Where LA’s Top Chefs Like to Eat Tacos

Written by
Gustavo Arellano at Hot Taco in Santa Ana (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

This week on Good Food we are celebrating Cinco de Mayo with a look at the history of the taco in Southern California. We asked LA’s top chefs what their favorite Mexican haunts are and why. Here is what they said…

Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, Chef/Owners Animal
Jon and Vinny’s favorites are La Abeja, Loteria and La Superica in Santa Barbara.

Michael Voltaggio, Chef/Owner Ink and Ink Sack
Ricky’s Fish Tacos. He says “The foundation of Ricky’s cooking is a combination of tradition and great ingredients.  If you’re lucky enough to try one before he runs out, it’s worth the trek.”

David Myers Chef/Owner Comme Ca
I am partial to La Isla Bonita Taco Truck on Rose Avenue in Venice because it is local and convenient. They have great beef tongue tacos.

David LeFevre, Chef/Owner MB Post
I go to Loteria Grill at the Farmers’ Market and always order the Pollo en Pipian Rojo Tacos and The Carnitas Pibil. I like the open air feel to the place and the combinations rock. The pepitas and peanut sauce on the chicken tacos are nice and the pork roasted in the banana leaf add a tropical feel to the citrus and habenero.

Chef Perfecto Rocher, Chef Lazy Ox Canteen
The cocktel mixto at La Playita in Venice and the fish tacos and enchiladas at La Fiesta Brava are my favorite Mexican dishes! The fish is fresh, the flavors are clean and very good.

Chef John Sedlar, Chef/Owner Rivera and Playa
Guisados rocks for me. It’s on Cesar Chavez Blvd in Boyle Heights. I dream of Chef Armando’s tacos stuffed with regional Mexican braises, barbacoas and sautes and man-oh-man those handmade corn tortillas!!

Karen and Quinn Hatfield/ Chef/Owners of Hatfield’s

We like a few different places around town, but mostly stick close to home. I love going to El Compadre on Sunset. It’s been in Hollywood forever and it’s rad. If you want Mexican food in an really fun, old-school setting, it’s a great place. They have awesome margaritas and I normally get something like the enchiladas when I’m there. For Mexican breakfast, Quinn likes Teres. They have a really great choizo and eggs. For tacos, we normally head to King Taco or El Chato, the taco truck that’s stationed at La Brea and Olympic. Quinn loves to get traditional beef tacos at El Chato and at King Taco, he’s fond of the Cabeza tacos.

Keep reading for recommendations from Chefs Zach Pollack & Steve Samson of Sotto, Kris Yenbamroong of NIGHT+MARKET, Casey Lane of Tasting Kitchen, DJ Olsen of Lou Wine Bar, Christian Page of Short Order, our very own Evan Kleiman and the cooks of Lucques, Tavern and Hungry Cat…

Chefs Zach Pollack & Steve Samson, Chef/Owners Sotto
The Pescado zarandeado and shrimp aguachiles at Mariscos Chente; Gorditas at Taqueria Sanchez; and Clayudas and Mezcal at Guelaguetza are our go-to’s.

Kris Yenbamroong, Chef/Owner NIGHT+MARKET
The place that moves me the most right now is Los Cinco Puntos right next to Evergreen Cemetery. Meat in a paper bag is probably one of my favorite things ever and if I’m hungry, I’ll come here and buy a half pound or so of chicharones. Then I’ll get a handful of those thick tortillas they make and a 16 oz tub each of salsa and guacamole. And that’ll be my lunch. I end up not really using the tortillas because I’m mostly interested in dipping ripped bits of chicharon in guacamole and salsa, alternating back and forth between the two.

Casey Lane, Chef/Owner Tasting Kitchen
I like the Mole Enchiladas at El Carmen on 3rd Street in West Hollywood. It’s a super cool spot, low key but fun and the perfect bitter spicy mole!

DJ Olsen, Chef Lou Wine Bar
I’ve been going to Baja Bud’s for…Mein Gott!.. twenty years!! It bills itself as fresh and healthy Mexican food. It’s kind of Baja-style. I love how cleanly everything is prepared, and how clean the the place is; it’s spotless, the inherent flavor of good ingredients, good quality meats and seafood, everything grilled. I especially love their simple black beans and carnitas (which is done dry-style, my preference) and the grilled fish tacos (they use Pacific snapper). It’s my go to. It makes me happy!

Chef Christian Page, Chef Short Order
My favorite Mexican restaurant is Yxta in the arts district/skid row downtown–Jesse Gomez uses good ingredients and classic preparations. My favorite item there is the Chuleta de Puerco en Chile Verde–a Salmon Creek pork chop with salsa verde, queso cotija, chipotle mash, and grilled corn.

Suzanne Goin/David Lentz, Lucques, AOC, Tavern, Hungry Cat
*Suzanne and David cheated a little and asked their best Mexican cooks where they like to eat tacos…but we’re ok with that!

Javier Espinoza, Chef de Cuisine at Lucques
I love La Parilla in Boyle Heights.  They have the best hand made tortillas.  The tortilla station is in the middle of the restaurant so you get a big whiff of tortilla smell as soon as you open the door.
I also love La Indiana in East LA for tomales.  I personally think they make the best pork, beef and cheese Tamales in LA. They also sell great salsas and the best cactus and beef mole….just like momma!
Guisados for tacos in Boyle Heights and Teresitas on 1st Street. Teresita and her family cook up the most authentic food from Zacatecas.

Rodolfo Aguado–Chef of Lucques Catering
Daniel’s Tacos at 7956 Vineland Ave in Sun Valley. They have hand made tortillas and I love the chile relleno with chicharrones salsa….and their al pastor tacos.

Mario Garcia–Sous-Chef of Lucques Catering and the Larder at Maple Drive
I love the taco truck on La Brea and Pico! I don’t know if it has a name or not, but they have al pastor cooking all night on Saturdays. There’s an onion and pineapple at the top of the spit grilling too. It’s lovely. That’s my favorite place. It’s there every night, but on Saturday nights they bring out the spit, the onion and the pineapple. I also order the alambres, which is a plate of peppers, onions, carne asada, and oaxacan cheese. They also have tripas which are so good when served crispy. It’s at the Northwest corner of the street right behind a 76 gas station.

And last but not least, Good Food’s very own Evan Kleiman

For me Cinco Puntos at Cesar Chavez and the Evergreen Cemetary is neck in neck with El Toro in Orange County.  They both have tortillerias and make tons of carnitas every day.  Any taco you get at either place is perfectly satisfying and packed with flavor.  The chips at El Toro are so thick and masa-y chewing them is like eating meat. Of the two places Cinco Puntos probably wins on the tortillas. El Toro has a city block with a huge carniceria, grocery and a “deli” where they pack their Tacos de Carnitas so full you can reassemble them into at least 2 more tacos.  Their Guacamole and Salsa Rojo totally rock and their Chiccharrones are so huge if you added legs to one of the slabs it could be an edible coffee table.

That said, the place I take everyone who visits LA is the Mariscos Jalisco truck parked on Whittier in East LA.  The shrimp tacos are like crunchy pillows of happiness.