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This Hidden Truck In SELA Has Some of L.A.’s Best Carne Asada

5:03 PM PST on January 14, 2022

    The cold, hard truth about eating tacos in Los Angeles after extensively eating your way through Mexico is that you will eventually start to realize the differences between the American taco way of life and the Mexican taco way of life real quick. 

    The former tends to switch out freshness for convenience or quality for cost-effectiveness; it’s an understandable tradeoff for the greater good. The reality is that it is good enough to appease most taco lovers. But for the genuinely taco-obsessed, the taco snobs, and anyone who is fortunate enough to eat tacos aquí y alla, it does get harder to achieve that sense of tortilla, meat, and salsa state of euphoria.

    In L.A., I am ecstatic to report that the list of taquerías achieving this boss-level mastery of tacos seems to be growing every year. El Ruso, Los Dorados LA, Sonoratown, Ditroit, just to name a few, sit at the top of this list. These are the kind of legendary taco spots where you can take someone visiting from Mexico, and they would be hard-pressed to find anything worth talking masa about. 

    And now, L.A. TACO is recognizing new taquero to reach this transnational excellence: Tacos La Carreta, specializing in Sinaloa-style carne asada tacos. 

    José Manuel Morales Bernal has been flying low in south and southeast L.A.’s taco scene for seven years now, selling tacos everywhere from Compton to Paramount to Bellflower to the current super industrial location in the far north region of Long Beach where he now parks his taco truck. 

    What makes La Carreta float among L.A.’s sea of amazing taqueros is Morales’s hyper-focus on asada. It is the only carne the young taquero carries on the menu, and its heavenly smell attracts those who know what’s up to come from all corners of the County. On a Thursday evening, there was a mamalona at the end of the street attempting to do donuts while a group of four tacuaches recorded, laughed, and ate tacos off their own flatbed. There were families showing up who ordered a jumbo-sized cup of La Carreta’s toasty, sweet agua de cebada (like horchata, but made with toasted ground barley flour instead of rice; a Sinaloan specialty) for everyone in the family. Other taco-loving vatos who excelled in parallel-parking their lowered cars with pronounced spoilers would greet Morales. “Al 100, viejo! Gracias.” 

    Everyone flocks to La Carreta for their simple tacos, chorreadas, vampiros, quesadillas, “papas locas,” and their amazing toritos. But deeper than that, they return to La Carreta for reliably juicy meat, thanks to Morales’s dedication to mesquite-grilling only sirloin steak for his asada. No thinly sliced chuck, known as diesmillo, in sight. Diesmillo is more affordable and tends to be the norm at most L.A. taquerías also, and while undoubtedly delicious when smothered in salsa, it is known to be tougher and more gristly in texture. “A mi no me gusta el diesmillo!” Morales says very matter-of-factly. In Mexico’s northern states, bringing diesmillo instead of arrachera (flap meat or “ranchera” cut) or sirloin can be a point of pride and class. There are memes in Mexican pop-culture accounts that make fun of the homie who shows up to a carne asada with a pack of diesmillo but is the first to eat all the arrachera.    

    “A great taco really is all about the quality of meat and the salsa,” Morales says. 

    For him, tacos are also a family duty and cultural obligation. While he was born and raised in Paramount, Morales goes back to Sinaloa often. Specifically, to where his family is from: El Verde Concordia, a municipality of about 1,000 people about an hour away from Mazatlán known for it being an incubator of working-class taqueros and taqueras. The small town recently holds the record for making the “largest carne asada taco” in Sinaloa. Morales’s father is also a taquero, continuing his lineage. He just got back from a trip there, actually, hence his tacos tasting so damn good right now. 

    An ideal order at La Carreta is a chorreada, which are two crisped-up tortillas layered with delicious asiento (toasted lard drippings that taste like browned butter and carnitas, combined), cheese, and that magnificent juicy asada. Then a vampiro, which are similar, but with no asiento and instead dressed with a creamy dressing, a papa loca, which is a “crazy” baked potato filled carne asada, cheese, and sour cream, and lastly a Torito, which is an absolutely beautiful charred Anaheim chile that is butterflied, and layered with a scant amount of cheese and asada. 

    The tiny details Morales puts into his tacos don’t get enough love. Like the fact that instead of dipping his tortillas in oil to toast them, he instead uses a fatty piece of beef like a paintbrush to gently brush each and every tortilla, boosting each tortilla with an added dose of beefy umami as they crisp up. Also, Morales does not serve cilantro on his tacos. Instead, he super finely shreds cabbage as it is done in Sinaloa. This adds a nice vegetal contrast and makes it a valuable rare taco in L.A. that all those people who were born with taste buds that perceive cilantro as “soapy” can safely feast on. Lastly, the salsa is not watered down. 

    By the way, Morales’s tortillas are from the family-owned Diana’s Tortillas also out SELA.

    When he’s not making amazing tacos worth making a destination out of, he is a DIY importer of Sinaloan and Sonoran products such as frozen pen shell clams known as “callo de hacha,” chiltepin dried chiles, frozen jumbo shrimp, frozen ahi tuna “medallones” (medallions) and sacks on sacks of dried beef floss that is the base of a true machaca, a popular northern Mexican-style guisado. Homesick Sinaloans are known to come for tacos and leave with handfuls of clams as a souvenir and reminder of home.      

    Morales is a full-time taquero, but he is only open from Thursday to Sunday night. He has big dreams of having a few locations soon. "El sol sale para todos," Morales says, relying on the powerful Mexican dicho that is as full of wisdom as his tacos are full of juicy steak to guide him through his career.

    Tacos La Carreta is at 3401 E. 69th St., Long Beach, (562) 377-2819. Follow them on Instagram to find out approximate hours for the day you plan to visit.

    All photos by Memo Torres. 

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