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A Tale of Two Trompos: You Can Taste Two Different Al Pastor Styles In This West L.A. Block

Tacos al pastor at Tacos Zempoal Mixe

Over the last few years, colossal trompos have become a familiar spectacle on the sidewalks of Venice and Mar Vista, with big, juicy tornadoes of revolving pork al pastor that silhouette the twilight from the stands that regularly set up along Lincoln Boulevard, to the respective truck (Tacos El Junior) and table operation hugging the corners of Venice and Centinela.

A short car’s sprint away, edging the parking lot of the Rite-Aid at Sawtelle and National, a long line always awaits Brothers Cousins, a taquería made famous over the last couple of years for a convex comal churning a sundry crowd of nopales, lengua, tripas, chorizo, suadero, and other meats.

Brothers Cousins Tacos

Front and center, a giant trompo stacked with heavy slabs of marinated pork beckon drivers to pull over. The meat gets crisped on the plancha and chopped on the spot before being slipped into fulfilling two-biter tacos, meat-only burritos, and small, but addictive mulitas.

Tacos al pastor at Brothers Cousins. Photo by Hadley Tomicki for L.A. TACO.

The line, which typically lasts about 15 to 20 minutes, is well worth the wait. But it’s a wait we think may be able to make more bearable today. Or, at least, one with less famished, impatient customers.

Because kitty-corner in the same parking lot, a new stand has started to appear in the evenings strapped with a tempting trompo of its own.

Tacos Zempoal Mixe. Photo by Hadley Tomicki for L.A. TACO.

Tacos Zempoal Mixe is a Oaxacan-owned taquería offering eight meats, including suadero, cabeza, tripas, buche, and chorizo, in a stable of burritos, tortas, tacos, alambres, and quesadillas.

But as its name suggests, the expert al pastor from the masterful Mixe trompero is the primary attraction at Tacos Zempoal Mixe.

As recently discussed in L.A. TACO, Oaxaca’s Indigenous Mixe community “control some of the most iconic al pastor destinations in the city,” including pastor-powerhouses Leo’s and Tacos Tamix, and the rapidly ascending Juquilita Tacos and Taquería Juquilitaa. In Long Beach, Tacos Lionel is also from the Mixe region. The focus is said to be a result of travel from rural Oaxaca to working in big cities where tacos al pastor/adobada carry the day, including Tijuana and Mexico City.

Zempoal Mixe’s trompo of al pastor is a little smaller but noticeably a brighter orange than Brothers Cousins, a result of the specific adobo of chiles, achiote, vinegar, and spice being used as a marinade here. The revolving cone of pork has a tighter, more seamless appearance compared with that of its neighbor. The flavor recalls the warm flavors of highly spiced and vinegared Caribbean cooking.

Order a couple of tacos from the stand, and you’ll get the privilege of watching an expert hand at work, as well as a fundamentally different and deliberate style of slicing.

Instead of cutting deeply into the pastor and letting its meat fall to the foot of the trompo to be crisped on the grill or further chopped for taco meat, the taquero here shaves thin, stretched strips from the pork’s exterior directly into your tortilla, with a methodology and appearance reminiscent of Leo’s best days. If not of hand-planed wood.

Tacos al pastor at Tacos Zempoal Mixe

The end result is a sweetly-spiced pastor with noticeably less jiggle than most; stuffed with leaner, finely grained ribbons of pork that may recall barbecue bark in its texture more than the fattier bits and chunks of pastor commonly seen in L.A. tacos.

As at Brothers Cousins, the trompo here is fronted by a taquero who nimbly nips a wedge of pineapple from a great height off the vertical spit into your taco in the final moments, with skills that would turn a samurai green. $1 for each taco invariably feels too cheap, given all this expertise in evidence.

So now you’ve got a new taco al pastor to seek out in West Los Angeles. And now Brothers Cousins fans have a hack to make the wait more tolerable, simply by sending a companion over to buy some of Zempoal Mixe’s tacos al pastor to stave off hunger pangs while everyone stands in line. This duo of al pastor presents an invaluable true L.A. moment where you can taste two vastly different al pastor styles in one block.  A culinary adventure to these reaches of the Sawtelle neighborhood now carries double the pastor, and, subsequently, double the fun.

L.A.'s Taco Life, rifa.

Tacos Zempoal Mixe ~ look for its evenings at 11321 National Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064 or 2541 S. Barrington Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90064.

11321 National Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064. Closest transit lines and stop: Santa Monica Big Blue Bus Line 8 - "National/Sawtelle" or Culver CityBus Lines 6 and 6R - "Sepulveda/National."

2541 S. Barrington Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90064. Closest transit lines and stop: Santa Monica Big Blue Bus Line 8 - "Gateway/Barrington."

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