toutpourlavape / Pretty much every good taco, 2020 edition • the Hi-lo


The almighty taco is the quintessential food of SoCal, spanning economic and social strata to fulfill the desires of countless folks through a single Mexican dish.

The culinary worthiness by way of ranking said tacos is one that is, admittedly, subjective. So, as with each year this list is written, a ranking is not really what this is.

This is just about good tacos, whether they align themselves along the traditional like tripas or al pastor or whether they fuse cultures, such as the Almighty American Taco filled with what some consider a sin (that would be yellow cheese).

With this, I’ve also decided to avoid overtly popular joints—Taqueria La Mexicana and Los Compadres immediately come to mind—because there’s no need to advertise them. This list is about a very specific type of taco at a very specific place.

With that, I have been continuing my annual dive into Long Beach’s taco scene in order to grasp what is best, what is most unique, and of course, what is most delicious.

In no particular order:

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An assortment of tacos de cazuela at La Chancla. Photo by Brian Addison.

Tacos guisados at La Chancla

990 Cherry Ave., #102

They go by many names: tacos de guisado, tacos de cazuela, tacos mañaneros.

But the one thing that unites them is the fact that the meats or veggies stuffed in the tacos are all stewed in singular cazuelas, pots that are traditionally earthenware but have shifted to metal tins as the growth of food trucks and fast-casual restaurants has spread. We’re talking birria, chile verde, tinga de pollo.

It harkens to the stewy fillings created at large family gatherings, where soupy dollops of meats that have been simmering for hours in clay cazuelas are stacked onto a fresh corn tortilla with minimal toppings. Maybe some onion and cilantro, maybe some salsa, maybe just meat. Eating six is common, eating more is practically unavoidable.

They are rather ubiquitous throughout Mexico—places like Taco Gus in Mexico City and Taco Guadalajara in Guadalajara have made them outright common—and they have spurred food tours in states ranging from Guanajuato to Quintana Roo. Stateside, Los Angeles’ Guisado’s has turned them into a beyond-popular small chain that spans Boyle Heights to West Hollywood.

In Long Beach, there weren’t any taquerias dedicated to the almighty tacos de guisado until this hole-in-the-wall space, tucked into a tiny strip mall at the southeast corner of Cherry Avenue and Tenth Street, offered not only a solid introduction to these tacos but a wonderfully unpretentious, warm, vibrant atmosphere to enjoy them in.

For Brian Addison’s original piece on La Chancla, click here.

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Carne asada chorreadas from Tacos La Carreta. Courtesy of business.

Carne asada chorreadas at Tacos La Carreta

3401 E. 69th St.

Taquero José Morales Jr. learned much of what he knows from his father, who was born in Mazatlán, the Sinaloa city whose love for carne asada is so pervasive that every single urban sector has the sweet smoke and savor of carne asada on the grill, permeating nearly every corner of every plaza.

Their popular, Compton-based operation was a part-time gig—but COVID-19 has altered that. As first reported by Eater LA, Junior lost his nine-to-five position handling linen—and knew dependence on such jobs wouldn’t be secure enough in our pandemic-centric world. With that, he has now decided to offer his (and his father’s, though he is retired) famed tacos in a more regular fashion thanks to an outing Friday through Sunday, 5 to 10 p.m. each day, in North Long Beach.

True to the Sinaloense style, Morales’ biggest star is his carne asada chorreada: A thick tortilla is topped with a hefty scoop of the truck’s masterful carne asada, lathered in Morales’ pork lard-based sauce and onions. The result? A wonder of a Mexican dish that Long Beach is truly lucky to have.

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The taco de buche [left] and the taco de tripas [right] from El Taco Loco #3 in Long Beach. Photo by Brian Addison.

Tripas taco at El Taco Loco #3

1465 Magnolia Ave.

I’ve talked about this taco before and I will never cease talking about it because it is a representation of the classic taco at its finest, served with a part of the pig all-too-often dismissed by boring appetites.

In the picture above, you’ll see two tacos—and surely the buche (left) is legit but when it comes to the best tripas I’ve ever had, it’s shoved into that little tortilla pocket on the right.

