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The Best Mexican Food in South Central L.A. ~ The L.A. Taco Guide

Barbacoa Estilo Hidalgo in South Central. Photo by Cesar Hernandez.

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he pulse of this city’s food scene runs on Mexican food and South Central has some of L.A.’s best. What’s most interesting is the various regional styles of Mexican food here. You can find northern Mexican cuisine like Tijuana-style tacos, which includes birria de res, or barbacoa that comes from the more central regions of Mexico like Hidalgo or Taxco, while Poncho’s Tlayuda’s covers Oaxaca from the southern region.

The only issue is that South Central is huge and it can be difficult to maneuver through so many choices. I had many bad tacos while building this list, but I’m here to share the good stuff. South Central has such a food culture that gets overshadowed. The neighborhood offers virtually every major taco food-group, at high-quality and high-value, making South Central truly one of L.A.’s major gateways to Mexican food.

If you live in South Central, this is a reminder that you reside amid a bounty of some of the best Mexican food in town. And if are passing through or really pursuing the purest taco tastes in L.A. city limits, here is a guide for a proper crawl.

Tacos los Guichos. All photos by Cesar Hernandez.
tacos los guichos

Al Pastor

Tacos Los Guichos is one of the kings of al pastor and their domain is a tire shop right next to the 110 freeway. They take their al pastor so seriously that you get the tacos from the person manning the trompo. The sound of the raging fire licking the bright red trompo is mesmerizing. At the trompo station, taqueros will prepare your tacos with a specific red salsa tailored to the al pastor flavors. Bonus: On the weekend, there is a great churro vendor, so dinner and dessert is taken care of.

Taqueria Vista Hermosa.

Located in Mercado La Paloma, Taqueria Vista Hermosa focuses mostly on al pastor. Their al pastor tacos are fantastic and they put such care into their adobo. The guac salsa has the right amount of heat that proves to be a good companion for the al pastor.

Tacos Los Guichos
320 W Slauson Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90003

Taqueria Vista Hermosa
3655 S Grand Ave C-5, Los Angeles, CA 90007

Birria

One of the hottest on the block in the birria de res game is Teddy’s Red Tacos. They’ve had so much success last year and this year, they are not slowing down. They’ve joined the Westside taco scene with a new location in Venice and had a Super Bowl spot last month. But their first location was and is a truck parked next to the Slauson train tracks. Teddy’s is one of the most approachable birrierias especially with their deluxe plate. It has all their greatest hits and is only 10 bucks.

Tacos El Primo.

Now that the market is saturated with birria de res options, Tacos El Primo on Hooper continues to be my favorite in L.A. There is something so satisfying about seeing the taquero take massive chunks of beef and break it down to taco size pieces. The tacos dorados are flash seared with a ladle of consome until crisp perfection. The secret is in the precise spice balance in their consomé which should be mandatory with every order. They only sell birria on the weekends and they usually sell out by noon. So get there early!

Teddy’s Red Tacos
731 Slauson Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90011

Tacos El Primo
Hooper and 23rd

RELATED: Free Tacos for L.A. Taco Members

Tacos Los Poblanos #1 Estilo Tijuana.

TJ-Style

It’s no doubt that South Central’s most popular taco offerings are Tijuana-style tacos. Up and down Central or Avalon, you can find these taqueros relatively easy. All you have to do is follow big plumes of smoke, that signal, Tacos are near. If that fails, do like Toucan Sam and follow your nose.

Tire Shop Taqueria.
Tire Shop Taqueria.

Off Avalon and Slauson, Tacos Los Poblanos #1 Estilo Tijuana and, just a few blocks south of MLK , Tire Shop Taqueria are among the biggest in the region. Both have distinct styles but share several similarities. They each have quesadillas made with hand-pressed corn tortillas filled to the brim with meat. It’s what I imagine is served in the halls of Valhalla. Of course, both offer their own signature grilled meats over mesquite coals with a healthy smear of bright green gauc.

