In Spanish, the word llantera can mean a couple of things: 1) a tire shop. 2) a fit of weeping. It just so happens that there's magical place that encapsulates both of these definitions quite well. At about 6 p.m., in the parking lot of a used tire place on Avalon Blvd. in South Central with a hand-painted sign advertising "Llantas Usadas El Jarocho," when dusk begins to settle on the city and commuters are heading home, the beat up Chevys and Buicks that crowd the lot during the day file out, one by one.
Some of the best damned tacos you've ever had. You might even be moved to tears.
A handful of people in aprons appear, dragging out tables, folding chairs, a couple of coolers, and firing up a grill. And then they start serving some of the best damned tacos you've ever had. You might even be moved to tears.
At the tire shop taqueria, they serve Tijuana-style carne asada tacos. What does this mean, exactly? Carne asada is puro norteño -- a predominantly northern tradition (Baja, Sonora, Sinaloa) that requires steak be roasted or grilled (asar means "to grill"), usually over mesquite. Those dried out cardboard bits you eat from that no-name truck on the east side at 2 a.m.? Passable drunk food when you drown it in lime juice and green sauce, but prepared on a gas grill and therefore not really carne asada. If that sounds a little pedantic: they also taste pretty bad.
Back to the tacos. Beef is seasoned and marinated, then grilled on mesquite charcoal: at a high enough temperature to get that nice char, but not too long so as to dry the meat out. Interestingly, many taqueros in TJ come from Puebla, which is close to Mexico City, in the southern-central part of the country. Go figure. But this explains why you might see the word "poblano" attached to dozens of taco places in the city.
The taquero finely dices the meat. About three feet to the left, a nice young woman is pressing fresh tortillas using a machine that looks like a small manual juicer. In four seconds, the meat is deftly thrown into the tortilla, sprinkled with onion and cilantro, a smear of salsa roja, and the finishing touch, a dollop of thin, creamy guacamole. Each taco is wrapped into a cone shape inside of a small piece of paper.
Load up on some radishes and limes, have a seat at the large communal table, and enjoy. The tender, juicy, well-seasoned steak is complemented by its unassuming tortilla, a vessel of fresh, thinly pressed masa. The salsa roja provides a kick, and the guacamole acts as a nice, neutral counterpunch. In addition to the carne asada, outstanding chorizo, chicken, and beef cheek (cabeza) are also available. The chorizo is a real stand-out; spicy and salty, tasting deeply of smoke and red pepper.
Crispy on the outside, hot and gooey on the inside.
Tacos are $1.50. Quesadillas run around $5 (They added everything up at the end and I lost track of the itemization. But a meal here is not gonna break the bank.) and are absolutely gargantuan. A tortilla that's four or five times the size than that of the taco is loaded with meat, onion, cilantro, salsa, and a generous fistful of cheese. It's grilled, then folded back on itself and presented to you: crispy on the outside, hot and gooey on the inside.
Vampiros are another interesting menu item -- open-faced tacos that are served on tortillas that are left on the grill until crunchy. Why the name vampiro, which means vampire (or vampire bat)? Perhaps it's the way the tortilla slowly buckles as it's left on the hot grill, gradually warping into something ugly and sinister? For the record, I would love to make a steak/stake pun at this point, but I shall resist. Just know that I'm thinking it.
The "tire shop taqueria" has, like many itinerant taco places in LA, irregular hours. Our best guess is that it is open Thursday-Monday, 6 p.m. - 11 p.m. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday. It is located in the parking lot of the El Jarocho tire shop, 4069 S. Avalon Blvd. in Los Angeles.
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