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The Cheese is the Tortilla! Enter Taco Ketosis with These Five Spots to Try L.A.’s Elusive ‘Keto Taco’

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he ketogenic diet consists of high-fat, protein-heavy meals that have no carbs or have very little of it.

In the taco life here in Los Angeles, some taqueros have evolved with this emerging diet trend and have naturally swapped out the corn or flour tortilla to keep up with the times. In its place? A crispy, melty sheet of griddled cheese, obviously. 

Endorsed by celebrities on social media and with dozens of books also preaching the positive properties of the diet, this way of eating has gained popularity as a “quick” weight loss solution for many. On the other side of the spectrum, certain medical professionals are cautious about it given the dependence of high saturated fats which can lead to heart disease. While L.A. Taco does not endorse the keto diet, it is our mission to cover all things related to the taco lifestyle so we decided to try the different types of  “keto tacos” available in our fine metropolis.

A keto taco is as simple as it sounds: A golden brown and crispy layer of cheese in lieu of a flour or corn tortilla, griddled on the plancha to create a similar type of vessel to hold the contents of a normal taco. 

While researching this topic it became apparent that phenomenon isn't exactly new Mexican cuisine. The costra or chicharrón de queso made its debut stateside sometime in the early aughts in Texas. Taking inspiration from late-night Puesto, Las Costras.  

José R. Ralat, a Taco Editor from another mother (and of Texas Monthly) as well as the author of the forthcoming magnum opus, American Tacos, which comes out in April, has written extensively on the topic of costras in Texas. “It’s an insider-y dish,” he says over a phone interview. “No one in this world is serving costras because they are keto-friendly. They are serving them cause that’s what they do.” 

However, it’s important to point out that there is no direct connection to the keto tacos served here in L.A. and the costras that are served in parts of the Southwest as well as Mexico City. All of this is part of the on-going conversation that we here at the Taco have mentioned before that “Fun hipster shit is just poor Latino shit from ten years ago.” 

L.A. Birria

L.A. Birria

The former food truck operation has now morphed into two brick and mortar locations offering a wide variety of menu items such as ramen and pizza specific to each location, so it's no surprise they offer a keto option in taco form. The sizable taco arrives unfolded and taking up the circumference of a full-sized plate made with crispy brown crust “tortilla.” The texture is similar to that of a hashbrown. It’s piled high with juicy bits of beef birria, topped with thick chunks of raw white onion, cilantro, and your choice of their gangbuster signature salsa macha for that extra splash of nutty-oily heat if you’re feeling yourself. It’s a bite that allows you to lose yourself in the myriad of textures from the cheese tortilla, the softness of the beef along with the brightness of the condiments.

3031 S Figueroa St, Los Angeles, CA 90007

Chinitos Tacos

Chinitos Tacos

Tucked away in a small strip mall located on the outskirts of Lakewood, sits Chinitos Tacos, which is owned and operated by Cambodian American chef Beeline “Chinito” Krouch. It’s the kind of place that can only exist where it does due to its geographic locations and the cultural influences that come with it. To call it a Mexican restaurant is almost selling it short. It’s that but also so much more at the same time. But you’re here to try his “burnt cheese” taco which somehow manages to defy all keto taco conventions that you’ve assumed thus far. The amount of satisfying crunch from when you bite into the taco makes you almost forget why you are here in the first place. Not to mention the wide variety of tacos fillings to choose from such as barbacoa and carnitas which are both slowed braised in Asian spices, recalling similar flavors found in Cambodian dishes such as beef lok lak. But it doesn’t just stop there, another standout is the veggie filling featuring roasted squashes, cauliflower, sweet potato, and wild mushrooms making it a standout dish simply on its own. For all our veggie taco lifers—handle it.

11130 Del Amo Blvd, Lakewood, CA 90715 

Fatima’s Grill

Fatima’s Grill

Located in Downey, this self-described Lebanese-Mexican fusion restaurant boasts a large menu with everything from Flamin’ Hot Cheeto burritos to shawarma plates to hot dogs where all the meat is 100 percent halal. The keto taco themselves are only offered from 9 AM to 12 PM as owner Ali wants to ensure the grill is kept clean for the construction of the queso tortillas that are made with mozzarella. The taco itself is large and closer in size to a restaurant-style quesadilla, brimming with juicy bits of carne asada, onion, and cilantro already folded into the contents of the taco itself. However, the flavor parade itself doesn’t stop there. Ask Ali nicely to sample some of their signature hot sauce, Lebamex, which the restaurant themselves developed. The cream-based sauce, infused with a hearty dose of chipotle and features a significant amount of kick that will propel you into the next galaxy.

7840 Firestone Blvd, Downey, CA 90241

Birrieria Estrada

Birrieria Estrada

Another birria Estilo TJ, another keto taco. With its fleet of trucks occupying the streets of Whittier, La Puente, and Azusa just to name a few. They bring their signature birria that is both juicy and flavorful to their version of the keto taco. Serving them hot off the plancha using Monterey jack, which develops a thin yet crispy crust on the outside of the taco. Thanks to the gooey inside, each bite gives you just the right amount of cheese pull-thrills. Imagine, if you will, taking the top part of your favorite cheese pizza-griddled to its own perfection. Don’t be afraid to tear into the taco and stuff it with a healthy heaping of their thick ribbon of pickled onions with that added acidity to round out the entire affair. 

Valley Blvd & S 5th Ave, 13490 Amar Rd Bassett,  Arrow & Larkellen Azusa, 11509 Washington Blvd

Ixtaco Taqueria

Of course, a city that served as the inspiration for Frank Zappa song Memories of El Monte as well as serving as the backdrop of the postmodern novel opus People of Paper is going to be on some next-level shit. Featuring the “Oax-queso taco” which is served open face. The bottom is crispy, almost like a pancake, with the top still melty. There’s almost a type of duality that is occurring between the two textures. Even more so when you opt for their chicharrón en salsa verde, with its soft-fatty chunks of pork topped with tangy green salsa. If that’s not enough of sensory overload, try washing it down with one of their CBD infused agua frescas. According to Hadley Tomicki, L.A. Taco’s co-founder and contributor, its CBD may just awaken the dormant THC molecules in your body and send you into a taco-induced euphoria that you will never forget. No wonder El Monte is such a trippy place. I’m not high foo, you are.

10021 Valley Boulevard, El Monte, CA 91731

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