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El Sereno

Tijuana Style Tacos ~ Los Angeles

This article has been reprinted with permission from Lady Ducayne

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, my beloved City of Angels, a place that I love exploring, even today. It doesn’t matter that I’m from here, there is always something happening, people to meet, places to see…never a dull moment. At the age of five, I moved to the SCV, but my love for LA has never decreased.

When I was a kid, my uncle introduced me to an OG Taco Truck called “El Paisa” that always parked on the same street in El Sereno. It was near his home and I remember that I loved to visit my uncle because it meant we got to eat from “El Paisa” before heading back to SCV. Everyone knew the guy that owned the truck as “Paisa” and there was also a woman on the truck that made me special mulitas! I wouldn’t even have to order them anymore, she would see me and immediately get to work hand forming my mulita.

El Paisa prepared Tijuana style tacos with the creamy guacamole and used mesquite charcoal which made his tacos different than what I would typically find on street corners. Yet, more than anything, his accent, and his tacos always took me back to Tijuana. It was so familiar, and it was tradition. For years I ate with El Paisa, a big man that saw me grow up, always asked how I was, and just one of those people that you meet and is always so kind. And then, one day, El Paisa fell ill and he wasn’t on the truck anymore…then the truck wasn’t on the usual street anymore…and then years later, we learned that El Paisa had died. This was about seven years ago, but often El Paisa would come up in conversation, and we always remembered him fondly.

Often, if we happened to be in the area, we would “take a cruisin” past the old neighborhood to see if by chance, the truck and his legacy was still around, but no, it seems as if El Paisa was now just a memory. Until early 2009…a blue truck was parked in his old spot one day! We stopped by and despite the fact that I was now in my mid-20s, the lady that would so happily make my mulitas recognized me! That night was not only a night of fond memories, but it was like a part of my childhood came back. We spent hours talking and catching up that night. A relative had taken over and I even Yelped about it. And look! I wasn’t alone! So many others had been looking for the truck! El Paisa touched a lot of lives in El Sereno…and he was missed by many.

As if by fate, or chance, we happened to pass by that night, but the next time we passed by, weeks later? The truck was once again gone! And a week later, again. Gone. It was almost as if I had dreamed that night had happened. That happy reunion. My childhood. The universe was acting up again! Grr!

A few months ago, my uncle fell ill (he’s better now), and as a bunch of us were gathered in his hospital room, one of my cousins came in and said “I found El Paisa’s brother!” and instantly we all talked fondly of El Paisa and wanted to know details. My cousin said he was at a friend’s birthday party and thought the guy slanging tacos looked familiar. Furthermore, he said the tacos tasted familiar. Immediately we wanted details, but he didn’t have much, just that El Paisa’s brother was slanging somewhere in El Sereno and that it tasted just like the OG El Paisa. Grr! Didn’t he know how many people were slanging tacos on just about every street corner in El Sereno? #$%?#@#$#

What followed was months of trial and error. If we happened to be nearby, we would go up and down El Sereno looking for someone that resembled El Paisa’s tacos and nothing ever came close. We didn’t know if we were looking for a truck or a stand, or someone’s backyard. All we had was this false hope that maybe, just maybe, we would find his brother. We even asked people if they remembered “El Paisa” and got nothing. We had pretty much given up on this quest.

And then, like three weeks ago, we were coming from SGV and cut through El Sereno to DTLA when we saw a stand we hadn’t hit up yet. The guy was cooking with mesquite and we were a bit hungry anyway. Yet, there was something familiar about the asada…and then…when we asked if the knew “El Paisa” the guy replied, yeah he was my brother, but he died about seven years ago…woah…

We had found El Paisa’s brother, who apparently had opened a small restaurant in the years prior, but he had to close, so he went back to slanging on the streets, seven days a week. Just him and his wife, and sometimes his young son. His stand is simple, not a truck, and he only has asada. His tacos are only a dollar, and they take me back to my childhood. These are Tijuana style tacos, even in the way they are wrapped. My primos at Mexicali Taco & Co slang Mexicali Style, my Tio Ricky slangs Ensenada Style, and this guy slangs TJ Style. A trifecta of my Baja roots, right here in my beloved City of Angels.

I had been weary to share this because it is so personal to me, and so much a part of my childhood…eventually I’ll post his address…but I want to take a few friends there first. It is nothing fancy, and like I said all he sells are asada tacos (he can make it a tostada) and hey, maybe its not the best ever…but to me these are also about context and memory and are so deeply tied to my childhood. I don’t want anyone ruining this for me or hating on them. I hadn’t even taken photos or talked about them much, but today there was nice light out and I felt inspired to take a few pictures. It seems to be a hit with the locals, and its their secret place too. Luckily there is a place to buy something to drink nearby (he doesn’t even sell drinks), and there are only like two chairs. And that’s fine.

All I know is that these flavors are what I had been missing for years…and it was a quest to find them again…but I’m happy…I Love LA. XoXo.

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