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The L.A. Taco Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Chilling East of the Los Angeles River

3:54 PM PDT on September 30, 2020

    [dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]here’s hefty competition for the “best of” almost anything in the streets east of the Los Angeles River. Best churros, best coffee, best birria, you name it, and people will drive far and wide to get a taste of it and for the Instagram bragging rights. 

    We all know where to get the best old-school bean and cheese burritos (Al & Bea’s) and the best fish tacos (Tacos Baja). But beyond these classics, you’ll see that East Los Angeles and its surrounding neighborhoods and unincorporated communities are filled with so much new raw talent in the food, drink, and retail space. In current COVID-times, most of these vendors have adapted, slanging out of a canopy in the street, a small truck, or via DM on Instagram. 

    From folks who have worked their way up from dishwashing to cooking in kitchens, or shops that have grown from posting photos on Instagram to full brick and mortar establishments, they’ve listened to their immigrant mamas, mentors, and abuelitos to work hard for what they want. They’ve started businesses and learned the hard way through trial and error, but they are talented, and their food comes with more than a good bite or sip; it comes with a story. 

    These individuals are investing back into the communities that raised them. As you visit these communities filled with so much history in the Mexican American and Central American experience, be mindful of the space you are taking up. Respect street vendors and be conscious that these communities do not take gentrification and racism lightly. The “rough” and “sketchy” clichés of these neighborhoods are tired. This guide isn’t just for the ooh and aahs of posing for a photo. It’s for the people who hustle behind the scenes too.

    What to drink

    HUERTAS PRODUCE #2 

    1689 N Eastern Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90063

    When you drive through neighborhoods in Los Angeles, you typically come across your run of the mill corporate juice places. You got the Jamba, Robeks, Juice it Up! etc. When you’re in the middle of East L.A., City Terrace, and El Sereno, Huerta’s Produce has you covered. The owners went from managing several ice cream trucks that serviced the Alhambra area to providing the [real] eastside area with fresh fruit, vegetable smoothies, juices, raspados, bionicos (a Mexican-style fruit parfait), and other tasty snacks. After all, remember that immigrants from Mexico and Central America have been drinking green juice for decades, way before it was trendy and considered a luxury beverage. 

    SARA’S MARKET 

    3455 City Terrace Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90063

    In need of some thoughtfully curated craft beer or quick-stop groceries? Hit up Sara and Steve from Sara’s Market. The market, first named Hilda’s, has been family owned and a part of the City Terrace community for over 50 years. Before Sara and Steve took over in 2014, Sara’s parents hustled to make sure the community had access to meaningful grocery staples like tortillas and fresh dairy that met families’ needs in the local community. They provided the queso fresco, the cilantro bunches, the detergent, and who can forget, the occasional coldest tall can in town. Since Sara and Steve took over, they reinvigorated the vibe of the market. They started connecting with food vendors, different breweries with cult followings, natural wine distributors, and others to bring diverse and various options to loyal customers. What locals appreciate the most is that Sara’s Market proves that our community members don’t need to drive far to access dope beers, natural wine, and artisan food. Our longstanding community members are deserving of these joys, and many of us like to enjoy them in the neighborhoods that raised us—and most likely at a more affordable price than shops on the other side of the River. Sara’s place meets the demands of different generations. You can still pick up your queso fresco...and grab some great craft beers while you’re at it.

    MYSTYX KAFE

    On Cesar Chavez Avenue between Gage and Record

    In the East Los area and seeking a pick me up in the form of coffee? Seek no more and visit the new and booming coffee pop-up, Mystyx Kafe! From working in coffee shops all over L.A. and spending his free time as a heavy metal-goth musician, El Cafetero Satanico, Julian Filth, is slanging some spooky and goth-inspired coffee’s, lattes, smoothies, and treats! We recommend his “White Magik,” which is their tasty and perfectly-balanced-in-sweetness, horchata iced coffee. Support the local goth entrepreneur and pay him a visit. Updated hours of the pop-up are available on their Instagram @mystyxkafe!

