Scoping out single-vessel culture in Los Angeles, America’s capital of laid-back food.
In my circle of friends, we think of Cactus Taqueria as the In-N-Out of Mexican food. The chain might not have the character of one-off joints, but it certainly has a dependable product and a legion of late-night customers. I recently went to Cactus #2 on Beverly after an outing at Blipsy Barcade in Koreatown. While ordering a couple tacos I noticed for the very first time that they offer a rice bowl. Bowls are common at Chipotle and Qdoba, but never in all my Cactus nights had I heard anyone order a bowl. It was only fitting that as soon as I got mine—on another visit, a sober one—the next guy in line asked what I was hauling to a table.
If In-N-Out does a grilled cheese right, my logic went, a Cactus bowl should be just fine. One with carne asada ($7) was a hefty thing, like one of the packed bowls at Roy Choi’s Chego. Layer of refried beans, another of rice, meat, diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, a glop of guacamole—it’s funny how when you take away a tortilla and add sobriety, components that you normally love somehow change. That rice, for instance: It was tasteless and generic, like the stuff you find at El Pollo Loco. Maybe I should’ve ordered a juicier meat, carnitas or cabeza, to add moisture and flavor. A good bowl needs one standout component at least, and a mound of guacamole ain’t it.
Cactus Taqueria #2 [Koreatown]
4370 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles; 323-662-0759
Bowl grade: C
Second bowl: Hero Shop in DTLA
Photos by Emily Buckingham