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Gracias Señor: Handmade Tortillas and a Baja Bent on Four Wheels in Pacific Palisades

Credit: Gracias Señor Taqueria

[dropcap size=big]G[/dropcap]racias Señor is a terrific taco truck drawing crowds in a deeply unexpected location for central L.A.'s taco obsessed — the Palisades. The black taqueria with the bright green avocado stenciled on its rump parks Thursdays through Tuesdays in the heart of Pacific Palisades, one of L.A’.s most insular, well-heeled Westside enclaves.

We’ve eaten our fair share of tacos far from of L.A.’s beaten paths through the years. But Gracias Señor’s attention to detail, personal cooking, and inspired menu thrive in one of the more unusual spots we’ve seen. Not in a remote parking lot or word-of-mouth backyard. But front-and-center in a wealthy white seaside community.

Gracias Señor in Pacific Palisades, CA. All photos by Hadley Tomicki.

Making it here has not been an easy road for owner Rodolfo Barrientos. In 2014, he was a 25-year-old DREAMer attending Santa Monica City College while working his way up the managerial chain at Pinkberry. “Because I couldn’t go like a regular kid in the U.S., I have to work really hard to pay for school,” he says. “The truck is allowing me to continue my education.”

After moving on to a series of new opportunities, he wound up giving $5,000 to a manager of his to partner up on a food truck. Barrientos had shared his dream of starting a culinary concept with the man. Once he handed over his life savings, he never saw the dude again.

Many disheartened months later, he summoned the courage to take another stab at starting a business. Eventually, with help from his mother, he cobbled enough money again to buy the truck he still drives today.

Barrientos spent a quick stint in the same Temescal Canyon location as the guy he’d purchased the vehicle from. Not wanting to limit himself to a lonchera-style menu, he shortly moved Gracias Señor to its current address. You’ll find it parked on Sunset Boulevard, right in front of Ralph’s, two blocks below Rick Caruso’s new shopping center, and just one block from a Chipotle.

“There’s a lot of resistance in the Palisades to food trucks,” Barrientos tells L.A. Taco. “A lot of people are conservative and just think we’re tarnishing or doing damage to the neighborhood.”

These sentiments built to the point where a food truck ban was being bandied about the small community. “Fortunately, it’s because of the people who are our customers and supporters that we’re still here,” he says. “The people that are fans of our food stood up.”

RELATED: The L.A. Birria Story: Tacos Dorados de Birria de Res Arrive in West Adams

From the looks of the lines and social media shots of catered taco parties, at least, it appears Gracias Señor’s food is winning over more neighbors than not. “They tell us they’re really grateful we’re here and that means a lot to me,” he says.

Barrientos tells us his marinades and salsas are prepared daily with no pre-made ingredients or short cuts, and meats are cooked to order. The yellow corn tortillas are hand-pressed; padded, jagged-edged, golden and pleasingly coarse, elevating the hot tacos with immediacy and hand-to-hand soul when passed over.

The owner, whose parents migrated from Guanajuato to Rosarito shortly before he was born, learned to cook from his mother and father, who ran a few taquerias in Tijuana. The menu at Gracias Señor isn’t insistently regional, but Barrientos does consider a handful his dishes to have more of a northern Baja bent.

From left, tacos de hongos, carnitas, asada and beer-battered fish

The Tecate-battered tilapia tacos are widespread favorites, coated in a crispy and shaggy orange ‘do with some crema, salsa Mexicana, and a squirt of lime. Asada is another popular pick, the high quality steak and textbook char discernible through a smear of guacamole, onion and cilantro.

We haven’t tried the asada on top of fries yet, but the woman working in the toy store across the street swears by them. The tacos are just a bit bigger than small in size and simply adorned.

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he rustic tortilla melds perfectly with the tender, wet entrails of a taco de hongo that was our personal favorite of all tacos. While they synchronized less successfully for us when paired with tougher, though still nicely flavorful, carnitas in a recent visit.

Barrientos and crew also roll taquitos as tight as Swisher Sweets, drizzling the crackly shells in crema, salsa roja and avocado sauce.

Another favored item with Baja roots at Gracias Señor include the hulking surf and turf burrito, packed with steak, shrimp and rice in a flour tortilla. The truck also has chorizo burgers, sliders you can fill with any of the available Mexican meats and breakfast burritos. Bacon comes as an add-on to just about anything you want.

RELATED: L.A. Taco Podcast: Los Originales Tacos Arabes Gets a Truck ~ Tasting the New Birria Tacos in West Adams With Hadley Tomicki 

Barrientos, who himself rests in Koreatown, feels thankful to be connecting with people on the Westside, from a range of homeward bound high school students and homegrown shoppers to neighborhood workers and sightseers searching for a solid taste of L.A. Mexican food in a strange land.

Of course, after all the assorted hurdles Barrientos has cleared so far to get where he is, he’s no stranger to gratitude. A concept he commemorates in the truck’s own name.

“It’s partly a reminder for me to be thankful for my customers and this opportunity,” Barrientos says. “One of the keys to happiness is to be appreciative and grateful. That’s my mantra.”

Gracias Senõr is located at 15120 W. Sunset Blvd. Pacific Palisades, CA 90272 ~ 323-386-3424

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