Handmade tortillas—not small, not too thick and plenty of room for a meaty filling—come with a healthy dose of clean tripe, marinated and wonderfully charred to a perfect crisp, slathered in salsa and topped with onion and cilantro.

Even better? The joint is open 24/7—just make sure when you get to the counter after waiting in line, you’re not the one holding up the hungry folks behind you.

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A quartet of Pancho’s pastor tacos. Photo by Brian Addison.

Pastor taco at Panchos Tacos

449 W. Anaheim St.

If you ever have the chance to visit Jalisco, you’ll find the pockets of every plaza from Guadalajara to Jalos filled with a giant slab of pork, layered with pineapple and spices, spinning on an upright stick called a trompo, massive sources of heat surrounding it while a talented, well-seasoned knifesman slices away slivers of succulent meat that fall into a tortilla.

This is al pastor and it’s a wonder of a meat to add to a taco.

Panchos, the food truck parked on the northeast corner of Magnolia Avenue and Anaheim Street, serves up the epitome of this dish every evening: A tray of pickled onion, whose mild tartness is sliced with heat from habañero and Serrano chiles, is the perfect accouterment for any lover of heat while their salsas, particularly their arbol-centric red sauce, is another fiery add-on that I personally find irresistible.

Either way, your mouth gets to delight in the wonders of al pastor.

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Suadero tacos are prepared by 562 Tacos off of Sante Fe Avenue in West Long Beach. Still captured from video by Thomas R. Cordova.

Tacos de suadero at 562 Tacos

2173 Santa Fe Ave.

Tacos de suadero, like almost every form of great food, was birthed out of poverty, a need to make money, and, of course, a need to cure hangovers: In the 20th century, Mexico City saw an influx of the country’s rural citizens seeking industrialized jobs. As the city attempted to adjust to this growth, it meant not everyone had a job—and street food was a path to help pay the bills and own a business that everyone loved.

Cutting costs, including taking on pieces of meats the typical chilango would dismiss as lowly, is really where the ingenuity of suadero comes from. Using the rougher part of the cow—the beef that sits between the ribs and the skin—suadero is a fatty, wondrous concoction, cooked in a sombrero-shaped pan on low heat with sausage, tripas, chorizo, and at 562 Tacos, some nopales—whose perfection deserves to sit in the throne of a folded tortilla. In Mexico City, it is ubiquitous to the point of being unavoidable and whose influence is reaching other cities like Guadalajara, Tijuana, and Puebla City.

Thankfully, one doesn’t have to travel such lengths to score some solid suadero: Ely Zepeda, along with her lifelong friend Jose “Pepe” Badajoz, serve up Long Beach’s best version of suadero.

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An order of burnt cheese tacos filled with barbacoa from Chinitos Tacos. Photo by Brian Addison.

Burnt cheese taco at Chinitos Tacos

11130 Del Amo Blvd.

Hidden in an unassuming, ubiquitous strip mall in suburbia sits a taco joint whose “owner y chef” is a disciple of Chef Thomas Ortega, the man behind Playa Amor, one of the city’s best restaurants, and Amorcito, (mentioned above and home to some of the city’s best tacos).

Meet Cambodian-American Chef Beeline Krouch and welcome to his world of Chinitos Tacos.

The influence of Ortega on Krouch’s cuisine is clear with the bright magentas of pickled red onion, in-house crafted tortillas, the melding of heritages… But Krouch holds his own with wonderful nuances: a dash of togarashi on top of an egg here, Thai tea with a splash of horchata there and, like any good Cambodian kid in Long Beach, a straight-up fried chicken special on Thursdays.

The span of Krouch’s reach is astounding. He honors the famed fantasma taco from Tijuana’s Taconazo by creating a burnt cheese taco shell that is as decadent as it is blissful while, at another point, honors his own heritage by melding flavors like lemongrass, ponzu and a house-made Chinese five spice into Mexican styles of protein, from barbacoa to carnitas.

And don’t be afraid to explore other proteins that might be viewed as pocho-gone-Asian: His pork belly special—where the sweets and salts of Asian flavors meld perfectly with his salsas—are not only some of the most beautiful tacos you’ll ever see, but also some of the most delicious.

