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The Seven Best Tacos in Historic South-Central

12:08 PM PST on December 13, 2022

    Vampiros at Tire Shop Taquería.

    Vampiros at Tire Shop Taquería.

    L.A. TACO is embarking on its biggest mission yet: to create a taco guide for every single neighborhood in Los Angeles! Along the way, we will also be releasing brief histories of each neighborhood to understand L.A. a little more and why each and every neighborhood that makes our fine city is unique in its own way. Check out our Artesia guide and history on our neighborhood page

    Historic South-Central is the land of tender barbacoa and a hundred tacos. Driving down San Pedro Street at night, you'll find tacos on every other block. Drive down Central Avenue during the day. You'll find just as many birrierías and other breakfast and lunch-only taquerías while the sun is out. While tacos are plentiful, from al pastor to birria,  the sheeps run this 'hood.

    On weekends, you'll find barbacoa on almost every main street. Some of these barbacoa makers are part of the same family. Others are from different regions. You'll likely find barbacoa on the menu if you visit a birriería or an older taco shop. But which of the hundred tacos concentrated in this neighborhood are the best? And which of the dozens of barbacoa stands are worth it? 

    After hitting the streets and putting my pansa to the test, these tacos stood out above the rest. 

    Here are the best tacos and barbacoa in Historic South-Central. 

    Holbox Scallop Taco w/ fennel, x'catic salsa, caramelized onions
    Holbox Scallop Taco with fennel, x'catic salsa, and caramelized onions. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

    Holbox

    Holbox, inside Mercado Paloma, 3655 S. Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90007. Closest Metro lines and stop: Metro J Line (910/950) or Bus Line 460 - “37th Street/USC Station.”

    Mercado Paloma is a dining destination everyone should know about. Not just for the USC staff and local trade schools. It's an OG food hall offering one of the city’s best cochinita pibil, daytime al pastor, and seafood taco (Pulpo en su Tinta) at Holbox. Squid ink is reduced overnight, scooped onto a tortilla with a grilled octopus tentacle laid over it, and garnished. The flavor of this squid ink taco is lightly oceanic and savory; compelling enough to give your tongue goosebumps every time you remember it.  

    Barbacoa Sin Nombre.
    Barbacoa Sin Nombre. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

    Barbacoa Sin Nombre

    Saturday and Sunday Mornings, 4212 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90037 (Street Pop-up). Closest Metro line and stop: Bus Line 45 - “Broadway/42nd” or Bus Line 105 - "Vernon/Broadway."

    Barbacoa Sin Nombre isn't their official name. They don't have one. "Call us Los Trillizos (Triplets)," jokes one of the three men there, "because we all have the same haircut." Once upon a time, they did have a truck called "Barbacoa Poblano," but that was another era. This family has been serving juicy and tender goat barbacoa poblano street-side for 18 years without an official business name. They offer other fixings like carnitas and cemitas, but their goat barbacoa is pure, unadulterated, and rendered perfectly. Add a little salt to the meat and enjoy a classic barbacoa poblano, as only this family in South Central makes it. Don't forget the cup of life-affirming consomé.

    TacoMan.
    TacoMan. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

    World Famous Taco Man

    World Famous Taco Man, 2417 S. San Pedro St, Los Angeles, CA 90011. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Lines 51 or 55 - “San Pedro/Adams.”

    It's safe to say that carne asada is the most popular taco protein. It's also safe to say most taquerías don't give it a second thought regarding quality or taste. So when you come across a taqueria that treats its carne asada like the main event, you take notice. And if using quality Wagyu beef for their asada isn't an indicator of that, the marinade and preparation will come through in its rich flavor as you munch down on this taco. (Bonus points for offering a delicious taco de chicharron en salsa verde or roja.) This taquería sets up a taco stand in the parking lot, with comfortable seating indoors with as much attention to the visit's quality as their tacos. 

    Vampiros at Tire Shop Taquería.
    Vampiros at Tire Shop Taquería. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.

    Tire Shop Taquería

    Tire Shop Taquería, Evenings, 4077 Avalon Blvd, Los Angeles CA 9001. Closest Metro line and stop: Bus Line 51 - “Avalon/41st.”

    If there's one taquería that everyone reading this list was expecting to see here, to validate this list and its selection, it's this one. Tire Shop Taqueria is one of Los Angeles' most beloved taquerías and confidently holds its place in L.A.'s street taco royalty. Its fame didn't grow with social media or heavy marketing. It earned its place in L.A.'s street taco royalty with its delicious Tijuana-style tacos served on handmade tortillas with bright green creamy guacamole and smokey meats. In a city bulging with tacos, Tire Shop stands out for its consistency—year after year—and ability to recreate that mesquite and thicc guacamole euphoria that you can usually only find after driving two and a half hours to Tijuana. South-Central is lucky to have Tire Shop Taquería, and it's worth any detour on the way back home.

    Tacos De Sheep
    Tacos de barbacoa at Tacos Sheep. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

    Tacos de Sheep Rica Barbacoa Lonchera Candy

    Lonchera Candy, 2410 S. Main St, Los Angeles, CA 90007. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Line 48 - “23rd/Main” or Bus Line 55 - "Adams/Main."

    These are tacos de sheep, not goat, and the business is named that way to make sure you, the customer, knows. You can find several barbacoas estilo Capulhuac de Mirafuentes in this neighborhood, all with different nuances and all related to Los Garduños, a family of barbacoa makers that all prepare and sell their versions. This truck, operated by Ricardo, is the older brother of Josefina Garduño, who works her stand in Lincoln Heights. It's been here for 25 years, and although they have a brick-and-mortar, they still come back with this truck to their humble beginnings. The barbacoa has Ricardo's own sazón, and he crisps the tortillas with a heavyhanded kiss of delicious oil on the grill. They have an excellent salsa to go along with the sheep that will show anyone who takes a bite why this barbacoa truck has had lasting power in the working community of South-Central. Look for the old white taco truck that says barbacoa in blue letters on the side. 

    birrieria gonzalez_1
    Birria at Birriería Gonzalez. Photo from L.A. TACO archives.

    Birriería Gonzalez

    Birrieria Gonzalez, 2524 Maple Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90011. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Lines 48 or 55 - “Adams/Maple.”

    You can’t talk about good birria in Los Angeles without mentioning Birriería Gonzalez. They’ve grown their birria operation from southeast L.A. to as far as Las Vegas with their juicy and tender beef birria estilo Tijuana. With solid tacos dorados, a salsa to match, and a consomé to wash it down with, a Gonzales truck in your neighborhood is a birria blessing. You’re guaranteed to have some of the best in birria in Los Angeles. 

    Birriería Baldomeros 2
    A taco and consomé at Birriería Baldomeros 2. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

    Birriería Baldomeros 2

    Birriería Baldomeros, 3104 S. Maple Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90011. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Line 48 - “Maple/30th” or Bus Line 102 - "Jefferson/Maple."

    Birria has exploded in a hundred different directions and styles in Los Angeles, but here in Historic South Central, you'll find one serving birria in its original style for the past 52 years. This birria, estilo Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, even pleased the reverent taste buds of the late great Jonathan Gold in this 1994 piece for the L.A. Times. Birriería Baldomeros has a history in this neighborhood as significant as its birria and should be appreciated and respected. You can order a bowl of goat served with onions, cilantro, and salsa on the side. Make your tacos or ask for tacos already made. For the birria purest and neighborhood OGs, Baldomeros is your local gem. 

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