Los Angeles, a city where more than 45% of the population is ethnically Hispanic, is (arguably) the best city in the United States to find a great taco. Thin, spongy tortillas piled with meat, cheese, onions, cilantro and salsa are the favorite late-night snack and even a daily staple for many Angelenos, whether Hispanic in origin or not. Among the city’s numerous fine taquerias, the East Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights deserves a special mention. The densely-packed neighborhood near Downtown, with a 94% Latino population, boasts some of the best hole-in-the-wall taco joints anywhere in town. From traditional offerings to more gentrified ethnic hybrid tacos, Boyle Heights is a great place to bring your appetite and your walking shoes for a spectacular taco tour.
Mi madre’s taco
Bite into a traditional pollo, cochinita or asada (that’s chicken, pork or beef, in layman’s terms) taco at La Chispa de Oro (2217 E Cesar Chavez Ave.) and you’ll get just what you expect from a family-owned Mexican restaurant in Boyle Heights: authentic food cooked by a woman who looks like the neighborhood’s mother. There’s nothing fancy here in ambiance or plating, just a handmade tortilla (larger than street taco size) and impeccably seasoned filling. She can even make cactus into a flaming-hot dish. These tacos don’t come with the ubiquitous onions and cilantro of most taquerias, but sometimes plain-and-simple is perfection. Ask for rice, beans, chips and salsa if you’re eating in, or try the mole on the side.
Taco truck tacos
Consistently ranked as the best taco truck in Los Angeles, Mariscos Jalisco (3040 E. Olympic Blvd.) boldly serves tacos and tostadas like no other. You won’t find the regular meats of the average taco truck here. Mariscos, or seafood, specializes in their name only: cold ceviches with shrimp or fish, or the same blend served warm inside a fried corn shell. The lemon, veggie and a spicy seasoning mixture finishes nicely with a couple slices of buttery avocado.
Although the truck is permanently parked on the street, there are tables and chairs inside the brick and mortar address that look shady but are probably fine for a little sit-down.
The new school taco
On a hip little corner near Mariachi Plaza, you can sample the meat, fish, tofu or veggie tacos on house-made tortillas topped with trendy kale and carrot slaw at La 1st Street Taqueria, a tiny storefront with communal seating and one lonely outside table. It’s one of Boyle Heights’ next-generation grab-and-go joints, positioned well to serve bar and art gallery patrons on the nearby strip of 1st Street that caters to the neighborhood’s Latino hipsters.
Like many old-fashioned taco joints, La 1st Street serves vampiros, or fresh-blended fruit and vegetable juices. Try La 1st Street’s signature take on the vampiro: kale, cucumber, lime, pineapple and chia seeds and drink the best 2 USD you’ve ever spent.
The artisan taco
For an upscale, homemade taco “just like Mom used to make,” stop in at Guisado’s on the corner of Cesar Chavez and St. Louis Streets. The tortillas here are a little thicker and made with yellow corn instead of white, giving them a heartier bite. The fillings are various slow-braised meats and a variety of garden-fresh vegetables and sometimes cheese.
Guisado’s offers the classic meats - chorizo (a crushed Mexican sausage), cochinita (shredded pork), beef, chicken and camarones (shrimp) - but there are also interesting vegetarian tacos with squash, mushrooms or black beans as the base filling. The vegetable variety is a great compliment to the meats, too. Don’t miss their house-made horchata, a drink made with rice milk, sugar and loads of cinnamon.
Choose your taco mood with Boyle Heights’ wide variety
Ready to dive in? A spicy and savory taco experience is only a few bites away. Follow the Metro’s gold line route along 1st Street from Mariachi Plaza to Soto Street (and circle north to Cesar Chavez to create a good radius) to find your perfect taco. Spicy to bland, vegetarian to carnivorous, Boyle Heights has a taco for every taste bud.
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