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Tacos de canasta from Los Reyes de Taco Sabroso. Photo by Brian Addison.

Tacos de canasta at Los Reyes del Taco Sabroso

2345 E. Anaheim St.

The first time I ever wrote about this vastly underrated spot was a few years back—and it continues to surprise me with the quality of its grub. Their quesadillas, for one, are a wonder to behold: massive housemade corn tortillas—not flour—are filled with cheese, lettuce, cotija, and crema starting at $3.50. From there, you can add everything from huitlacoche—the corn fungus delicacy, with its charcoal-blue hue and earthy flavor—to birria or lengua.

Another stand out is their tacos de canasta.

Hidden on the northwest corner of Junipero and Anaheim, Los Reyes offers one particular form of the taco that is hard to find: tacos de canasta, or “basket tacos.” While called tacos de canasta in Mexico City, other regions refer to them as tacos sudados, an unappealing translation of “sweated tacos”—tacos al vapor, or tacos mineros, referring to the miners who often brought the food for their lunch.

These soft, moist tacos come with fillings you barely have to chew—and Los Reyes’ chicharrón version is wonderful. A steamed tortilla-wrapped package of long-stewed-after-being-fried pork comes on a plate with perfectly pickled carrots and onion, cabbage and a side of spicy, dark red salsa.

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Three different tacos sit in individual paper trays.

The Tepito Taco [front] sits amongst the short rib taco [back left] and soyrizo taco [front right]. Photo by Brian Addison.

The Tepito taco at Amorcito

3991 N Lakewood Blvd. inside the LBX’s Hangar extension

With Amorcito, Chef Thomas Ortega’s head-first dive into a taco-centric joint, his love of the taco is intensified, honed and played with.

And, unfortunately, this is your last chance to score his spectacular Tepito Taco before he streamlines the Amorcito menu to fit the new needs of the COVID-19 world come November.

An ode to the pig, carnitas are paired with slivers of cueritos—pickled pork skin—a generous chicharrón chip, and fries. The beiges of the pork and potatoes are sliced with bright greens and reds from two salsas and cilantro.

Ortega is paying homage to Mexico’s famed (and infamously dangerous) Tepito Market in Barrio Bravo. On a trip with food writer Bill Esparza—”I had the feeling he definitely had a hookup to keep us safe, y’know, because that place is truly crazy,” Ortega said—he discovered the beauty of fries in tacos along with honoring the full pig.

“With every taco, you would get asked, ‘Papas?’ and they would throw fries in there,” Ortega said. “Then I met a taco man… Every morning, this guy would butcher a full pig and cook the whole damn thing. Then he’d asked you what parts you wanted. Some carnitas. Some cueritos. Some cheek.”

And the Tepito Taco was birthed—get it before it is buried.

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El Sauz, at the southeast corner of Anaheim and Walnut Avenue. Photo by Brian Addison.

The Standing Outside Taco at El Sauz

1616 E Anaheim St.

El Sauz used to be a Brite Spot before all of them closed throughout the city, outside the questionable one on PCH (including the one further east on Anaheim, which is now the underrated Cañadas Grill).

And it was all for the better, especially their parking lot-facing taco window, a social distancing haven, during the times of COVID-19.

El Sauz has quickly become a cult favorite and it goes beyond its taco window. It’s the fact that its tacos are genuinely solid, all the while creating a unique street atmosphere that regulars are perhaps irked at during the pandemic, as wait times reach over 30 minutes without the restaurant’s dining room being able to accommodate patrons.

Simple and to-the-point, they are accompanied by sides of salsa that are positively drool-worthy.

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The Nashville hot chicken tacos from Fire Bird inside Liberation Brewing Co. Photo by Brian Addison.

Nashville hot chicken tacos from Fire Bird

3630 Atlantic Ave. (inside Liberation Brewing Co.)

Masters of fryin’ fowl, Thyda Chet Sieng’s ode to the Tennessee staple comes in many forms—a stellar sandwich a la Howlin’ Ray’s, mozzarella sticks, jalapeño poppers, and the true star: their whole, three-joint wings.

