The Perfect 2 Hour Los Angeles Taco Crawl
Back in February, to celebrate the two year anniversary of Midtown Lunch: Los Angeles, I put together a list of the 21 best lunches in L.A. In addition to being a milestone celebrator and a shameful traffic builder it also meant that I now have a link I can send any friends from out of town when they visit and want to be taken to lunch. Naturally Mexican food dominates the list (6 of the 21 places), but I realized something interesting when a couple of friends from Boston visited last week. Why eat at one place, when you can eat at 5. In other words, there is a pretty spectacular lunchtime taco crawl to be had between Los Feliz and Boyle Heights. And the best part is, you not only get to try 5 completely different styles of taco, but it can all be done in two hours if you don’t dilly dally.
Warning… Mondays and Tuesdays, one of these options is closed. On Wednesdays, two options are closed.
A. RICKY’S FISH TACOS
Address: 1400 N. Virgil, Los Angeles
What to Order: Fish taco, agua fresca of the day
The best part about getting to Ricky’s right at Noon is there’s no line. As tempting as it will be to order one fish taco and one shrimp taco from this Los Feliz (by way of Ensenada) hero, stick with the single fish taco. By the third stop you’ll be glad you held back. The sludgy bucketful of batter sitting next to the frier doesn’t look like much, but once the oil works its magic its crunch makes all other L.A. fish tacos cower in shame. These days Ricky’s is only open on Thursdays through Sundays, so you’ll have to start off at option B on Monday-Wednesday.
B. MEXICALI TACO & CO
Address: 702 North Figueroa Street, Los Angeles. 213-613-0416
What to Order: Carne Asada Taco (or Vampiro), Horchata
This street food stand hadn’t yet upgraded from “late night only parking lot folding table” to “open for lunch brick and mortar” when I put together my best lunches in L.A. list, but you better believe they’d be on it if the list came out today. Not only do they boast the best carne asada in Los Angeles, but their salsa bar is pretty special too. This might be a taco crawl, but if you’re a big fan of melted cheese you should probably upgrade to the vampiro- a garlicky glorified quesdilla, stuffed with the meat of your choice. One word of advice, though: share it with a friend if you expect to make it to the finish line.
Address: 2100 E. Cesar E Chavez Ave., Los Angeles. 323-264-7201
What to Order: Any taco, or the sampler platter if you’ve got 4 people in your crew.
Conveniently located right in between stops B and D, how can you not pull over at Guisados- the 2012 Taco Madness co-champion. The menu of different guisados (translation: stews) might be overwhelming but there is always the $7 sampler platter, although that is only recommended if you have at least 4 people in your crawl. After all, there are still two more tacos to eat!
D. LOS 5 PUNTOS
Address: 3300 E Cesar E Chavez Ave, Los Angeles. 323-261-4084
What to order: Taco sortida w/ guacamole
So, we’ve done fish tacos, carne asada, and guisados. What’s next? Pork! This bustling carnitas market is an L.A. institution, where you can watch them make your extra thick corn tortilla by hand just minutes before they stuff it full of chopped up pig parts. Some will argue that there are better carnitas to be had in Los Angeles than what you get from Los 5 Puntos, but nobody I’ve taken has ever left disappointed. Plus, those other places aren’t conveniently located between Guisados and the final spot on our crawl. The only downside is they’re closed on Wednesdays. Most people in line will be ordering meat by the pound and tortillas by the bagful, but don’t let that discourage you. They will sell you a composed taco. Order the sortida, so you get a little bit of everything, and then point to your condiment choices from the salsa bar on the left. Their cactus salsa is a must for fans of nopales, but I prefer the simplicity of pico de gallo and guacamole (which is well worth the extra 50 cents.) Stand on the sidewalk outside, turn your head sideways, and go to town. At this point the super thick tortilla might be a bit intimidating so nobody will fault you for sharing a single taco with a friend.
E. MARISCOS JALISCO
Address: 3040 E Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles. 323-528-6701
What to order: Taco dorado de camaron (and a ceviche tostada, if you’re still hungry!)
I used to start the crawl off at Mariscos Jalisco and finish things off at Ricky’s until I realized that you probably shouldn’t lead with the best taco of the day. Calling it a fried shrimp taco doesn’t quite do this Jalisco style taco dorado justice. I like to tell people to imagine the most delicious shrimp paste goop they’ve ever tasted, wrapped in a tortilla, and completely deep fried. That gets people’s attention, and yet they’re still not ready for the delicious surprise within. The salsa and avocado give it a coolness that make it the perfect capper to the crawl. Plus if you’re still hungry, the ceviche tostada goes down easy too.