Driving around East LA on a Sunday morning is probably your best chance to experience the most unique, distinct flavors of Mexican street food that Los Angeles has to offer. From backyard gatherings in quiet, residential neighborhoods to the passing down of recipes from generation to generation, families in East Los Angeles have long been preserving cooking traditions from their heritage. Pueblan-style lamb barbacoa roasted in a ground pit, stewed carnitas tacos tucked away in an alley, six-hour cooked goat birria, and a varietal seafood plate are the highlights from this excursion into these one of a kind, “word of mouth” establishments.
657 S Record Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90023
When you arrive at Barba Kush there are no indications of the wonder that occurs inside this home. Cars are stationary along the entire street, birds are chirping, and dogs are being walked. But on Sunday mornings, Petra Zavaleta and her family host flocks of people in their backyard while constantly chopping away at lamb meat in their garage kitchen. There is something special about going to a place like this. In a backyard, next to the pits, strangers eat together on fold-out tables and plastic tablecloth in a scene that resembles a family reunion.
3201 E 4th St. Los Angeles, CA 90063. (323) 268-0319
You can drive down Fourth Street in Boyle Heights and easily pass by Birrieria Nochistlan. This family operated restaurant specializes in goat birria, a sometimes spicy stewed dish from Jalisco and showcases it with their handmade tortillas. Also, be sure to get some of their spicy, orange salsa.
Carnitas El Momo
2411 Fairmount St, Los Angeles, CA 90033. (323) 627-8540
Located just south of the 10 freeway near Ramona Gardens lies Carnitas El Momo, a family-run street taco spot that offers some of the best carnitas tacos around. As soon as I walked in, I was given a makeshift aluminum foil plate loaded with piping hot, mixed pork meat by someone who just introduced himself by saying “here’s a preview.” Much like Barba Kush, Carnitas El Momo really celebrates communal dining. You can choose to order your food to go, sit in the very limited space next to the steel drums of braised pork, or take a seat inside the living room where you will instantly feel like you are at your grandmother’s house.
Mariscos Los Sitios
6010 E Olympic Blvd, East Los Angeles, CA 90022 (323) 608-4091
Going East on Olympic Boulevard takes you to a food truck that is providing fresh, varietal seafood dishes from the Sinaloan city, Badiraguato. At Mariscos Los Sitios it is best to try their fried shrimp tacos paired with their botanas mixta, a platter of abalone tuna, shrimp, cooked octopus, and crab meat. For those wanting a more traditional dining experience, they also have a brick and mortar restaurant just east in Montebello.
Teddy’s Red Tacos
731 Slauson Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90011
46 Windward Ave, Venice, CA 90291. (323) 495-9654
In Southeast LA along the train tracks of Slauson Avenue, Teddy Vazquez is hustling toward becoming a top player in Los Angeles’ street food scene. What started about three years ago as a newfound passion has turned into a booming taco truck creating Tijuana-style beef birria tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and mulitas. At Teddy’s Red Tacos on a Sunday afternoon be sure to expect a long line that could go around the corner into the parking lot. In case you are not able to trek over east, Teddy’s Red Tacos just opened up a spot along the Venice boardwalk for all you westsiders.
Preserving and reinstilling culture through food is nothing new to cooks in Los Angeles. To witness the independence and success of these thriving operations is astonishing — but not surprising. Sure, promotion helps accelerate business, but bringing forth a sense of community toward the people you are serving benefits business much more. Sunday mornings are supposed to be easy. And easy is parking your car outside of someone’s house, walking in, and grabbing a plate.
Trent Bozeman is a freelance photographer based in Los Angeles.