But their fried chicken is so succulent, so perfectly crafted that it would have been impossible not put them into a taco, so that’s exactly what Chet did. Keeping it simple because the simplest of foods are always the most stellar, all you have is their chicken at your chosen heat, some cabbage, some comeback sauce with a hint of sriracha, onions and cilantro.

“I wanted to create something new but accessible,” Chet said. “And since we’re Cambodian, I wanted to throw a bit more of the Asian flavors in there with the sriracha and cabbage.”

When it comes to the heat, don’t think that will be drowned out with the accoutrements thrown on top. While their spectacular sandwich can easily hide the heat with heft globs of slaw, comeback sauce and pickles, their tacos lay the heat bare (though nothing as hot as their bare wings or tenders).

I am a glutton for pain with an inner masochist so itchy to express itself that I find myself unable to escape the heat, so I tend to bounce between “Hot Chick” (the third level of heat that, for me, is more easily approachable) or the “Ex-Wife” (the fourth level of heat that has a sweetness to it if you’re willing to stand the burn). My Dude typically goes for the “Mid-life Crisis,” the second level of heat, but was offered a special by Thyda, the “Tom Cruise.” This is basically an in-between, where a dash of “Hot Chick” is thrown onto “Mid-life Crisis.”

In other words, your heat can be perfectly tailored and, perhaps, you can build up a tolerance for hotter levels but, just remember, it eventually has to come out.

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Birria tacos from Bryan’s Birrieria. Photo by Bryan Tecun.

Birria taco from Bryan’s Birrieria

150 W. Ocean Blvd. (parked near or in the Pike Outlets)

Before Bryan Tecun scored his taco truck, he launched at the breakfast spot known as Jerry’s Place in a middle-of-the-night popup that turned me onto to his tri-tip-not-chivo form of the famed Jaliscan dish.

Slow-cooked over the course of seven hours, Chef Bryan braises his version of the classic in a stew of tomatoes and oregano after marinating the slab of beef in a concoction of Guajillo chiles, garlic, vinegar and other sorts of magic. The result is a birria that harkens to some of the best versions I’ve had in Guadalajara: succulent, shreddy and perfection when slathered in onions, cilantro and Bryan’s house-made chile oil.

And in taco form? Pure deliciousness: Bryan uses the juices from the birria to dip the tortillas in before throwing them onto a griddle and filling them with chunks of meat and whatever else your heart desires.

Of course, the deviations away from Jalisco is where California grub shines: Bryan’s birria fries—a concoction you are unlikely to find in the heart of Guadalajara—is a decadent assortment of fries smothered in birria, sour cream, guacamole, cotija, onions and cilantro.

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Cheko el Rey del Sarandeado's smoke marlin taco and Gobernador taco. Photo by Brian Addison.

Cheko el Rey del Sarandeado’s smoke marlin taco [right] and Gobernador taco [left]. Photo by Brian Addison.

Smoked marlin taco at Cheko el Rey del Sarandeado

343 E. Market St.

I will never stop singing the praises of this taco—having talked about it for nearly five years now—created and served in a tiny, off-the-grid seafood joint dedicated to the Sarandeado-style preparation of fish, where it’s cooked over the high heat of simmering coals.

What makes Cheko—one of Long Beach’s best restaurants—so special is that the SoCal chef responsible for introducing us to this style is Chef Sergio Peñuelas, who developed a cult-like following at his former place, Coni’Seafood.

Now, his work is right here in Long Beach inside the most unassuming of places creating Long Beach’s best fish taco: Cheko’s marlin taco. Yes, Long Beach’s best fish taco is found in this tiny North Long Beach restaurant.

It’s smoky, salty, downright spectacular and even minimalist with just smoked marlin that is then heated over hot coals, cheese and a single avocado slice smudged inside a wonderfully hand-crafted tortilla.

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A trio of tacos dorados from Leo’s Mexican Grill’s Downtown Long Beach location. Photo by Brian Addison.

Tacos dorados at Leo’s Mexican Grill

225 E. Broadway and 755 Magnolia Ave.

After purchasing another taqueria on the west side of Magnolia between 7th and 8th—what was once Las Delicias De Michoacan, home to some of the city’s best carne asada—it was clear that Leo’s was building a mini-empire for itself; something a bit more traditional while still keeping a healthy dose of both American and Mexican cultures.

