Inspired by Bandini's taco blog ( http://tacohunt.blogspot.com/ ), and driven half-mad by the recent heatwave, my companion and I have spent many late evenings in recent weeks taste-testing tacos across the L.A. metrosplat.
To keep the tests loosely controlled, I've limited myself to al pastor; my friend has stuck to carne asada. Here are our findings to date:
Our favorite, across the board:
1104 S Hoover St, Los Angeles
This place has so much going for it. First, the non-edible components:
-- Ample off-street parking (with security guard, if it matters);
-- Ample indoor seating;
-- Late hours;
-- Interesting decor (bull- and bullfighting theme)
-- Low-key vibe: lots of friends and families there for late-night meals and socializing (and no nettlesome kid behavior when we were there; just kids chillin' with the adults -- nice to see)
Now, the edibles:
-- Just a kick-ass delicious al pastor taco all the way around. Please note that the sauce has teeth, so be sure to order extra drinks if you aren't a fire-eater!
Running a close second is the King Taco branch right around the bend from El Taurino. Here, the ambiance is more that of a cafeteria, but the food is cranked out more quickly, and the tacos cost one penny less (1.15 plus tax) than El Taurino. (I think that extra cent pays for the wallop in El T's sauce.)
From strictly a food standpoint, I'd put King Taco's al pastor as different-but-equal to El Taurino's. Both are delicious, but El Taurino's just has that extra oomph. And El Taurino has the better overall dining experience (save for the DMV-like ordering/pickup window confusion). Some nights, I simply favor the kinder, gentler King Taco; some nights, I need to Ride the Bull. And some nights, we end up getting tacos at both El Taurino and King Taco: best of both worlds.
King Taco also offers offstreet parking, and a security guard at the door, whose very friendly demeanor makes him seem more of a greeter than bouncer.
2020 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles
(many other branches)
A note on the drive, and the neighborhood: the drive from Santa Monica to El Taurino takes us only 15 minutes in the later evening, our preferred dining hour. I've seen comments elsewhere about the sketchiness of the El Taurino neighborhood, but I feel no more concerned for property crimes there than I do on the Third Street Promenade in my 'hood; less so, in fact. And the parking sure is better at El T than in my city.
One "problem" with this newfound discovery of taco greatness is that is raises the bar for all tacos, and I'm now finding that old favorites seem to lack in comparison. Today, I popped into Tacos Por Favor, and had two disappointing carne asada tacos. Maybe it was the off-hour (3 pm), but the tortillas were rubbery, the meat overly tough, and at a relatively steep $1.90, I expect gourmet goodness, damnit! I did, however, enjoy the heck out of the non-tortilla part of my chorizo-and-cheese taco. Dang, that was good eatin'. Oh, and TPF is now OPEN SUNDAYS.
Tacos Por Favor
1406 Olympic Blvd, Santa Monica
One last note: my dining partner has lost 30-plus pounds in recent months by switching to tacos-only for dinner, and making no other changes to his diet or exercise routines. To hell with the South Beach Diet; viva the Pico/Union Diet!
(Part Two to come later: Tacos Llama, Que Rico, La Playita, and some taco trucks)