Colonia Taco Lounge – La Puente, CA – Really Amazing Tacos

IMG_3683-001

IMG_3699-001

It was a nice day for a drive, so I persuaded my friend Leili to make the trip to La Puente for what I promised would be some of the best tacos in Southern California… We weren’t disappointed. Forewarned that it was basically a bar that served tacos, we weren’t surprised to find a big, sparsely decorated room with the menu choices written on a blackboard. And we felt immediately at home by the friendly service.

These are not your abuelita’s tacos. I started with the duck taco – how can you beat duck confit with a smoky guacamole? The full, rich flavor of the duck was remarkable, beautifully enhanced by the complex tastes hidden in the sauce, and I was convinced it would be my favorite of the day. Leili was craving the potato tacos – believe it or not, there were 2 choices. One crispy with mashed potatoes, rajas and crema, and the other stacked with layers of crisply fried potato slices and cheese.

We kept ordering until we couldn’t fit another taco into our mouths. We didn’t try all of the 15 tacos on the menu, but we came embarrassingly close. I decided my favorites were the braised beef and the deep fried cauliflower (both pictured here), and Leili stayed with her original instincts, and voted for the crispy mashed potato taco.

We finished off with bunuelos – lightly toasted tortillas dredged in sugar and cinnamon – and coffee, and chatted well into the afternoon, celebrating that great feeling of having made a great food discovey.

IMG_3682-001

Here’s the address: 13030 E. Valley Blvd., La Puente, (626) 363-4691

Advertisements

Tacos Punta Cabras – Scallop Tacos

IMG_2365-001

IMG_2357-001

With the grandfathered exception of The Border Grill, I never expected to find serious tacos in Santa Monica. Out for a walk on Santa Monica Boulevard, though, I had a feeling about this small, casual spot, and decided to give it a try. It also helped that I was hungry at the time.

The menu is very specialized, in the form of an order sheet with boxes to check. Tacos are limited to fish, scallop, shrimp and tofu. There are also seafood cocktails and tostadas. And that’s kind of it. They give special consideration to gluten and nut allergies.

I went for a fish taco and a scallop taco. There were no surprises when they arrived, basically baja style tacos with fried fish and scallops, shredded cabbage and a dash of crema on soft tortillas. The surprise came when I took my first bite. Perfectly cooked, beautifully balanced flavors and wonderful textures, these aren’t the quick comfort food we’ve come to expect of tacos…

This is serious food!

Here’s the address: 2311 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90404
Phone: (310) 917-2244

Tacomiendo – West L.A. – Chanclas and Potato Tacos

IMG_1769

IMG_1774-001

IMG_1778-001

I recently saw an article in which Tacomiendo’s potato taco was ranked near the top of all tacos in the United States. Located in a dreary West Los Angeles (not a notorious hot-bed of Mexican food!) strip shopping center, located between a dry-cleaner and a car repair shop, I had my doubts. In fact, I condescendingly assumed the writer had never had a potato taco before, and once he (or she) experienced the magical combination of mashed potatoes and crispy fried tortillas, declared it to be the best in the country. Today I tried it for myself, and haven’t changed my mind about the reviewer’s experience level. Don’t get me wrong – it was a perfectly presented, extremely tasty potato taco, and I will certainly order it again, but it’s not noteworthy on a national level.

What I found more interesting was an item called a Chancla. While I stood in line, I looked it up on the internet, and learned that it seems to come from the Puebla region south of Mexico City, and that it is widely subject to interpretation. A chancla is a flip-flop sandal, and what I received did resemble footwear in way. It was beautifully fried masa stuffed with black bean paste, sort of a larger version of a Salvadoran pupusa. It was covered with a spicy red salsa, and topped with carne asada, cilantro and crumbled cheese.

It was sort of a pizza experience, but very, very Mexican… and very, very tasty.

Here’s the address: 11462 W Gateway Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

Phone: (310) 481-0804

Shrimp Tacos – Mariscos El Jato – East Los Angeles

IMG_1420

IMG_1425-001

I spotted this East LA seafood restaurant on a Sunday afternoon a couple of months ago. The reason I noticed it was the large number of customers, but that was the very reason that kept me from trying it that day. They were just too busy. I was in the neighborhood today, and had much better luck.

The menu has photos of the food, and my mind was made up the moment I saw the 5 Tacos de Camarón con Ensalada. It turned out to be 5 huge tacos buried under slices of avocado and a sour cream cole slaw. The tacos were filled with grilled shrimp that seemed to be lightly breaded, and a dash of pico de gallo, fried until they were crispy. I rarely encounter a crunchy taco, but the robust combination of seafood flavor, textures and even the warm and cool temperatures delivered on the promise I had seen in the photo.