And while I hope one day they bring back their lengua—they had it for one brief moment in which I got to enjoy its splendor but it has never reappeared—I will always be a convert to their tacos dorados, or crispy tacos (only $1.50 a piece on Tuesdays and Fridays).

Pictured above is my typical order: one potato, one chicken, one ground beef—the last of which is the type of hard shell taco Taco Bell and Del Taco can only dream of mimicking and what a ground beef taco should represent: salty, onion-y, fatty beef cut with cold lettuce and cheese, topped with salsa.

Or, if you’re feeling more taco salad, break the hearty shells in half and use your makeshift chips as spoons, something I shamelessly do all the time.

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Taco al vapor at El Bukanas

306 W Anaheim St.

El Bukana’s is a diamond in the rough.

Tucked on the very northern edge of Downtown Long Beach on Anaheim Street between Pine and Magnolia Avenues, it’s a space that with no seats—just a counter—but legit tacos, especially the one for which it is known: tacos al vapor.

Roughly translated, it means a steamed taco (like the tacos de canasta mentioned above at Los Reyes del Taco Sabroso). In the case of Bukana’s, layers of handmade, extra-soft tortillas and filling are put in a tamale steamer and steamed for hours. The result is a pocket of tenderness that makes you come back for more. My suggestion? The birria and cabeza.

(And don’t forget the food truck that is Tacos Al Vapor La Güera—offering equally epic tacos al vapor—is open only a handful of hours a day in West Long Beach at 22414 S. Alameda St… So worth checking out La Güera.)

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Seabirds Kitchen’s mushroom [left] and beer-battered avocado [right] tacos. Photo by Stephanie Morgan.

Beer-battered avocado taco at Seabirds Kitchen

975 E. 4th St.

Vegans and veggie lovers were beyond ecstatic when food truck pioneer Seabirds Kitchen opened its second brick-and-mortar location just west of Retro Row. After all, Long Beach is undergoing a vegan/vegetarian food revolution, and Seabirds leads the way in terms of tacos.

Surely, there are their quite stellar mushroom tacos, drizzled in an ancho chili oil and topped with grilled onions, fermented curtido, cilantro and almond feta, but the true star of this space remains its flagship taco, the utterly decadent, savory, creamy beauty that is its beer-battered avocado taco.

Located directly across from a McDonald’s—scoring extra points for Awesome Dichotomy—it is very easy to shove one of these folded wonders into your mouth, one after the other.

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The carnitas plate from Playa Amor. Photo by Brian Addison.

Carnitas taco at Playa Amor

6527 E. Pacific Coast Hwy.

You’re probably looking at that and thinking, “I don’t see a taco.” Pause. “And I don’t see carnitas.”

Off-camera, to the side of this masterful plate of carnitas buried under chicharrones, cotija, pickled onion, and cilantro from Chef Thomas Ortega at Playa Amor, sits a plate of equally masterful tortillas churned out by Ortega’s tortilla lady, Maria Barraza of Sinaloa. Together, they are nothing short of sublime—just make sure to ask for a side of pickled onion or simply order the taco plate. But this is the way I prefer because there’s something about assembling your own taco: choosing how much pork you want to weigh the tortilla down.

Playa Amor is, unquestionably, one of Long Beach’s best restaurants, and even more important is Ortega’s very personal love letter to Mexico. And like any great confession of love, it comes with challenges to the status quo definition of love. This is modern, intellectual Mexican cuisine for which Ortega is unapologetic, and he is unapologetic because his homage to Mexico shines a new light on a cuisine that has become a direct part of California culture.

Expect nothing less with his tacos—whether he assembles them for you or you do so yourself.

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Cabeza tacos from Joliza’s in Wrigley Village. Photo by Brian Addison.

Cabeza taco at Joliza’s Tacos

2233 Pacific Ave.

I think, particularly as of late, meat is beginning to find its way out of daily human diets due to both the havoc we’re doing to the environment through animal farming and the ugly, unethical way many farms treat their animals.

