L.A.'s taco culture is an ever-evolving affair. Popular spots fall off just as new places come on strong, meaning there's never a shortage of exciting places to discover and explore.
Just this year, a handful of taco operations have begun making a name for themselves, whether slinging old school carnitas or next-level fusion plates, while still others made waves simply by moving on. There's exciting taco news on the horizon, too, along with the emergence of a detailed taco digest, meant to demystify the many regional influences of this city's great carts and trucks. Here then are the most notable taco stories from the year that was.
Tire Shop Taqueria
One of two late streetwise taco operations to make the biggest splash this year, South L.A.'s simply-named tire shop taqueria is as buzzed about as it is delicious. With a direct lineage to Tijuana's conically-wrapped, guacamole-laced carne asada tacos, this spot off of Avalon Blvd. teems with late night eaters, seemingly no matter the hour. A mobile plancha fires tortilla after tortilla, while in-the-know eaters order up a couple of tacos alongside the crispier, open faced vampiro.
Carnitas El Momo
Carnitas El Momo came on strong in 2014, moving from a simple one man occasional operation to an L.A. taco stalwart seemingly overnight. Cazos full of boiling pig parts lead to overflowing tacos, stuffed to exhaustion with skin, snout, shoulder and belly. For real-deal carnitas at the hands of a maestro, there's likely no better place than El Momo.
No end of year taco list would be complete without mention of this season's Taco Madness competition. The sought-after designation is entirely earned by audience votes, meaning Southeast L.A.'s El Coraloense sits squarely within the citywide taco zeitgeist. With a longstanding reputation as a ceviche house, Coraloense is proving plenty capable in the taco realm as well.
Though nothing new to anyone seeking out a high quality taco, 2014 was the year that Guerrilla Tacos gained citywide traction with non-taco civilians. Wes Avila's always-inventive operation began in 2012 as a taco cart outside of then Handsome Coffee Roasters downtown, and has morphed into a full truck with staff to match. They're much more mobile now, of course, but tend to stick close to the city's best coffee shops, slinging whatever tacos Avila feels like putting together that day. Lines are long but spirits high; no one seems to mind the wait that comes with so much popularity in 2014, particularly when the end results are tacos this good.
In perhaps the most talked-about taco move for the Westside since Tacos Punta Cabras, chef Ricardo Diaz and Adam Fleischman's AdVantage Partners have teamed up to bring top-notch tacos and mezcal to Santa Monica. Housed in the former Charleston space, Tacoteca brings Diaz back into the fold, after pushing restaurants into more suburban areas like Whittier and La Puente. The now-open eatery is already winning hearts and stomachs thanks to dry-aged chorizo tacos, lamb barbecue and lots of other interesting options.
Vegan Tacos at Gracias Madre
Was 2014 the year that vegans fell in love with Mexican food? Try to swing by West Hollywood's Gracias Madre without a weekend reservation and you'd likely think so. The sunny space does brisk business any night of the week, without skimping on the details. Tortillas (sans any kind of animal fat, naturally) are made in-house, and come topped with robust mushrooms in mole sauce, or large hunks of flash-fried cauliflower. Tacos at Gracias Madre aren't exactly priced for the everyman, but it's nice to know that anyone can enjoy them, dietary restrictions or not.
Farid Zadi's North African Tacos
Operating somewhere between a pop-up restaurant, a one-off taco special and a late night street cart, Revolutionario Tacos came on strong in 2014, thanks to chef Zadi's unique blend of North African flavors with Mexican traditions. Using the commissary kitchen-turned-restaurant Blank Kitchen in Koreatown, Zadi and is Revolutionario team have been fearlessly blending Moroccan spices and Middle Eastern ingredients - think everything from Turkish doner kebabs to falafel balls - with tortillas and salsas that feel distinctly Mexican. Up next, the Revolutionario team plans a brick and mortar downtown.
Refined Tacos at Soon-to-Shutter Rivera
Rivera, the half-decade old upscale dining destination by John Sedlar, makes this list simply because it's closing. The downtown Latin American staple always appealed to a different sort of crowd than the usual street taco seekers, but the cuisine was no less inventive - or important. Sedlar comes from a strong Southwestern background, infusing high quality ingredients with local products wherever possible, in plates of open-faced fish tacos or on his more recent Oro y Plata menu, which blended Asian immigrant flavors with Mexican simplicity. Rivera will be sorely missed, and for much more than its occasional upscale foray into the world tacos.
Flautas by Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu
After fifteen years spent revolutionizing the Mexican food scene in Los Angeles with their popular Bell restaurant La Casita Mexicana, Martin del Campo and Arvizu are branching out to the renovated mall at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw. Of primary importance is Mexicano, the pair's next-level sit down restaurant, set to serve Mexican favorites from across the homeland starting in January.
But simultaneous to Mexicano is a forthcoming flautas concept called, y'know, Flautas. Using a quick-service model to deliver rolled, fried tacos to the populace, Martin del Campo and Arvizu seem poised to break well beyond Bell - there are talks to make Flautas a repeatable concept. And while the first one has yet to officially debut, talk has been building for months. And any time the L.A. tacorati get a whiff of the next great move in all things tortilla, you can bet it's worth a mention.
Bill Esparza's Tacopedia
Not a restaurant or street food stall per se, Bill Esparza's Tacopedia hit the L.A. taco world like a ton of masa. Done up as an exhaustive compilation of every taco style found in Los Angeles (and beyond, frankly), Esparza - long held as the city's foremost taco expert - pulls no punches and leaves no carne asada unflipped as he breaks down even the slightest regional variations between styles, while giving equal credence to little-seen efforts and the most popular taco options citywide. Done up for LA Magazine, the lengthy treatise makes for less-than-light reading, but is unrivaled in its importance as an educational tool for anyone with tacos on the brain.