I spoke with the owner, El Jato himself, a friendly, outgoing native of San Juan de los Lagos, Jalisco, near Guadalajara. He told me that he created most of the dishes on the menu, and all of the plates I saw whizzing past me looked delicious. I saw beautiful tilapia fried whole, gigantic fish tacos, and big seafood-cocktailish looking dishes called chavelas.

So there are at least three more visits in my future, before I go for a repeat on the shrimp tacos.

Here’s the address: 2936 E. 4th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90033

Phone: (323) 264-6590

National Taco Day

IMG_9600

The LA Weekly magazine tells me it’s National Taco Day, and they list their 20 favorite tacos in Los Angeles. I’ve only had 7 of them – many of the establishments are trucks – but from what I can tell, these guys really know their tacos. Meanwhile, here are a few recent favorites of mine… unfortunately not in Los Angeles.

Here’s the LA Weekly link: http://blogs.laweekly.com/squidink/2013/10/tacos_los_angeles.php

IMG_9546-001

IMG_0117-001

Tacos – The Real Thing

IMG_9546-001

IMG_9543-001

Some years ago, I was telling a friend about my passion for the wonderful tacos I was discovering all over Los Angeles. When he told me he didn’t like tacos because he didn’t like the hard, toasted tortillas they came on, I was mystified. I had never heard of a taco with a hard shell. Later, I learned that some of the old-school taco places in LA serve them that way, to appeal to unsophisticated American tastes. I guess they’re tasty enough in their own right, but they are NOT the real thing.

Dave Miller recently did a piece on tacos in his great blog: Dave Miller’s Mexico. Here is his list of 5 ways you can tell if your taco isn’t really Mexican:

(The photos are from my favorite taquería in Tijuana, Tacos El Gordo… They are most definitely the real thing.)

1. If the beans on that combo plate you ordered are covered in triangles of yellow cheese or the grated four cheese blend you can get at your corner market, you won’t find it south of the border. I have never seen a Mexican variety of yellow cheese. Cheese in Mexico is usually white and if it is served on beans, tends to the crumbly queso fresco type.

2. If your tacos come with any of the following, ground beef, lettuce, tomato slices, grated cheese, yellow wax paper or even turkey, you are not in Mexico. Tacos come with onions and cilantro in Mexico. They are also made with steak and all the other parts of the cow or pig, but never have I seen a taco filled with ground beef.

3. If you can order shrimp, chicken, steak or any other type of fajitas, you won’t be finding that plate in too many taco stands or restaurants in Mexico. Sorry folks, as wonderful as fajitas can be, I’ve never seen fajitas in Mexico. I’m sure they are served somewhere in that great country, but this is a dish popularized by the Orange County restaurant chain El Torito in the 1980’s.

4. When you ask for salsa and the spiciest option you get is Amor or Tapatio bottled sauce, you certainly are not ordering your food in Guadalajara. In Mexico, we love our chiles. Habañeros, jalapeños, serranos and chiles de agua, we love them all, and expect to experience these tastes in, and on our food. Unfortunately, the American palette is not ready for this type of experience so we mostly get a tomato blend spiced up with a little bit of pepper.

5. Finally, when you walk in the door, if the first thing that greets you is a wall of sombreros or a chile in a beach chair, you can bet you’re gonna get a lot of that yellow cheese covered stuff. The derivative here is that if you see folks getting drunk wearing mariachi hats and dancing like loons, you are more likely in Papas-n-Beer or On the Border than a traditional Mexican restaurant.

Here’s a link to Dave’s blog: http://davemillersmexico.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/faux-mexican-five-ways-to-know-your-combo-plate-may-be-wonderful-but-not-available-in-mexico/

Guisados – Los Angeles – Duck Confit Tacos

IMG_8811-001

IMG_8816-001

Here’s one you don’t see every day… duck confit tacos.

Now that the East LA Meets Napa fundraising event for AltaMed is nearly 2 months ago, I can admit that this was the best thing I tasted that evening. I’m a fan of Armando De La Torre’s Boyle Heights and Silverlake restaurants, as you can see from my previous posts. Never shy to make tacos with unexpected ingredients, Armando outdid himself with this combination. Duck confit, cucumber chile, and duck chicharron (!) were balanced wonderfully with a reduction of jamaica (the hibiscus tea, not the island.)

It was a great night of food and wine, and these tacos stood out in a field of truly delicious dishes.

Here’s the website: http://www.guisados.co/