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The Five Best Tacos In Santa Monica

Santa Monica may surprise you with its wealth of Mexican menus and tempting tacos, from Oaxacan-style tasajo tacos on house-nixtamalized handmade corn tortillas to albacore tacos with yuzu, here's how to find Mexcellence in West L.A.'s touristy seaside city.

11:03 AM PDT on September 13, 2023

    L.A. TACO is embarking on its biggest mission yet: to create a reliable taco and food guide for every neighborhood in Los Angeles! Along the way, we will also be releasing brief histories of each neighborhood to understand L.A. a little more and why each and every neighborhood makes our fine city unique. Check out the rest of our history and food guides on our neighborhood page

    These are the five best tacos in Santa Monica.

    For lo, Santa Monica’s taco monster wears many faces and is more misunderstood than Boo Radley.

    Saddled far and wide with the ill repute of being a parched landscape of scant Mexcellence, the seaside city counts one of L.A.’s largest concentrations of longstanding Mexican restaurants. Venerated family-owned and family-favored favorites like Gilbert’s El Indio, Lares, Tacos Por Favor, Mariscos Guillen La Playita, Casa Martin, Benny's, and Panchos, as well as veteran locations of El Cholo and Campos.

    As a major target of international tourism, Santa Monica is also rife with margarita joints that put the party before the quality of their combo plates, speckling the city from Main Street and the Promenade, to the western stretches of Wilshire and the last few feet of the Pier.

    With residents in the northern reaches of Santa Monica possessing some of the country’s most expensive real estate, you’ll also find plenty of Mexican food upstarts gunning for the trendy, pale, and deep-pocketed, from Montana Avenue to Ocean Boulevard. Where handblown chandeliers glitter over the tableside preparations of pricey, pomegranate-studded guacamole and the market-priced pescado frito of some itinerant celebrity chef, Gipsy Kings, caterwauling on repeat.

    And while Santa Monica taco fiends still pine for the creativity and quality of chef Josh Gil’s departed Tacos Punta Cabras, a flow of notable, popular taquerías from around L.A. have increased the local taco-ptions greatly. Tacos 1986, Trejo's Tacos, Tu Madre, and Papi’s Tacos & Churros are now both just steps from the Promenade, making sure a thoughtfully-conceived, regionally-influenced taco is always on hand for members of the community and visitors alike.

    But while Santa Monica may surprise you with its wealth of Mexican menus and tempting tacos, there can only—well, completely arbitrarily—be five best.

    These are the five best tacos in Santa Monica.

    Try them now. As the Santa Monica of today may not be the Santa Monica you see tomorrow.

    Tacos with cecina (left) and tasajo on housemade corn tortillas at Yagul Cafe. Photo by Hadley Tomicki for L.A. TACO.

    YAGUL CAFE

    Housemade tortillas are seldom seen in Los Angeles or Santa Monica. When we find them, we hold on tightly. Yagul Café comes from the family behind Oaxacan restaurant Quiadaiyn in Mar Vista, which is committed to the art form, recently opening its own Westside tortilleria named Maria’s.

    Yagul, a cute, bright café in Downtown Santa Monica, uses the masa made from fresh nixtamal at Maria’s to handcraft its own corn tortillas, which are supple, supportive, and maize-forward with a slight snap. They shine in full glory when enfolding buttery cuts of salty tasajo and richly spiced cecina in hefty Oaxacalifornian tacos that are tempered by guacamole, pico de gallo, a rail of queso fresco, and (this being Santa Monica Farmers Market turf and all) roughage in supernaturally bright shades of green.

    530 Wilshire Blvd. Ste. 107 Santa Monica, CA 90401. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Line 720 - “4th/Arizona”, Bus Line 4 - "6th/Santa Monica" or Metro E Line - "Downtown Santa Monica Station."

    Photo by Hadley Tomicki for L.A. TACO.

    LA PUREPECHA

    It didn’t take long for Santa Monican taco-heads who know their shit to start claiming allegiance to downtown’s La Purépecha, dubbed after Michoacan’s indigenous societies of the same name. The thick tortillas here are soft and deeply corny, with serrated edges attesting to the human hands that make them. The tacos have a notably righteous meat-to-tortilla ratio, helping us revel in the succulent carnitas (of course), adobada, and pollo asado.

    La Purepecha, Santa Monica. Photo by Hadley Tomicki for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by Hadley Tomicki for L.A. TACO.

