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Seven Tacos and a Tlayuda ~ These Are the Required L.A. Street Food Spots to Try in 2019

Photo by Cesar Hernandez.

[dropcap size=big]B[/dropcap]irria de res exploded and stained all of Los Angeles red in 2018, while Tijuana-style tacos continued to be one of the most popular images circulating on local Instagram feeds. And if you were really paying attention, you had one of L.A.’s best tlayudas last year. If you missed it, there’s always this year.

These eight street food vendors will be making waves in the culture as L.A.'s essential tacos to try in 2019. Think of this list as homework on how to be a functioning and engaged Angeleno in the new year.

Roasted Octopus with hoja santa taco. All Photos by Cesar Hernandez.
Photo by Cesar Hernandez.


Sundays at Smorgasburg LA

One of the most ambitious taqueros in recent years, Macheen leads the new wave of pushing the boundary via the taco. Recently, Wes Avila graduated from the food truck to the storefront. Macheen is still at the street-level but their food shows the same promise. Chef Jonathan Perez makes tacos drawn from his upbringing, like the longanisa breakfast tacos. Others come from his culinary training, like a roasted octopus with hoja santa taco. Each taco is paired with an infused tortilla that Perez sources from San Diego, where he drives twice-a-week to pick up.

Tlayuda with moronga from Poncho's
Photo by Cesar Hernandez.

Poncho’s Tlayudas

Fridays at 4318 S Main St, Los Angeles, CA 90037

Sundays at Smorgasburg LA

One of the major players that emerged in the 2018 street vendors game is Poncho's Tlayudas. Our boss wrote a sprawling piece about their “Viernes de Tlayudas” that was both moving and introspective. Poncho Martinez and Odilia Romero are a force; if you get a chance to talk to Odilia, she’ll tell you about any of her current fights for indigenous self-determination, and all that starts with food. It’s their clever strategy to get you to understand the Zapotec heritage and their struggles. Poncho's offer the best tlayudas in L.A. and it is partly because they source their tlayudas from Oaxaca and make their own moronga (blood sausage). It is crafted with a well-kept secret recipe that Poncho learned from Odilia's family. It is lightly charred from the coals – minty, but also a tad spicy. You can catch them at their pop-ups Sundays at Smorgasburg or at their Tlayuda Friday events.

Al pastor love from Tacos 1986.
Photo by Cesar Hernandez.

Tacos 1986

611 S Western Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90005

In December of 2018, Tacos 1986 caused a ruckus with their Tijuana-style tacos. They’ve had some growing pains towards the end of the year, but their tacos remain undeniably delicious. They only offer four tacos: chicken, asada, adobada (al pastor), and mushroom. The last might seem like the weakest link but the mushroom taco holds its own with great smoky umami flavor. Each taco shines, but the stars are definitely al pastor and the carne asada grilled over coals. Make sure to chat it up with El Joy, whose been dubbed “Taco Bae” by the Internet.

El Primo making tacos dorados.

Tacos El Primo

Weekends on Hooper & 23rd St., Central Alameda

Birria de res was an L.A. obsession in 2018, and in that arena, El Primo reigns supreme. Every weekend they convert a dirt lot in a quiet South Central neighborhood into a taco stand. They usually sell out by noon, so it is mostly a breakfast affair. El Primo offers four items: tacos, tacos dorados, tostaditas, and consomé. At various times in line, you’ll see the taquero pull out a heaping hunk of maciza and chop it down to bite size pieces. Then he’ll pour a ladle full of their perfectly spiced consomé into their birria. The tacos dorados will have charred spots and an audible crunch that’ll rattle your brain.

Pastrami taco from A's BBQ.
Photo by Cesar Hernandez.


Location varies

You might not expect a BBQ stand to be in the taco game but that’s part of A’s flair. They offer a few tacos that are masterfully crafted from their smoked meats and sides. The cochinita pibil taco is tangy and smoky, and is topped with escabeche onions and jalapeños. The brisket taco is topped with a gooey layer of queso and mole BBQ sauce. The foundation of each taco is a blue corn tortilla from Kernel of Truth, usually from a batch that was made that morning.

Beef and chicken tacos from T.J.'s Tacos.
Photo by Cesar Hernandez.

TJ’s Tacos

Sundays at Smorgasburg LA

After Kogi hit the streets, it begged the question of what other fusion would work in taco form. Vietnamese tacos seems like a natural marriage and TJ’s Tacos are the spot for those. The beef tacos are slightly sweet from the marinade, topped with a creamy spicy sauce and fried shallots. The chicken taco has pickled cucumbers and carrots – like you’d find in a banh mi – and purple basil that give it a pleasant herbal taste. These tacos are exciting because they expand the scope of what a taco can be. The taco is the perfect fit for all cultures.

Taqueria El Poblano

4253 E Compton blvd Compton Ca 90221

Los Angeles has long had a love affair with Tijuana-style tacos, but they used to be something you’d have to drive down to Tijuana to get. Now they can be found sparingly in certain parts of L.A. El Poblano is one of the only taqueros in the South East that offers Tijuana-style tacos, that is, grilled meats on mesquite, a spoon of salsa, a smear of guac, and wrapped in paper. This location is in Compton. They have a storefront but outside is where they grill the proteins over open fire. A crowd favorite is their vampiro, which is a tortilla toasted over open flame with melted cheese, protein, salsa, guac, and topped with another tostada. Like a tostada sandwich. Of all the taco options at El Poblano, asada is the draw. They also offer a great taco de labio (lips). Make sure to get some grilled onions and blistered chiles.

A little bit of everything from Quesadillas Las Comadres.
Photo by Cesar Hernandez.

Quesadillas Las Comadres

Location varies

Guidasos made waves in the L.A. food scene because it offered home-style guisados on a taco, helping mainstream tacos de guisados to Angelenos. At Quesadilla Las Comadres, they specialize in cheesy versions of guisados. All of their quesadillas are made with a hand-pressed tortilla de maiz. You can get every quesadilla in taco form. That’s essentially a smaller version of the quesadilla. The bestseller is a spicy green pork guisado that pairs perfectly with the melted cheese. One of my favorites is papa con chorizo, a classic Mexican home-kitchen dish. If you arrive early enough, one of the proteins they offer is marlin, but it sells out quick. Each taco or quesadilla is bordered by crispy cheese, like a cheesy crown of thorns.

RELATED: Tamal or Tamale? ~ How to Correctly Pronounce the Singular Form of Tamales

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