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‘El Joy Dreams of Tacos’ ~ Tacos 1986 Brings Tijuana-Style Tacos and a Dancing Chef to Hollywood

Tacos from Tacos 1986. Photo by Erwin Recinos for L.A. TACO.

Tacos from Tacos 1986. Photo by Erwin Recinos for L.A. TACO.

[dropcap size=big]O[/dropcap]n the corner of Lexington and Highland, nestled between studios a short distance from Sunset Boulevard and the Hollywood and Highland that attracts crowds of tourists each year, lives Tacos 1986. It’s an area that doesn’t get much foot traffic at night when offices usually close, but just listen for the sound of banda and corridos, and follow your nose.

“Not a lot of people are willing to go [from Hollywood] all the way to East L.A. or South Los Angeles for tacos,” Victor M. Delgado explained the beauty of his taquería's location to L.A. Taco.

Delgado and his business partner, chef Jorge “El Joy” Alvarez-Tostado, opened the Tijuana-style taco stand three weeks ago on a Taco Tuesday. It's already gaining returning customers, already catering private events in the hills, and even made an appearance at Smorgasburg’s Holiday Popup on the Pier event this past Saturday.

Tacos 1986 offers four types of tacos: chicken, carne asada, puerco adobado (also known as al pastor), and mushroom for vegetarian taco lovers. Each meat and the mushrooms have their own cooking station, with Alvarez-Tostado manning the rotating spit which roasts the meat for the tacos adobados. The corn and flour tortillas are handmade. When ready, they are tossed through the air like delicious frisbees to one of the three taqueros who fills the edible discs with a hefty filling of meat, onion, cilantro, and guacamole.

RELATED: Carlos's Tijuana Style Tacos Arrives in Whittier

Tacos 1986 opened three weeks ago in Hollywood. It's already a sensation. All photos by Erwin Recinos.

Chef Alvarez-Tostado, who is called “El Joy” because of his friendly and ever-positive disposition, entertains customers with his swift taco preparation skills that include dancing and blowing kisses at the meat before he tosses it with love onto the grill.

“You know how Jiro Dreams of Sushi? El Joy dreams of tacos,” Alvarez-Tostado told L.A. Taco, referring to himself – by nickname no less – in the third person.

The portions are generous with the tortilla providing more space for fresh fixin’s than commonly used taco truck tortillas. One item that is not on the menu – and also Delgado’s favorite – is the perrón, or doggie. The perrón is a flour tortilla with creamy melted monterey jack cheese topped with lean carne asada, pinto beans, and guacamole. The tacos pack the right amount of flavor and chewiness, but do not leave your hands all covered in enough grease to turn cardboard transparent. Wash the whole meal down with some horchata or jamaica.

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]acos 1986 story is about how flavors and culture transcend borders. Delgado’s family moved to San Diego when he was 18 years old because of the increased violence at the height of the Arellano Félix wars. Alvarez-Tostado wanted to travel and experience working in different kitchens. And even though El Joy and Delgado no longer call Tijuana their permanent home both keep ties to their beloved border city. Their taco carts have their own special functions, designed in Tijuana with Alvarez-Tostado's vision.

After a short stint in Tijuana’s music scene, Delgado moved back in with his mother at her home in San Diego in 2008. A cousin urged him to move to Los Angeles, found him housemates in Sherman Oaks, and a job as a busboy at a West Hollywood nightclub.

“Part of my passion for the food industry came from working there. I saw how my manager paid attention to all of the minor details: like friendliness, and treating everybody to a five-star experience,” Delgado recalled. 

RELATED: The Inevitable Fusion of Tijuana and Ciudad de México Tacos Is Here ~ Don Goyo in Downey

In his early days working Hollywood, Delgado didn’t cook for himself and often went out to eat. That’s where he noticed a void. His adopted hood lacked the tacos he enjoyed while growing up.

Delgado believes taco culture is not only about the flavors, but also the experience. It's something he learned from his earliest taco memories.

“My family always ate together after school; my sister, dad, and mom," he recalled. "More than often, on the way home, dad would look back at me with a mischievous smile as we would drive by a stand called Tacos El Jockey. When we got home, we weren’t that hungry. But we wouldn’t tell my mom that we had a little snack."

Late last year, Delgado decided it was time to build some new taco memories in a town made of them.

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he dream was there, but Delgado was on the hunt for a chef who shared his passion for tacos and who could bring these Tijuana flavors to Hollywood. In 2017, he met Alvarez-Tostado, the traveling, happy taco man known as El Joy.

Alvarez-Tostado graduated from the National Culinary Institute in 2006. Shortly after graduating, Alvarez-Tostado lent his cooking chops and dance moves to Los Tacos No. 1 in New York, another Tijuana-style taquería. In 2014, Alvarez-Tostado moved to Nicaragua and made tacos on the beach. Imagine the taco parties there. Shortly after, he moved to Tijuana, where he honed his skills before Delgado lured him to Los Angeles with the promise of the culinary creative freedom to experiment with ingredients.

Aside from his experience in kitchens in different parts of the world, Alvarez-Tostado credits a year-long trip across Mexico for his adventurous palate. El Joy went from Tijuana to Tulum, where he tried the achiotes, moles, adobos and flavors that he never tried or even heard of before. It inspired his passion for creating new flavors, and risk-taking in the restaurant world.

As for the salsas, you won’t find jalapeños to top these tacos.

“I don’t work with jalapeño. It’s overrated," Alvarez-Tostado explained. "Chile serrano is a lot more noble. It has a lot more flavor, especially if you mix it with garlic.” Alvarez-Tostado says every taco stand along the border has ranchera salsa, which is made with fresh tomato, garlic, chile serrano, and chile morita.

Tacos 1986 also offers a green tomatillo salsa, a salsa adobada which has chipotle, and El Joy's salsa macha.  According to Alvarez-Tostado, his special salsa is a blend of five chiles toasted with sesame seeds, ginger, turmeric, and “a little secret that you’ll have to come and taste.”

In a city where a late-night stop at a taco stand is the requisite Angeleno nightcap, Delgado and Alvarez-Tostado want to deliver this street comfort food wrapped, not only with handmade, nixtamalized tortillas, but also with warm and familiar service.

“When people go for tacos, most don’t have time to sit down," Delgado explained.

"You park illegally, order your tacos, and eat standing. I feel pride in that. I just want people to have the experience I had as a kid. I want that to be readily available here.”

RELATED: Birria in The Trunk ~ The Improbable Rise of Teddy’s Red Tacos

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