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Azulé Taqueria: At Long Last, Good Tacos on Third Street Promenade

11:52 AM PDT on March 19, 2019

[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]zulé Taqueria on the Santa Monica Promenade has the feel of a modern taco shop crafted by committee. Everything about the place says, “These are going to be better than the tacos you would expect in a tourist-trafficked shopping center heavy with people that think Chipotle rules.”

And in this mission, Azulé doesn’t let one down. Tacos come on single, coaster-sized corn tortillas, flavorful and supple, if a little greasy. And each is assertively spiced. The recipes aren’t traditional, reading more fabricated and premeditated than time-treasured. But crucially, the flavors are forceful enough to make Azulé’s tacos a standout among other fast casual options in the area.

So here we are.

All photos by Hadley Tomicki.

It’s 2019 it still feels like an oxymoron seeing the words “good tacos” and “Third Street Promenade” together in a sentence. It conjures thoughts of eating at the tourist trap mall and still see the ghost of La Salsa. Then we get scared. But a lot has changed in the neighborhood over the last decade.

In this time, Santa Monica Place opened and closed two Richard Sandoval concepts. Border Grill finally kicked the bucket. Loteria closed its Promenade location. So did La Salsa. A fresh crop of posh taco spots like Blue Plate and the revised Punta Cabras sprouted up along the adjoining avenues. And Chipotle opened an experimental Vietnamese concept in the shell of that old La Salsa.

Fancy hotels can be counted on to have fish tacos on their lunch menus now. University meat markets throw Taco Tuesdays. Guy Fieri even started a taco place. If you think about it, the taco — for better or worse — has become a beacon promoting beachy, carefree Westside indulgence as much as it serves as vital, urban Eastside sustenance.

Which brings us to Azulé Taqueria. The shop opened last October by K2 Restaurants, owners of the food court in which you’ll find it: right between the Voltaggio Brothers’ fish sandwich stand and a pizza joint from Jeremy Fall.

The space feels like it was meant to ring millennial bells and generate maximum social media exposure through the muy marketable powers of the taco. There’s an Instagrammable fake beach scene with a little swing for selfies that should remind any guests who helped to kill Tulum of their last trip to the Yucatan. White-washed, shabby chic shelves with cacti and a clock blaring "TACO" frame the employee taking orders.

RELATED: L.A. Taco Podcast: Discussing Filming Locations of 'Heat' ~ Trying Macheen's Mole Fries

[dropcap size=big]S[/dropcap]ure, it’s all a little staged, but it’s not without its charm. Cutesy taco names like “Beach Barbacoa” and “Wild & Free” are offered, along with a couple of vegan options and jicama proxies for your tortillas, completing the picture.

The barbacoa is a juicy bale of braised, shredded beef accented by little else than pickled onions and salty queso fresco. The pork belly centers on a massive slab of caramelized meat heavily tinged with the taste of charred pineapple and roasted garlic aioli.

A “Pollo Rico” taco benefits from the prominent taste of chargrilled meat under a creamy mass of onion and poblano strips. The combinations are clever while still allowing the central products to stand out, achieving some degree of balance amid their myriad toppings. A mahi-mahi taco is concentrated with the flavors of the sea despite Baja-style implements. Vegan options – like a cauliflower pastor and a cactus taco with pistachio pistou – appear to amplify, not obscure, their bases. Indeed, nothing feels overdone or overly sauced.

Conceivably, there are different tacos for different times of one’s life. Tacos you want to eat in a shower of headlights after a hard day’s labor. Tacos you crave beachside, sipping a shitty beer made a little less shitty with lime. Tacos you make at home with your family. Tacos you crave on a candlelit date, debating Kierkegaard while balancing a stem of Château Haut-Brion in your hand.

The tacos at Azulé might be far from the city’s, or even the neighborhood’s, very best. Hell, a location of Teddy’s Red Tacos just opened down the road in Venice. Nor are they tacos I would recommend crossing town for. But at a certain time of life, in the midst of flip-flop shopping or humoring guests with a tour of the Pier, Azulé might be just the right beachside taqueria for the moment.

Azulé Taqueria ~ Gallery Food Hall at Third Street Promenade ~ (310) 598-5598

RELATED: In Defense of the $5 Taco: It's Time to Embrace Our New Reality

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