Los Angeles is in the middle of a flour taco boom. Despite the city’s long general insistence on corn tortillas as a primary vehicle for carne asada, guisados, al pastor, and all other manner of ingredients, it is the chewy, blistered flour tortilla that has been taking over the city’s heart (and Instagram feeds) of late.
The most notable examples in the genre include Sonoratown, the Downtown taqueria that currently sports hour-plus lines thanks to a starring role in Netflix’s documentary food series the Taco Chronicles; the laid-back sit-down spot Salazar in Frogtown; and Burritos La Palma, the El Monte outfit known for its small, rolled burritos. Even Tacos 1986, the street food hit turned Smorgasburg behemoth and current Eater Best New Restaurants awardee, has an off-menu perron that plays off the famous flour tortilla tacos at Rosarito’s El Yaqui — and that’s to say nothing of Sonoritas, Mexicali, Asadero Chikali, and HomeState, among many others.
And now there is a new contender for the throne: El Ruso.
El Ruso (“The Russian” in Spanish) is a small, brightly-colored trailer that parks in the light industrial stretch of Boyle Heights off Olympic Boulevard, not far from famous names like Mariscos Jalisco and Tacos y Birria La Unica. They’re a bit off the main drag, tucked away on Union Pacific Avenue and playing to crowds of truckers and eager local eaters almost daily. Owner Walter Soto has been situated on this block, first in one spot and then another, for the past three years, but only recently has he seen his clientele expand, thanks of course to the wonders of Instagram.
Soto credits friends from Salsa Sinaloa, a company he proudly supports at his own trailer, for getting him up and running on the platform and expanding his reach. Now the lunchtime wave may include all the regular suspects as well as a trickle of younger Boyle Heights kids and workers from over the bridge in the Arts District.
Unlike other feeds, Soto’s Instagram photos don’t rely on oversaturation, heavy filters, or lots of dripping cheese. His is a simple discovery: Let folks know what you sell, and then sell that thing well when they show up.
Indeed, he does. Soto mans the trailer’s small flattop griddle and sizzling grill himself, working up a Tijuana-style, Yaqui-inspired taco that comes complete with a hearty scoop of beans and, upon request, plenty of melty cheese. Soto’s wife makes the tortillas by hand herself from the couple’s Boyle Heights home; the flour comes straight from Tijuana, on trips the Sotos make every month. The massive Mexican city the south is home to Walter, having spent formative years there before attending high school in Los Angeles. It’s where Soto learned to be a taquero himself, and where he continues to draw taco inspiration today.
The results are easy to see. Even in a city stuffed with flour tortillas, Soto is confident that his stand out. Each is thin, pliant, and sturdy enough to hold up against all that meat, salsa, cheese, and beans, without overwhelming the diner with chewiness or too many overcooked, blistered pockets. Each hearty taco clocks in at $3 a pop, and comes with a choice of asada, chorizo, or chicken, with diners adding their own fixings from the cold bar on the cart. Soto sells drinks in a cooler on the back of the truck that pulls the trailer home, and on Fridays Soto leans into that other oh-so-popular current Tijuana taco trend: Birria, served on lightly crisped handmade corn tortillas with a side of consomme instead.
All that simplicity has been adding up. Soto says that in as little as two months he’ll be jumping into a full-fledged taco truck, expanding off the trailer and bringing his wife on to make tortillas by hand to order. The 25-footer should have plenty of room to cook, and Soto says that he’s even considering growing his menu to include burritos using those same flour tortillas. Just a little bigger, of course.
For now, Soto continues to park El Ruso every day but Sunday down in between warehouses in Boyle Heights, keeping hours from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., or until the trailer runs out of tortillas. That doesn’t happen often, but considering how delicious the Soto family’s tortillas are — and the city’s infatuation with all that harina these days — it’s only a matter of time before things at El Ruso start to change. But for now it’s just Walter, manning the griddle, posting happily to Instagram when he can, and spending his days channeling a life in Tijuana. Like any good taquero, he lets his tacos tell his story.
El Ruso. 3631 Union Pacific Ave., Boyle Heights.