Unless you live in the neighborhood or someone told you about it, you would probably never know of the home-cooked sazón waiting for you inside Uruapan Taco.
The taquería has absolutely no online presence and even if you managed to spot it while driving down El Segundo Boulevard in Compton, its outer walls, scarred by layers of graffiti and buffing paint, hide the truth about what’s inside this tagged-up community gem: some of the best burritos in L.A.
Hear us out.
Inside, a long display case holds all the enticing stews. Those from southern Zacatecas would quickly draw a comparison to the state's world-famous Burritos de Moyahua. But these are guisados Michoacános. They range from tripas en salsa roja, carnitas, and chile verde to chiles rellenos and chicharrón, all fogging up the display glass protecting them. The carnitas come out last, after 9 a.m., and if you order them in a taco, one may be more than you can handle.
“Esto es comida, no chingaderas” (This is food, not f*ckery), one gardener walking through the door tells his friend as he introduces him to the place. And truly this is. These are unapologetic flavors that proudly embrace freshly rendered lard rather than omit it shamefully. You won’t taste fake seasoning in the rice or any cheap restaurant flavor tricks in the food. These are the flavors of matriarchal Mexico, not in a gourmet way, with no gimmickry, and no shortcuts. These are bold sazónes made of chiles and chingonas intended to fix your soul, not comfort it.
When it comes to the coveted "best burritos" title, there are a few things to consider. We are crazy for Burritos La Palma as much as the next taco-obsessed person is, but no matter how many times we try to tell someone, "This is an authentic burrito like how they make them in Mexico!" Most followers of L.A.'s Taco Life still want your old-school gut-busting variety. For that crowd, and the community of workers who frequent this place, it's all about the nuances and details in the rice, beans, tortilla, salsas, and yes that guisado. All of which combine here to make you really take a moment to admire it.
Across the back wall, a woman is making the lard they use from scratch in one large pot while also scooping shovel-sized spatulas filled with scrambled eggs from one giant pot into another filled with machaca in a bright chile rojo broth.
On this gloomy morning, not even 5 minutes would pass by before another set of customers walked in shaking their rain-soaked shoes at the front door before ordering a burrito.
Each customer was greeted with a “¿Qué va a llevar hoy?” “What are you getting today?” from one of the women behind the steamy counter. “Un burrito con poquitos frijoles,” “A burrito with a few beans” gestured one customer, while the man next to him said to hold off on the cheese. The two teased each other for being picky and precise with their order as the lady filled and folded their burritos in front of them.
But what gives this literal hole-in-the-wall a special touch is the five women that make up the restaurant's kitchen. The sight of the women is reminiscent of seeing your tías cooking in the kitchen the morning after a big family party. One tía is preparing your food while the other fans the cacophony of pleasant aromas with every flip over the comal serving only to tease your already hungry self. Most of them have worked there for more than 10 years with the exception of a few who recently joined them.
Uruapan has been open for over 30 years and although they do sell tacos it is most known for its hefty burritos. At the head of the kitchen is Marianela Alvarado, the Michoacán home cook that has worked at Uruapan almost as long as the restaurant has been open.
“Si, llevo 33 anos,” “I have 33 years here,” she said shyly. She was there when the taquerías original founders from Michoacán taught her the recipes. She saw the taquería sold to one Korean man before ending up in the hands of the current Korean owner. She’s been the one constant behind the guisados.
Alvarado takes pride in her work. She wakes up every day at 4 A.M. to prepare all the guisados, meats, and salsas before opening the doors at 8 A.M. And throughout the day, her cooking never stops; almost every hour, they fill their containers up with a new batch of guisos.
She told L.A. TACO that she credits the food they make and their customers for the restaurant's popularity. Although it recently went viral on TikTokand on Foos Gone Wild Instagram for its outside appearance. She said they’ve always been popular among the community for their burritos, and not for the graffiti. Alvarado said the owners who are Korean have painted over the graffiti several times but as soon as it's painted, the graffiti returns, however, that’s never affected their business.
She remembers that while others struggled during the pandemic, Uruapan maintained its steady flow of foot traffic and maintained busy thanks to its 'hood famous sazón.
“We don't have social media. People find out about us by word of mouth, one client tells another, and so on,” she said in Spanish as she stood in the kitchen, different-sized pots hanging behind her ready to be used. “Once they come to try the food, they don't stop coming.”
She said she did see the TikTok video that went viral and did take the time to read to comments, and she wasn't pleased.
“No me gustaron porque decían que parecía que teníamos cucarachas y eso no es cierto, mira somos muy limpios,” she said while giving L.A. TACO a tour of the kitchen. "I didn't like them because they said it looked like we had cockroaches, and that's not true. Look, we're very clean."
She then laughed a little when she said she didn't understand the comments that suggested you could only enter if you had high socks. “Hablan en codigo, no se,” she said smiling still a bit confused. “They are talking in code, I don't know.”
But she insists that all you need to go to Uruapan is an empty stomach and an open mind.
“We want to serve people good quality food, and the owner makes sure to get good meat and products; we do the rest here in the kitchen,” she said. “I just want to make sure people know this because I know the outside might not look as nice but that’s something we can’t control.”
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