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‘Tacos Lionel’ Is Long Beach’s Best New Al Pastor Taquero On the Block

1:58 PM PDT on July 7, 2022

Making a sudden U-turn to check out a new taquería stand setting up shop in your neighborhood is one of the most exhilarating moments in L.A.’s Taco Life. It can go both ways real quick: The taco will either be a delicious game-changer for all your future booze-filled late nights, or just OK, the thrill of the discovery too fleeting. 

At the month-old taqueria “Tacos Lionel,” on the corner of Clark and Atherton in Eastside Long Beach, it is 1000% the former. 

Long Beach’s taco galaxy holds its own in the greater taco universe of Los Angeles county. Sitting on top is probably Barrio Cantina’s costilla asada taco, followed closely by TacoMasa’s flame-kissed charred adobada, while longtime locals swear by El Sauz’s ultra-crispy tripitas, which are undoubtedly the best thing to eat past midnight. There are even daytime tacos al vapor at El Bukanas and a contender for the best taco gobernador in L.A. at Mariscos Garage

But the one taco niche still in need of fulfillment was a good Mixe-powered al pastor (Mixe being the Indigenous people of Oaxaca’s northeast Sierra Mixe region, who have shaped L.A.’s respected al pastor culture). In the past, Pancho’s Taco Truck on Anaheim Boulevard was an acceptable contender. 

The characteristics of this Mixe-style taco are paper-thin slices of potently seasoned pork shaved right from the trompo, just like at other Mixe-powered institutions including Leo’s Tacos, Tacos Tamix, and Taquería Juquilita

The Mixe-style adobo usually has a higher amount of vinegar and dried chiles that reflects Oaxaca’s similar use of these flavors in their famed chorizo. The Mixe-powered al pastor taquería playbook usually also includes supplementary options of excellent, fatty cabeza (steamed beef head) and decent mesquite-grilled asada. 

All these taco standards are honored at Tacos Lionel.  

The founding taquero, 29-year-old Lionel Perez, learned his taco craft while working in Pachuca, Hidalgo. He arrived in Los Angeles seven years ago, where he continued his trade. He worked at a taco stand in Anaheim before branching off and opening his own stand on this sleepy corner of Long Beach. Perez is originally from Tamazulapam del Espíritu Santo, a small mountain village Oaxaca's Indigenous Mixe region. He communicates with his staff using the Mixe language. 

What immediately stands out from Tacos Lionel is its L.A.-street stand aesthetic. The generator buzzing, the thunderous and ominous tempo of Oaxaca’s regional fandango music bumping from a speaker, the GYO (grab your own) salsas, the vitrolero (jugs) full of aguas frescas, the onions caramelized in the combined drippings of all the meats, the hastily sliced juicy cucumbers and peppery radishes, the smoke from the mesquite used to make the asada—these are “street tacos,” as some people like to call them, that are textbook-perfect. 

After just a month of serving tacos, six days a week (Lionel is closed on Mondays), they already have their regulars, mostly consisting of families going out to eat from the suburbs a block away, nurses from the nearby VA Hospital stopping on their way home from work, and slowly, more of Long Beach’s taco-obsessed as word spreads 

Despite their much-needed taco service to the community, Lionel tells L.A. TACO they have already dealt with two incidents: 

In their second week, an older man walking a dog shouted at them to leave his neighborhood before kicking over their grill that was filled with hot coals. Lionel’s customers intervened and called LBPD, and the man has not returned. 

Then, just last week, an owner from a nearby non-taco brick and mortar business also confronted Lionel, accusing him of “stealing his customers,” despite Lionel’s conscious opening only once the nearby strip mall’s restaurants are closed. 

Nonetheless, Lionel always returns the next day, ready to serve tacos to greater numbers of Long Beach residents caught by the flaming new trompo on the block before deciding to make that same fateful U-turn and give “Tacos Lionel” a shot.  

Tacos Lionel, E. Atherton Street and Clark Avenue. Closed Mondays. Open 5 PM to midnight on weekdays and 5 PM to 1 AM on Friday and Saturday

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