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Is This Crema-Drizzled, Aguachile-Topped Crispy Shrimp Taco in Boyle Heights the Official Taco of Summer in L.A.?

Why choose between tacos de camarón and aguachile when you can have both at the same damn time? If Sinaloanses can add mayonnaise to their ceviches, why can’t this mariscos truck from East Los add crema to their aguachile-topped tacos?

L.A.’s taco universe is alive and constantly evolving. The latest exhibition of real-time taco-ology to behold is Mariscos San Juan de Los Lagos, a low-key mariscos truck on East L.A.’s iconic Whittier Boulevard that has been earning a base of loyal followers since it first opened as a seafood trailer in 2014. 

They have made Boyle Heights’ iconic daytime taco, the taco de camarón, their own by topping it with a chopped aguachile de camarón (red or green) and a drizzle of crema. The latter of which is sure to send a feeling of skepticism if you are loyal to Mariscos Jalisco or have had the privilege of eating aguachile around Mexico’s nearly 7,000 miles of beaches. 

Crema (Mexican sour cream) on aguachile? “Just trust me, I would love to take you,” said the homie and Boyle Heights resident, Ernesto Yerena—the ‘hood-famous graphic artist who has been telling me about this truck for years. But even then, I was stubbornly against the idea of adding sour cream to aguachile. “That sort of milk n’ lime-cured seafood on a fried tortilla combo conjures up mean ol’ Tex-Mex vibes! I don’t know, dawg,” I would tell him.  

But like playing a game of mariscos chess, the strategic move actually makes sense once you think about it and, most importantly...give it a shot. Tostada de ceviche logic: If Sinaloanses can add mayonnaise to their ceviches, why can’t a chef from East Los add crema to their aguachile?

Both mayonnaise and crema perform the same duty in ceviches and aguachiles since they temper down the heat and add an appreciated layer of richness to the otherwise *light* dish. 

L.A.’s real eastside stays teeming with these flaky, golden brown, and crispy shrimp tacos. We all know them and the mariscos euphoria they immediately make you feel as soon as you take that first bite.

Their texture is somewhere between addictively crunchy and comfortingly soggy, and the amount of chopped shrimp you may get depends on your luck that day. Some days, you will strike gold with at least two to three vannamei per taco. And other times, you’ll probably get half of one. The beauty of this taco is that they are great either way. 

It’s understandable to want to add a layer of individuality to this saturated taco genre in L.A.’s Latino-heavy communities. In East, South, and Southeast Los Angeles communities as well as the Valley, nearly every single mariscos truck or restaurant with a deep-fryer offers it. 

Tacos de camarón blew up so much in these communities because it is purely a product of Los Angeles. It was created here 23 years ago by Raul Ortega, owner of Mariscos Jalisco and also born and raised in San Juan de Los Lagos, Jalisco.

L.A.’s taco de camarón as we know it takes from tacos ahogados which can be filled with anything from potatoes to chicken to shrimp, and a traditional tostada de ceviche de camarón. Both are common in San Juan de Los Lagos, an inland community of about 20,000 people located near Jalisco’s tequila country. 

“It’s been going good for us, man,” Pablo Garcia tells L.A. TACO on a Wednesday afternoon. It’s the first day of summer, and a couple of construction workers and people who work nearby all have a couple of them on their flimsy Styrofoam plates. “Those Wachas hit pretty good,” Garcia says. Wachas are the name that Pablo Garcia, the 22-year-old son of owner Gregorio Garcia, gave to this variation of the shrimp taco. “We invented these here in East Los, and people have caught on,” Pablo says.

Both Pablo and his father were born in San Juan de Los Lagos. Pablo and his mother work the truck on weekdays since his father still works as a foreman for a construction company during the week. This street-level mariscos business is his side hustle. 

Pablo is the great-nephew of the owner of Mariscos 4 Vientos, which is another taco de camarón power player in Boyle Heights. He’s been having shrimp tacos since he could first eat solid food. “We’re a bunch of generations deep in L.A.’s mariscos game,” Pablo jokes.

The Garcia’s shrimp taco variation is a peek into how assimilation works, remembering the staple dishes that raised you and finding a new way to combine them and present them to a new demographic of Boyle Heights and East L.A. residents. The community is estimated to comprise 94 percent of Latinos, many of whom are from Mexico. Why choose between tacos de camarón and aguachile when you can have both at the same damn time?

To wash it all down, Mariscos San Juan de Los Lagos offers a unique savory version of an agua preparada, prepared with seasoned shrimp stock, complete with onion and cilantro. Like their tacos, these aguas are much more delicious than they look like. 

Like Mariscos Jalisco, 4 Vientos, Correa’s Market, and any other crispy shrimp taco specialist, the Mariscos San Juan de Los Lagos recipe is a secret. But Pablo does divulge one hint: He uses tortillas from La Princesita. “The secret to a great shrimp taco is adding a lot of love to it, bro. You have to taste your food daily to make sure it’s good and always ask every customer how they liked it and how we can improve it. We just trying to see what we can do so we can blow up more, you know?”

Pablo and his mother work in their main Mariscos San Juan de Los Lagos truck from Wednesday to Monday, from 10:30 AM to 5:30 PM, at 3450 Whittier Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90023. Gregorio opens their trailer from 10:30 AM to 5:30 PM on Thursdays through Sundays at 5600 Whittier Boulevard, Commerce, CA. 90022

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