And when it comes specifically to the American consumption of meat, we are the most egregious, disposing of massive portions of animals because we deem those parts “inedible,” including, say, the head of a cow or pig. I, being Italian, never understood until I was older that my love of head-cheese—an Italian cold-cut comprised of pig head—was “lowly.”

Sorry. If you’re going to skip out on personally killing an animal with your own hands, leaving that to the slaughterhouses, the least you can do is respect the animal by leaving nothing behind and consuming every bit you can.

And Joliza’s Tacos is a way to do that with their stellar cabeza taco. While not quite on the level of Tacos Estilo Guadalajara in Lynwood or the Tacos El Güerro truck in Boyle Heights, this is a prime example of how things we oddly dismiss as inedible create some of the most delectable foods.

Even better? They’re $1.50 all day, every day—a cabeza is the only exception to the otherwise normal offerings of carne asada, pastor, and what not. You unfortunately won’t find any buche, tripas, or lengua—for that, you will have to visit the aforementioned El Taco Loco.

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Baja Sonora deep-fried hard taco with a michelada in Long Beach Thursday, August 29, 2019. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

The American taco at Baja Sonora

2940 Clark Ave.

I know many a reader, particularly my proud Mexican ones, may be shaking their heads right now and sighing: “This gringo.”

But hear me out: As White as this taco may seem, it is nonetheless a part of the diaspora of Mexican food.

Every city and town in Southern California has one, largely thanks to the 1937 opening of Mitla Cafe in San Bernardino (the very cafe that Don Bell got his idea for Taco Bell from). In my tiny, perched-on-a-mountain hometown of Big Bear, it was a place called La Montaña. In Long Beach, it is Baja Sonora.

Hard shell tacos—”tacos dorados,” the golden tacos—stuffed with meat, iceberg lettuce, chopped tomatoes and ungodly amounts of yellow and white cheeses. (Colby Jack? Cheddar and Jack? Who cares?) For me and my small mountain town, this was Mexican food.

Then, leaving the nest and coming to Los Angeles, I realized—or mistakenly thought—it wasn’t Mexican food. Those aren’t “real tacos,” my Chicano friends would tell me after getting back from seeing their families in Jalisco or Michoacan. Real tacos, preferably, came with soft corn tortillas and were topped with nothing but meat, onions, cilantro and salsa. If you were to create a fried taco, you would stuff it first, typically with beans or rolled with meat, and then fry it. You don’t just fry a tortilla to create a shell. That’s not really a taco.

And yellow cheese? How very dare you.

But this is the Cal-Mex restaurant or “Mexican-American” restaurant if you want to stumble down that very slippery slope—let alone get caught up in Tex-Mex.

Mexican food is arguably the world’s most stereotyped cuisine as well as one of its most misunderstood and complex. But there is one reality with it: Mexican grub’s migration above the Rio Grande has made it a food impossible to shove into a cubby hole. This becomes especially true once the A-word, “authenticity,” is thrown out there. Your “authentic pozole” is but a part of the four variations I’ve had in Mexico alone (which is not to mention the many others throughout the Southwest U.S.). And your “authentic taco” is but one of many stops along the great, massive diaspora of tacos.

“Like me, a Mexican American, you, [Golden Taco] are often derided by our cousins down south as inauthentic or pocho,” Gustavo Arellano once wrote of the maligned hard shell taco. “But the very first tacos to enter America were crackling tacos dorados, or ‘golden tacos.’ Which means you are more native to this land than any of your flaccid competitors.”

Baja Sonora—like a better quality cousin of its old-school predecessor, Pancho’s on Pacific Coast Highway—is one of Long Beach’s “golden taco” staples.

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Oi Asian Fusion’s pork belly jicama tacos. Photo by Brian Addison.

Pork belly jicama tacos at Oi! Asian Fusion

6600 Atlantic Ave.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: There is a vibe at the Uptown Commons that is both refreshing and leads one to wonder about its future success. On one hand, you have a vibrant, shipping container-structured space at the northeast corner of Atlantic Avenue and Artesia Boulevard—a stone’s throw away from one of the city’s best restaurants, Robert Earl’s BBQ, and surrounded almost entirely by fast-food giants, including a Wendy’s on the same lot—that brings some wonderful life to a lot that has little to offer besides dirt.

