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Tacos de cabeza from Tacos El Paloma in Compton.
Tacos de cabeza from Tacos El Paloma in Compton.
Erwin Recinos

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LA’s Best Tacos de Cabeza Return to Compton

Taquero Carlos Pardo cooks these mindblowing regional steamed tacos just twice a month on Sundays

The first time I visited the wildly popular Compton taquería Tacos El Paloma was in the winter of 2016, and I have never witnessed a more frenetic backyard taqueria — before or since. A line snaked from the garage down through the driveway and onto the sidewalk. Inside, there were 24 picnic benches, all occupied, with a half-dozen servers taking orders from tables, plus from the hungry diners in the queue. The backyard taqueria was driven by a team of taqueros chopping and plating Sinaloa-style tacos de cabeza, or steamed beef head tacos. Many customers were regulars from Mazatlán, Culiacán, and other parts of Sinaloa, and even noteworthy taqueros like José Morales of Tacos La Carreta, who came to have legit tacos de cabeza. The beef head tacos are a particularly popular breakfast and after-hours tradition in the northwestern Mexican state.

But the city closed down El Paloma in the summer of 2018, after neighbors complained about the parking and noise. Owner and taquero Carlos Pardo from El Verde, Sinaloa, who honed his craft at taquerías in Culiacán, closed indefinitely in 2019 after a failed transition to a food truck. As of two weeks ago, he’s reopened at a new Compton address, and his unique, slow-cooked tacos de cabeza are bringing the crowds back.

Pardo, along with his wife Alicia, daughter Valeria, and nephew Hector Garcia, are serving their tacos every other Sunday, mostly as a takeaway taqueria, but there’s one large table for those eating on site. Unlike before, where Pardo was host to a bustling backyard taqueria, he’s now the only taquero, with fast, precise hands, a trait for which El Verde taqueros are known. “All you have to say is that you’re from El Verde, and you’ll get work in Culiacán or Mazatlán,” says Pardo, who takes no shortcuts when it comes to his tacos.

“I use a whole beef head that I prepare myself that’s steamed for six hours, and you have all the bones, which you need for the consomé. That’s the flavor,” says Pardo. Tacos de cabeza can be found at loncheras, and taco stands that have steam tables for head, brains, tongue, and other cuts, but those are quickly steamed, and not cooked on the head. Beef head tacos are best in northern Mexican states, where the meat quality, and where beef is a huge part of the food culture.

Pardo, who’s installs cabinets during the week as a veteran carpenter, offers meltingly soft, delicious cuts of beef tongue, head, cheeks, palate (cut from the roof of the mouth), and finally the highly coveted eyes, featuring gelatinous fat and muscle tissue behind the cornea. Maciza is also a crowd pleaser, which are delicate chucks or loose meat that’s not connected to the bone. An order wouldn’t be complete without a side of spicy, earthy consomé seasoned with chile guajillo and chile negro (chile pasilla).

Carlos Pardo, Alicia Pardo, and Hector Garcia prepare tacos de cabeza at their Compton stand Tacos El Paloma.
Carlos Pardo, Alicia Pardo, and Hector Garcia prepare tacos de cabeza at their Compton stand Tacos El Paloma.

Many Sinaloan customers order their consomé packed with beef tongue, or cheeks, as well as overflowing plates of beef head tacos that come lightly salted. The tacos are already full of natural flavor, but it’s proper etiquette to salt to one’s taste in Mexican street food culture. This is especially true for tacos filled with roasted, braised, or steamed meats. Tacos con todo (with everything) come with chopped white onions, chopped cilantro, and a mild, tangy salsa verde. “For now, we are starting with a to-go model, and slowly ease into my new location,” says Pardo. Arrive early with a crew and grab the lone table for that old-school El Paloma experience.

For now, customers can follow Pardo’s Instagram, and message him to find out which Sundays they are open for breakfast, starting at 8 a.m. Best practice is to call in your order in advance or arrive early, because by 10:30 a.m. it might be sold out for the day. “It has been going really well, and all of our old customers are returning,” says Pardo, whose nickname El Paloma — the dove, the universal symbol of peace, he received from people back home. Hopefully, customers at LA’s best tacos de cabeza will keep Pardo’s neighborhood quiet and peaceful, this time around.

1632 North Castlegate Ave., Compton, (562) 676-2304, every other Sunday, 8 a.m. until sold out.

Pardo chops cabeza meat with onions and cilantro in the front.
Pardo chops cabeza meat.
Carlos Pardo takes beef head pieces out of a warming container and packs the meat into a tortilla.
Carlos Pardo takes beef head pieces out of a warming container and packs the meat into a tortilla.
Pardo scoops up meat onto tortillas.
Pardo scoops up meat onto tortillas.
Customers sit at the only table at the newly reopened Tacos El Paloma in Compton.
Customers sit at the only table at the newly reopened Tacos El Paloma in Compton.
Two plates of loaded tacos de cabeza with a side of spicy, earthy consomé.
Two plates of loaded tacos de cabeza with a side of spicy, earthy consomé.
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