. They've expanded their menu to include sopes and tostadas. The tortas are also outstanding. They're open until 3am on weeknights and 4am on the weekends.
Tacos Delta is grossly unappreciated by the hipsters who have moved into trendy Sunset Junction. This is a fine taco shack that dishes amazing breakfast chilaquiles and sopes without any pretension. Unlike other taco places, Tacos Delta also serves birria and menudo. My friend raves about the shrimp taco.
El Jalapeño is a taco shack that caters to those with a palate oriented toward the more adventurous tacos: lengua (beef tongue), buche (pork stomach), and cabeza (beef head). The suadero (beef brisket) is also really spectacular, as well as the alambres, which is meat sauteed with peppers and onions.
The reason Machos Tacos is on the list is simply because of their vegetarian options. First, the chile relleno burrito is the best I've ever had outside of my mother's. Second, the sweet potato taquitos hold up against any other taquito in town. Third, they serve the tacos with guacamole, which give the tacos a creamy, healthy flavor. And in the tradition of taco shacks in L.A., Machos is located right next to a car wash.
You'd be foolish to order anything other than tacos al pastor at a taco shack called Tacos Al Pastor. Just the wonderful aroma of the pork roasting on a rotating spit should be enough to convince you. If you do venture to other items on the venue, stick to pork and get the carnitas in sope or huarache form - the masa is deliciously fried and the meat is moist and flavorful.
In a storefront with room only for a kitchen and a soda-filled cooler, Tacos Villa Corona serves tacos and burritos to the Atwater community. The breakfast burrito is the star here - 2 eggs, chorizo, potatoes, and salsa por favor. The place is tourist and hipster-laden after Anthony Bourdain visited several years back, but the hype is much deserved. The beloved stand is family owned and cult-worthy. I've seen their bumper stickers on the road long before I tried their food.
Guisado's is a family run taco shack in Echo Park. This is as "dressed up" as tacos should ever get. The handmade masa tortillas are thick and more flavorful than anywhere else - they are more than just a vessel for meat. The chicharron, the steak picado, and the cheese tacos are all fantastic. The sampler is the way to go for a good cross-section of the tacos, and you can mix and match. Oh, and if you're craving something spicy, the chiles torreados taco ought to take care of that craving for good. Good thing they serve horchata to help you put out that fire.
Tacos Leo is a taco truck parked to the side of a 76 gas station. From the first time I laid eyes on rotating spit of pastor at Tacos Leo, I knew I would be in heaven. Don't be distracted by the theatrics as the cook slices the caramelized pineapple into the air and catches it in your taco, these are some of the best al pastor tacos you'll ever eat in L.A. And they're only a $1.
As of right now, El Chato is serving the best authentic tacos in central L.A. The flavors of the al pastor instantly transport me back to Michocan - where my father is from. The tacos are the perfect proportion of tortilla, meat, and toppings and all for $1 each. Really though, what raises this taco above the others is that savory chile de arbol salsa. It's glorious.