     

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    Open today til midnight!

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    RAMIREZ BEVERAGE CENTER

    2765 E Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90023

    Some cities have their BevMO, others their Total Wine, Boyle Heights has what locals simply call “Ramirez, the big one!” Walking into this place brings a special kind of joy when you realize it is 12,000-square-feet of beer, wine, liquor. They even have a good variety of craft sodas and non-alcoholic drinks, too. This business is family-owned and has served the community since 1995 and has helped East L.A.'s coming-of-aging drinkers refine their beer palate. First, Ramirez Liquor on Soto Street near Whittier Boulevard and now with this Toys R’ Us of booze-like expansion. Visit them next time you want to expand your palate and try something new and impressive. Feel free to ask the staff for support. They’re always more than happy to help you find the right choice for your taste because it can be overwhelming. But that is a good thing. To this day, they are the best and most competitively priced spot to find any obscure tequila, mezcal, or other random liquor. And if they don’t carry it already, they will most likely order it just for you.   

    What to Eat

    THAI DAILY BBQ

    3552 East Cesar E Chavez Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90063

    Though the communities East of the river are known for proudly having taco trucks and stands on every corner, there’s also places serving up generous plates filled with mac salad, Thai-style bbq chicken, short ribs, and more. If you want in on this goodness, stop by and support Thai Daily BBQ on Cesar Chavez and Rowan. This Thai-family-owned business has been running for 20 years. More recently, the owners sold the place to some family friends, but the new owner, Ponya, assured me the family values remain the same. “I’m kind of like the new-school partner. I want to change this place to meet the needs of the changing times. I just want to improve the greatness that the previous owners already had.” Ponya shares that the business is overcoming challenges caused by COVID because of the community’s immense support. This place has a strong group of regulars. He enjoys seeing familiar faces and appreciates that people enjoy the food cooked by Thai locals. The top special is simple but probably the best thing on the menu: Thai bbq chicken plate. It is served with fried rice, salad, and mac salad, though we recommend ordering it with double mac. The pad see ew, and pad thai are not far behind on our list of favorites. Wash it all down with a jamaica or horchata boba drink. We’re salivating as we write this.  


    ZINGO TACOS 

    5234 Valley Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90032

    Tijuana-style tacos are all the rage in Los Angeles. You can probably Yelp a good handful and struggle on deciding because we’re spoiled, and taco vendors truly throw down in our beloved taco central city. One of the most extraordinary things about Tijuana-style tacos is the meat’s flavor—that perfectly charred and sabor de carbon-bite that hits deep in the soul when done right.  Zingo Tacos is a business run entirely by a family, and the owners of this establishment have been a part of the food industry for over two decades. You can taste the years of experience when you take your first bite of any of the items on their menu. You can choose from either asada, al pastor, pollo, or tripa, and get a burrito, tacos, torta, or doraditas (a tortilla toasted over the carbon grill topped with meat), mulitas made with handmade tortillas, and more. No matter when you pay a visit, the ingredients will be fresh, the meat will be flavorful, and the guacamole will be ready to drip off your taco.  

    STREET FOOD ON THE CORNER OF “LA ROWAN Y LA CÉSAR CHAVEZ”

    The intersection of Rowan Avenue and Cesar Chavez Avenue

    Street food tastes better when it’s made fresh on the spot and when it’s on a street corner. This is a ‘hood fact. If you have cash and drive by a street vendor that’s hustling and it smells good or has a line, STOP. Try the food and tip nicely if you can. The corner of Rowan and Cesar Chavez in East L.A. deserves your visits and accolades. This intersection is filled with exquisite vendors. At different times of the day, you can find Mariscos “El Chaka vending fresh mariscos estilo Sinaloa, Donas Caseras “El Petates,” vending the fluffiest, fried-on-the-spot, homemade-style donuts, churros, and empanadas. Most vendors go unnamed here, selling L.A. street food staples like esquites, raspados, pupusas, tamales, and fresh fruit. Visit for delicious bites, dinner, and dessert. You can fulfill all your cravings with one stop.