One of those particular standouts is Oi Asian Fusion, a Filipino-meets-Korean-meets-Japanese joint that not only offers quality and affordable food but genuinely fun food. Like their pork belly tacos served on thin slivers of jicama.

Fat rendered just right, layered with an eel-sauce drizzled on top of pickled onions, generous droppings of cilantro, and a slice of jicama that would traditionally be the tortilla, sliced so thin that you might not even see it. It’s a gorgeous layering of salt, umami and sweet and it showcases beauty in the presentation one might find shocking for a joint inside a shipping container.

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Chicken Flautas, 4 rolled Flautas stuffed with shredded chicken breast & potatoes & topped with lettuce, pico de gallo, sour cream and a side of guacamole at Aguas Way restaurant in North Long Beach on Friday, July 27, 2018, Photo by Thomas R Cordova

The rolled taco at Aguas Way

5248 Long Beach Blvd.

Firstly, flautas and taquitos are forms of tacos, and here, we have flautas de pollo that are flour tortilla rolled bits of wonder.

This North Long Beach gem is, somewhat oddly, known for its funnel cake and carne asada fries. (Yes, you read that right and, another odd-but-cool note is that it has a tiny but dog-friendly patio in the back.) And the Long Beach Post has long sung its praises.

Its popularity lies in, of course, the reason for its moniker: the plethora of aguas frescas it offers.

Their chicken flautas, are contained in a buttery, fried flour tortillas stuffed with chicken and topped with lettuce, crema, pico de gallo and avocado dip.

And don’t sleep on their shrimp taco: Battered and deep-fried, it might not reach the echelons of taste that its Ensenada counterparts do, but with a dollop of crema, come pickled onions, and cabbage, it definitely gets the trick done. Feelin’ healthier? Get the shrimp ceviche tostada, pictured above.

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The octopus tacos at Lola’s. Photo by Brian Addison.

Pulpo taco at Lola’s Mexican Cuisine

2030 E Fourth St. and 4140 Atlantic Ave.

The first time I ever had these tacos was when Navarro made them for no other reason than to make them. He just wanted to make dinner. Out comes a plate with two massive tacos, stretchy flour tortillas stacked with rounded slivers of octopus, cabbage, cotija and a wonderfully creamy drizzle.

“Why aren’t these on the menu?” I asked. “They’re amazing.”

Navarro, sadly, said that people just “didn’t get it and they didn’t order it.” I never found octopus to be strange but then again, I was raised by an Italian mother that loved seafood, especially calamari and pulpi, using both to create carpaccio, soups and salads.

But Long Beach sometimes needs to be led, especially the patrons at Lola’s, whose demands for regular menu items have blinded them to the incredible wide range of Mexican cuisine. Maybe they haven’t ventured to places like Guelaguetza in Koreatown to experience tlayudas or just up the street to Cheko el Rey del Sarandeado to experience the beauty of mariscos.

Either way, it seems like Navarro is finally taking a step toward letting patrons understand his palate rather than catering to the masses—and it has resulted in wonders like this spicy octopus taco.

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The vegan gyro taco from Padre. Picture by Jay Krymis.

Vegan gyro taco at Padre

2030 E Fourth St. and 4140 Atlantic Ave.

I end with the newest taco. In fact, it debuts today.

If there is one overarching thing to say about Guadalajara-born Chef Manuel Bañuelos, it is that he is fearless when it comes to interpreting Mexican food. Bañuelos’ food, which has brought him across the world from Mexico and London to Chicago and LA, is one that strays from the typical and goes for the challenging.

For some, it can be frustrating—”Dude, I just want some carne asada”—but for those willing to be patient and curious, the creations of Bañuelos can be truly wonderful.

Like this clever “gyro” taco that caters to vegans and non-vegans alike: a seitan-based gyro sits under a cashew tzatziki sauce, fresh dill, and heirloom tomatoes. The result is a fun, witty take on the taco that doesn’t exist elsewhere—and it is certainly one worth exploring.


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