    Cheese lovers can turn their tacos into taconazos, too, allowing a layer of melted cheese to be spackled to your tortilla’s inner wall. The grilled, flaky fish taco here often lingers on the mind, somnambulistically propelling us in the direction of Purépecha’s address come Taco Tuesdays, when the price dips to $1.99 per taco.

    725 Broadway Santa Monica, CA 90401. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Line 4 - “Santa Monica/Lincoln” or Metro E Line - "Downtown Santa Monica Station."

    Photo by Hadley Tomicki for L.A. TACO.

    TACOS LA GÜERA

    Despite the passing appearance of a few regular taco trucks and a noticeable concentration around the Pier, you don’t tend to catch a lot of street food out in this city, a symptom, we entirely presume, of some sort of fascist Santa Monica shit.

    La Güera, which has numerous locations working like well-oiled machines across L.A., keeps one foot in Venice, the other two-thirds of its operation planted firmly in Santa Monica, both ends cojoined under the Venice sign. All you need to do is look for the giant spinning trompo attended by a sizable line of Westsiders and a skilled taquero, who shaves al pastor straight into your tortillas before swiping his steel across its pineapple crown, the tropical fruit spiraling its way into your taco, or as often happens, all over the sidewalk.

    While the trompo is the holy temple here, and your best bet for eating a taco that makes you say “Mmmmmm… goddamn!” the other meats on the menu, extending to buche, cabeza, suadero, and tripas, are no slouch themselves, whether grilling over charcoal or simmering in their own fat. Especially after you’ve played Pollock at the salsa bar, drizzling and dabbing your taco in an array of brick reds, cool greens, slick chiles, and purple picked onions.

    241 Lincoln Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90291. Closest Metro line and stop: Bus Line 33 - “Main/Sunset.”

    Photo via Vamos Vamos.

    VAMOS VAMOS

    What would even be the point of paying the astronomical Santa Monica rents of today if you couldn’t find a fish taco by the beach? Vamos Vamos chef Ivan Barros ensures you don’t even have to consider this painful scenario. The cute little Main Street margarita and nacho bar from Randy Clement and April Langford (Silver Lake Wine, Highland Park Wine, E.R.B., Triple Beam, and Hippo) keeps its taco menu half-short and twice-strong, and its agave list long.

    Vamos Vamos pours Yuu Baal as its well mezcal while slipping big, bright orange ingots of battered and fried rock cod into La Princesita’s corn tortillas, topping each with cilantro-lime cabbage slaw, avocado puree, and as much lime juice as your tensile finger strength can yield. And just like that, you’re in your Baja state of mind, Pacific gales grazing your date’s shoulders, the madrecuishe going to your heads.

    You can also get the fish tacos grilled. Maybe, most importantly, you can get two fish tacos for $12 with a shot of tequila come Tuesdays.

    2917 Main St. Santa Monica, CA 90405. Closest Metro line and stop: Bus Line 33 - “Main/Marine (westbound)” or "Main/Pier (eastbound)."

    Brisket and cochinita pibil tacos at Jonah's Kitchen. Photo by Hadley Tomicki for L.A. TACO.

    JONAH’S KITCHEN

    No Santa Monica taco list could be complete without a place to point you to for bougie tacos. Jonah’s is filled with exactly the kind of Instagram magnets you would expect to find hanging out at a Tulum-inspired restaurant owned by Leonardo DiCaprio’s former personal chef. Fortunately, the food isn’t secondary to the scene. Chef Jonah Johnson’s menu hinges on wood-fired and smoked meats, drawing much inspiration of its inspiration from Latin America, the Caribbean, and other global flavors.

    The tacos here brandish oligarch prices, along with alluring ingredients, such as sweet-and-spicy gochujang-slicked shrimp, buttered lobster, and juicy, 14-hour smoked brisket on delicate, housemade corn tortillas. There’s also a decadent taco dorado stuffed with smoked, banana leaf-wrapped cochinita pibil, and a killer carne molido taco made from Wagyu beef picadillo in a crispy tortilla. Lettuce-topped, with aji verde, it’s a righteously messy beauty, walloping you like the epicurean answer to Tito’s.

    Albacore tacos with yuzu, scallions, and serrano at Jonah's Kitchen. Photo by Hadley Tomicki for L.A. TACO.

    And no one’s saying you must admit to liking sushi tacos. Only long enough to vulnerably eke out your table’s order for the sashimi-grade albacore tacos with yuzu juice, fried scallions, and serrano slices inside a wonton shell. This is no time to be self-conscious.

    2518 Wilshire Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90403. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Lines 20 or 720 - “Wilshire/26th.”

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