Rob Gokee is a Los Angeles native and acclaimed film and television composer. Rob has scored over a hundred films, but has another passion-- tacos. Starting as a Taco Bell fan, he ended up becoming a taco expert who has eaten at almost every taco spot in Los Angeles. His new book, Tacocity, is billed as a guide to finding, creating, and eating tacos in Los Angeles by a local tacophile who has eaten them all. You can celebrate the launch of the book TONIGHT at Salazar (click here for more info), and in the meantime, read our Q&A
What's your favorite taco? It depends on the meat, but for carne asada, it's Mexicali, hands down. And for fish, nobody touch Ricky's Fish Tacos. I often tell people that Mexicali's asada melts in your mouth, and it's probably the only taco I eat in a flour tortilla, because theirs come from Mexico. And Ricky's batter - good God. I could eat his fish tacos every day for the rest of my life.
There are many other places that I love for different reasons - mole, hard-shelled, fusion - but those two places are my mainstays.
Do you have an exact number of locations you visited in your research? What would be a common reason a place that's "pretty good" wouldn't make the cut for your best of? The master list I worked off of for the book was between 100-120. I've done 3 different taco crawls with friends over the last 4 years - 2 in LA and one in Tijuana - and I go out of my way to try new taquerias, so I already had a huge base of places to pull from. When I started planning the book, most of the places I'd been going to repeatedly for years were on the list. From there, I had to fill out the rest of Los Angeles County, so I started researching other taco blogs and "Best Of" lists, and then researched them myself.
There were some places that I'd had amazing tacos at years ago, only to find that now they weren't up to par. One in particular had the best al pastor I'd ever had when I went there on a taco crawl years ago. When I went back for the book, the tacos were disappointing, so I took them off the list. And El Atacor #11, which had the premiere LA potato tacos, closed down while I was writing the book, so I sadly had to remove them.
What are the trends you've seen emerge during your process of eating thousands of tacos in Los Angeles? Tacos are definitely hip at the moment, and the biggest trend in Southern California is the fusion taco. We've seen it coming for years, Kogi did it well with their Korean Taco, and it's just exploded since. It would have been easy for me to be a taco snob in writing this book and keep everything traditional. But one of the coolest things happening to the taco is the way it's transcending cultures and foods, and it's exciting to see different takes on it. My favorite "alternate" taco is the Blueberry BBQ at Project Taco in Hermosa Beach, but there are many others that are great combinations. But for the record, taco ingredient in a waffle do not make it a taco.
What was the worst taco you ate in your adventures? That's a great question. Honestly, I can't think of a "bad" taco I've had in LA. I've had some questionable ones, and a few I didn't care for, like lamb brains or corn fungus tacos, but the only time I recall having a truly horrible taco was at a diner in New Jersey. And I knew it was going to be bad, I mean, it's a diner in New Jersey. But I had to know what they were going to serve me when I saw it on the menu. It was basically a prefab shell with canned chili in it, covered in generic shredded cheddar cheese.
Your "day job" is scoring films, what sort of music works best while eating a great taco? You're going to laugh, but any time I hear traditional Mexican music playing - from a car, a house in my neighborhood - I immediately crave tacos. I'm like Pavlov's dog.
Because it's my job to write music, I listen to it all the time. It's like passive research. I try to stay open-minded with my listening, but mostly it's film & TV scores (The Flash is in my current rotation), pop/punk, and metalcore if I'm working out.
In the book, you discuss your personal journey from Taco Bell fan to taco aficionado. For those in LA who still haven't tasted some of the best places, where should they go first to get religion? If you're a fast food taco person looking to make the switch in Los Angeles, you could throw a rock and hit a taco vendor. But don't throw rocks at taco vendors. One great starter taco is King Taco. There are locations all over, they're a local chain, tasty, and a great way to introduce your taste buds to street tacos. And then explore your neighborhood, look for the trucks that are out every night, or the vendor with a table on the sidewalk. Take a chance on the little guy, because you never know when you'll discover the next Mexicali or Tire Shop Taqueria.
Are you planning to turn Tacocity into a television show? Ironically, Tacocity was going to be a show first. A producer I've worked with before was interesting in making the show, but got busy and had to back out, and told us to go ahead without him. I thought about all the people on Twitter and IRL that had been asking me for years about a "taco book," and I realized doing it in book form appealed to me more, so I started outlining. The possibility of a show is still on the table, but at the moment I'm focusing on a Tacocity podcast, iOS app, and another edition of the book that focuses on the East Coast, specifically New Jersey and New York.
What's the next taco you plan to eat? I literally just ate 3 tacos before this interview - 2 fish and 1 asada from El Unico, which is a half mile from my house. I just finished roasting about 20 pounds of Hatch green chiles - they're in season for just a few weeks a year - and I'm dying to test out a new shredded pork and green chile taco recipe, so the next taco will probably be my own.
Open since 1991 and operated by one of the daughters of Tijuana's famous fish taco gem, Las 4 Hermanas. The fish tacos at Alicia's are so delicious that they are charged to a running tab since most people always order more than they thought they wanted. But the portraits of old bikers on the restaurant's walls tell a deeper story.
Great cheeses do not only come from Europe. It's time to shine a light on the history and wide variety of cheeses made locally with raw milk in Baja and available in Tijuana, from a jocoque reminiscent of labneh to hard, chipotle-infused Real del Castillo.
The Caesar salad, created in Tijuana by an Italian immigrant during Prohibition in the United States, represents hope that a day’s work could eventually result in your own legacy. As Javier Plascencia, the chef and owner of Caesar's Hotel, tells L.A. TACO, the Caesar salad became an icon of Tijuana "by accident." To this day, the restaurant makes an average of 550 tableside salads every day.