    Where to Chill

    ASCOT HILLS 

    These trying and quarantined times require a lot of care for oneself and communities. A pleasant way to unwind and de-stress is to venture to the outside and be one with hills, nature, and scenic views. Ascot Hills is the kind of low-key hike that has you hating life while walking up their steep graffiti tagged concrete hill—then appreciating it and the fresh air when you reach the top to take in the beautiful view of the city's skyline. On the scale of easy to hard, we rank this hike easy-medium. Visit to get a nice sweat in and kick it with some random wild rabbits and California native plants. Remember, this isn't the OC. Please wear your masks responsibly and don’t disrespect the site. Take care of the space and respect the community members, too.

    LATINX WITH PLANTS 

    2117 East Cesar E Chavez Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90033

    Nowadays, Millennials are having fewer children and becoming plant parents instead. Most of us learned how to care for plants early on from our grandparents. I learned so much about plants from my maternal grandma, mi ama, who would sing to her mini-jungle in her kitchen. This is why it was so exciting to learn that Latinx With Plants opened in Boyle Heights. Born from admiration of a Black plant parenting Instagram page, Black With Plants, Andi Xoch began an Instagram page of her own. Though the original goal was to “share fun memes, plant inspo, and plant parent goals,” it has since grown to open a full-on plant store filled with beautiful plant babies, plant pots, and more. We appreciate that Latinx with Plants honors the relationship that people of color have and have had with plants. We love to visit and see generations of folks visiting to chat, learn about specific plant types, plant care, and to overall build community. Stop by to adopt a plant baby of your own!

    EAST LA CIVIC CENTER PARK 

    4801 E 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90022

    Known by local folks as “el parque de los patos,” East L.A. Civic Center Park is an excellent place to picnic, read, chill, run, and pretty much fill all of your park activity necessities. Coming here as a kid felt like a special outing because of the beautiful view of the humanmade lake. This lake is also home to East L.A.’s annual fishing derby, which provides the thrills of fishing in the outdoors to families and children in East L.A. It is also a good idea for dates with lovers or friends. Grab some grub from a local, family-owned place and enjoy it here! Quick pro-tip, the renowned and long-standing Bob’s Freeze, known for its famous dip cones and slush floats, is just a block away. You get the best of all the worlds in East Los. 

    HOLLENBECK PARK

    415 S St Louis St, Los Angeles, CA 90033

    In the mood for visiting a nicely sized green space a little closer to downtown? Hit up the beautiful Hollenbeck park, similar to the Civic Center. The park is around a human-made lake that provides a peaceful joy in the chaos of daily life in East Los Angeles. The area is surrounded by some East Los faves like Al and Bea’s and La Favorita Bakery. Pick up some burritos or a tasty mix of pan dulce with coffee from the time-honored panadería and enjoy the afternoon. 

    ESPACIO 1839 

    1839 E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90033

    Though the quarantine is affecting the daily operations of many establishments, Espacio 1839 is continuing to hustle. Though the actual shop is closed, they work to fill online orders to provide popular and social justice driven clothing, accessories, and gear to the local and outside communities. The owners, Myra and Nico, have lived in the Boyle Heights community for many years. Before Espacio 1839, many local members were fans of their previous store, Teocintli, located about two miles away from the current shop, on 4th street. If you’re looking for a dope shirt styled with affirmations or accessories made for and by people of color, you must check the online shop out!

    Weekend-Only Pop-Ups

    HANGABURS

    A queer woman of color-owned, Tepic, Nayarit-style smash hamburger stand, in the heart of El Sereno. Need we say more? The burgers speak for themselves, but supporting this wonderful, hustler couple seals the deal. Hangaburs is worth a visit if you’re looking to find a bite that’s hearty, flavorful, and made with love by Alicia Lopez and Cecilia Ledezma. Though new to the pop-up food scene, the couple is slowly rising in popularity over the last year. Their business was planned and developed for three years before it began, and the community admiration is already felt strongly. Alicia says, “We love that Hangaburs has allowed us to meet so many new people, including our awesome customers and other small businesses who share the same passion of serving.” When you visit, you have the choice of two options. Their Original is a 100-percent Angus Chuck patty with American cheese, onion, pickles, and their special Hangaburs sauce. Or their Tepic-style smash burger, a patty along with a grilled slice of ham, American cheese, grilled panela cheese, grilled onions, tomatoes, ketchup, and spicy mustard crema, which was inspired a trip the couple took to Tepic. Heart eyes for days for these delicious options. Visit them, check out their Instagram for pop-up information. 