Aquino’s Tacos Estilo Tijuana.
Aquino’s Tacos Estilo Tijuana.

Another Tijuana taqueria that doesn’t get as much attention is Aquino’s Tacos Estilo Tijuana, tucked in a lot off Central. It has the same fare as the others but also one of my favorite vampiros, a thick tostada with a pool of melted cheese and your choice of protein. No matter which one you choose, you won’t be disappointed.

Tacos Los Poblanos #1 Estilo Tijuana
5821 S Avalon Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90011

Tire Shop Taqueria
4077 S Avalon Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90011

Aquino’s Tacos Estilo Tijuana
4025 S Central Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90011

RELATED: These Are the 12 Best Birria de Res Tacos in Los Angeles Right Now

Barbacoa Estilo Hidalgo.
Barbacoa Estilo Hidalgo in South Central. Photo by Cesar Hernandez.

Barbacoa

Certainly South Central isn’t known for it’s barbacoa but two spots are fighting to change that. Barbacoa Estilo Hidalgo sets up every weekend on the corner of Slauson and Central. It is hard to miss the big banner that that announces their name in red and white. You’ll see someone cranking a lever to cut tortillas from a ball of masa, then place them on a grill. The pancita is dark red with chile seeds sprinkled throughout. The barbacoa is nicely seasoned and you can get a pound to go.

Barbacoa Estilo Taxco.
Barbacoa Estilo Taxco.

Just a short walk away is Barbacoa Estilo Taxco, another lamb barbacoa specialist. What’s most inspiring, after the food, is the operation at Taxco. There is someone that cranks out tortillas, waiters, a cashier, and someone preparing the meat. If you go on a weekend, make sure to get there early because it get busy. The pancita is on the approachable side of gamey and has a nice kick to it. The barbacoa quesadilla is a great combination of velvety soft lamb and cheese. Grab a cup of consomé or a coke, and eagerly wait for your food to come.

Barbacoa Estilo Hidalgo
Slauson and Central

Barbacoa Estilo Taxco
Mckinley and E 57th

Super Tortas DF.

Tortas

Who knew that South Central had one of  L.A.’s most glamourous sandwiches? It can be found at Super Tortas DF on the corner of Central and 41st. The menu has several different tortas that seems like a hodgepodge of ingredients but are soon revealed to be food wizardry. The big draw here is the torta Cubana, which is the ultimate sandwich. It has milanesa, ham, franks, melted quesillo, an egg, and crack (I think).

Chichen Itza.
Chichen Itza.

My other favorite torta in South Central is the cochinita pibil from Chichen Itza off Grand and 37th. Simplicity is the essence of the sandwich but that is because it lets all the ingredients sing. The perfectly baked bread with a light dusting of flour houses the buttery cochinita pibil, and the pickled red onions give a very small tang. It’s like a fantastic song in your mouth. Grab some of their homemade habanero sauce, and it’s good to go.

Super Tortas DF
1098 E 41st St, Los Angeles, CA 90011

Chichen Itza
3655 S Grand Ave C6, Los Angeles, CA 90007

Poncho's Tlayudas.
Poncho's .

Tlayudas

No list about South Central would be complete without mentioning Poncho’s Tlayudas on Main Street between 43rd Street and 43rd Place. They have an event every week called Viernes de Tlayudas that draws people in with food, but is really a community space for Oaxacalifornians. They have become hood famous with their beautifully and lovingly crafted tlayudas and moronga (blood sausage). Poncho, the chef, told L.A. Taco that he hand cuts dozens of pounds of pork for the moronga. “It’s just chiles and mint,” he says. I’m not sure if I believe that because it tastes like dreams. Maybe that’s the secret ingredient.

Poncho’s Tlayudas
4318 S Main St, Los Angeles, CA 90037

RELATED: The Seven Best Tacos Al Vapor Spots in Southeast Los Angeles

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