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LAX Tacos in Inglewood

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Welcome back to Dining On A Dime a bi-weekly feature in which Lizbeth Scordo surveys LA's cheap eats—often obscure, ethnic, unsung restaurants—proving that dining on a dime is alive, well, and quite tasty in this here city. Where do you think she should go next? Drop us a line.

The bad news is LAX Tacos isn’t actually in the airport, so if you happen to be at LAX when you’re reading this, you’re still stuck in the netherworld of overpriced, subpar deli sandwiches and Starbucks pastries. The good news? LAX Tacos is just a stone’s throw away, so when you return, you’ll want to head straight there. The Inglewood taco shop is clearly proud of its location and hasn’t just named itself after the airport, but has made flying its theme. The restaurant's moniker sits atop airplane wings on its sign, framed photos of jets decorate the walls in the dining room, and customers order at the “arrivals” window before picking up their meals at, yep, “departures.” And for those rushing to catch a flight, there’s also a drive-through window.

Tacos are the shop’s top-seller and at $1.19 each, it’s easy to understand why. Prices go up from there, but most items, including sopes, burritos, tostadas, tortas, and chimigangas, are under $5. As for meat, there’s plenty of choices beyond the usual carne asada, chicken, pork, and fish (which will cost you a quarter extra). Also on offer are beef tongue, goat meat, and buche (otherwise known as pig stomach). I’m sticking with what I know and love today, so I order up a fish taco and a chicken sope, along with a Jamaica agua fresca to wash it all down. Grand total: $4.95.

I chat a bit with Ceci, who’s working behind the counter and whose parents opened up the restaurant 20 years ago and since then they have opeed a second location in South Gate. The family started out selling just tacos, tortes, and burritos out of a truck (before it was the hip, media-covered thing to do, of course) nearby on La Cienega and soon began adding items as their customers requested them. Eventually they took the business off wheels and into the space it currently resides.

During my meal, most of the outdoor tables stay filled up with groups of two or more. Ceci says lunch brings in lots of people who work in the area. Standing in line with me is a woman in scrubs (there’s a hospital nearby) and a man wearing a runway worker’s uniform (I’ll let you guess where he works) and everyone seems like they’ve been here before.

After I grab my meal, I sit down at one of the outdoor patio’s four large stone tables. The women next to me say that they, like most of the customers around us, have jobs nearby and eat here often. One woman says never strays from a duo of chicken tacos while the other skipped her usual pork tacos today in favor of the mulita (a special touted by a photo hand-taped to the menu hanging on the wall). They both left happy.

My food looks wonderful, if a little overwhelming. The sope is piled high with a layer of refried beans spread over a thick tortilla shell (no, the tortillas are not housemade), and covered with plenty of chicken chunks, a mound of finely shredded lettuce and jack cheese, and enough sour cream to fill a small ice cream cone, along with a dollop of deep red salsa for good measure. The fish taco includes a few pieces of deep-fried sole stuffed into a double-layered soft flour tortilla and topped with the salsa, and purple cabbage (which replaces the usual onion and cilantro the rest of the tacos include).

The sope is certainly good and for hungry travelers looking for the most bang for their buck, this is probably it at $1.75. But it’s the (much smaller) fish taco that’s absolutely fantastic. The sole is fresh and mild and miles away from the fishy-tasting tacos often available at this kind of price. The sole’s greasy golden battered crust helps make it even better, of course, and is just as good as it looks. I love the salsa, with tastes like roasted tomato, so I ask for more (prompting a fellow diner to tell me he comes here just for the stuff). I’d skip the agua fresca next time as it comes out of a beverage dispenser and is a bit artificial tasting. But the chunks of radish, in-house pickled carrots, and jalapenos, which come alongside every item, are a nice bonus. Even if I don’t have much travel in my near future, I’ll be making another trip to this LAX soon.

Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner items: $1.19 to $6.80
—Lizbeth Scordo

Lax Tacos

543 W Arbor Vitae St., Inglewood, CA, 90301