    COCINA LOS VELASQUEZ 

    4122 E Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90023

    The sight of this beef birria pop-up’s ooey-gooey birria quesadillas on Instagram or their original birria ramen will make you want to knock down anyone in your way to take that first bite. Let’s face it. The whole damn menu is worth ordering doubles because Cocina Los Velasquez does birria right. The owner, Miguel Velasquez, shared that his special recipe comes from support and knowledge passed down from his mother, and of course, he adds his unique touch. I would plan to go early because the stand often sells out. Follow their Instagram for an update on weekend hours and sales. 

     

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    Mulita con extra salsa macha y aguacate POR FAVOR ! 🔥 🥑 🌶🤪 #birriapalacruda

    A post shared by BIRRIA PA LA CRUDA 🤤 (@birriapalacruda) on

    BIRRIA PA LA CRUDA 

    Follow their Instagram page for location and pop-up information. 

    Carlos Jaquez, the owner from Birria Pa La Cruda, went from working as a butcher at a fine dining restaurant to cooking and vending some of the community’s new favorite tacos de birria, quesatacos, and super full-flavored consomé in El Sereno. So good, they’ll cure any hardcore pains of a hangover immediately, hence its name. Jaquez shares, “My favorite part about serving the community is knowing that I am carrying on the tradition that my relatives and other Xicanos have held and rooted themselves with, in Los Angeles.” He started the business with his partner’s support, hoping to bring people the feeling he had when he’d enjoy birria on early weekend mornings with his family growing up. Through Birra Pa La Cruda, he is ”Keeping that tradition around for the next generation to enjoy.” 

     

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    Milpa Bowl, our signature dish! . . . #bowl #milpabowl #chicken #grilledcorn

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    MILPA GRILLE 

    2633 East Cesar E Chavez Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90033

    Food deserts are primarily present in low-income and marginalized communities. There are so many food options in Los Angeles, but the search for healthier eats is often hard to come by. Deysi, owner and manager of Milpa Grille, wanted to change this and bring healthy options to Boyle Heights and East L.A. She does so by introducing folks to meals composed mostly with ingredients used in the mesoamerican ancestor’s diet consisting of corn, squash, and frijoles. Deysi also truly cares about supporting local customers and longstanding community members. She shares, “We want to be more than just a food transaction...I want those that come to Milpa to feel like family.” Aside from offering healthy options, Deysi has also begun opening her space, allowing other pop-up food businesses to utilize and vend out of the location through a weekly donation-based indoor pop-up event called Milpa Takeover. You can find dates and information by visiting their Instagram page. When you visit Milpa Grille, you know you’re supporting the community in various ways, and there’s no better feeling. 

    GELATINX LA 

    Visit their Instagram for information on how to order. 

    Myra Vasquez, mentioned as owner of Espacio 1839 earlier in this piece, has also taken it upon herself to bless the community with pretty, fantastic tasting, aesthetically pleasing gelatinas, chocoflanes, and flan! If you want to treat you and your family and friends to a tasty dessert and experience, do yourself a favor and hit Myra up to place an order. You can choose from cool gelatina flavors like De La Rosa Mazapan, café de olla, and a super fruity mango chamoy. She even has a sampler order if you can’t decide, too. Is your mouth watering yet?

    This L.A. Taco Guide is part of a series highlighting the Latinx community in Los Angeles, published in collaboration with the  Discover Los Angeles, in honor of Latinx Heritage Month. Check back weekly for more stories highlighting L.A.'s vast Latinx communities. 

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