Narrowing down where to get tacos in Los Angeles can be a bit daunting. Between hipster taco pop ups and genuine taco carts/trucks on every corner, how do you find the real deal. I’ve worked as a chef for the last 20 Years, was born and raised in East LA and am of Mexican descent. Needless to say, I know a good taco when I have one.
- Carnitas Michoacan
This is my favorite spot for Carnitas and Al Pastor. They have been pumping out delicious tacos at this location for 43 years. It is open 24 hours and always has plenty of locals dining in. I am obsessed with their red salsa but be careful, it is liquid fire. Make sure to get it on the side because it is usually automatically added to tacos. Another word to the wise is to avoid the al pastor burrito. Since it is a larger portion, sometimes the cooks overlook cartilage or sinew and it can be off putting.
- King Taco
King Taco has been reigning supreme in every sketchy neighborhood of East LA since 1974. Quality has taken a slight dip in the last 5 years but the tacos are still delicious. It’s a toss up between the Carnitas and Carne asada. All of their salsa is great but I can’t get enough of their tomatillo salsa. I’m not crazy about their al Pastor but I know many locals who love it. Beyond the tacos, you can also find Tamales, burritos, flautas and combination plates. If you do try tamales, I suggest the Raja y queso (jalapeño and cheese). Some of the locations, such as the Lincoln Heights store, sell meat by the pound and masa. Right before Christmas, you will see people forming lines around the block to purchase masa for their holiday tamales. For the exception of the Pasadena location, every other store may seem to be in bad areas from an outsiders’ perspective but don’t be scared off. Every location has a guard on duty and I’ve never had a issue after in all the years I’ve been a patron.
- Tacos Baja Ensenada
This Whittier Boulevard landmark has a huge following of locals and customers from the surrounding neighborhoods. Their Fish tacos are the best I’ve had outside of Mexico and they have captured the flavors of Baja. The fish is fried in a light, ultra crispy batter and is topped with lettuce, crema and salsa. During lunch time, large crowds begin to form. These tacos are worth the wait.
When I think of tacos, Al Pastor, Carnitas, Carne Asada and Chicharron are what I search for. Taste are subjective but as a chef I know what to look for in flavor profiles and technique.
Great Al pastor should have a crunchy exterior and tender texture within. It should have a hint of sweetness with a spicy bite.
Authentic Carnitas and Chicharron should be tender enough to melt in your mouth and have layers of savory flavor.
Carne asada should have hints of cilantro, jalapeño and citrus notes from the marinade. It taste best with a charred flavor from the open grill.
If you’re not as critical as I am, here are a couple of other spots that still draw plenty of locals. I’ve had adequate tacos at these locations but I don’t find any of them to be consistent.
I really wanted to love this place because of all the hype I heard about authenticity. Unfortunately, I have had a different experience every visit and none of them blew me away.
You can find this chain in Lincoln Heights, Highland park and other Northeast LA locations. This chain is mostly popular because of their prices. The tacos are not terrible but they are not making it to the top of anyone’s list.
Taco spots are everywhere in LA but these are my favorite out of the countless I’ve tried. There are new locations popping up every day but these have stood the test of time for good reason. If you get the chance, give them a try and treat yourself to some amazing tacos.