Two years ago, the first U.S. branch of taquería chain Tacos Don Manolito opened in Hollywood, bringing Mexico City-style tacos a la plancha that, despite massive popularity in CDMX, lasted only four months before closing. Since then, Eduardo Palacios Jr. has re-established the brand in San Antonio, Texas, and LA taco enthusiasts went back to the more favored Tijuana-style tacos (not that we’re complaining). But Angelo Farfán and Monica Quinto, a Chilango couple that arrived in Los Angeles last year, wondered why Angelenos didn’t embrace CDMX-style tacos.
“We came here to open a Mexico City-style taquería, and believe we are the only ones in California making these tacos,” says Farfán. A month and a half ago, their dream became reality when the owners of Duran’s Bakery in Pico Rivera offered the couple a small space alongside the bakery where CDMX-style tacos a la plancha have found a home once again in Los Angeles.
It’s a little difficult to find Taquearte California under the imposing Duran’s bakery’s sign, but in the rear left corner of the Rosemead Arma Center strip mall, a small, spartan taquería offers a few unfinished wooden picnic tables for seating. Its menu of tacos a la plancha features thin strips of pechuga (chicken breast), bistec (beef), chuleta (pork chop), costilla (New York strip), and chopped chorizo. They can be ordered as single tacos, in a combination of two meats, under campechanos, and as a special “Taquearte,” which includes three toppings, a choice of meat, plus chopped bacon and fried cheese. The classic taco campechano recipe in CDMX is cecina, chorizo, and chicharrón, but the combination can also be the taquero’s choice, hence the complementary proteins here. All of Taquearte’s tacos are set on a pair of corn tortillas and covered end-to-end like a tortilla Venn diagram where the commonality is depth of flavor.
Start with an order of chicharrón de queso, a fried cheese canopy made with a mix of mozzarella, gouda, and cheddar placed over a few folded tortillas. It’s served with four of Taquearte’s salsas: spicy salsa macha with toasted garlic and peanuts, an even hotter guacachile (made with jalapeños, green habaneros, and avocado), salsa de pepino (cucumber with a blend of chiles secos, but mostly chile de árbol), and a salsa asada de siete chiles, using roasted chiles, tomatillos, and tomatoes ground in a molcajete. The costilla and chorizo campechano comes loaded with a blend of aromatic spices and ground chiles, but diners can add another layer of heat with Farfán’s next-level salsas. For quesataco fans, the chuleta, bacon, and fried cheese is a sweet, fatty blend that’s perfect with a squeeze of lime and a dash of salsa de pepino. While the dish may be imposing, it’s still a taco: roll up your sleeves, get both hands in there, and lift. And though the tacos are amazing here, Taquearte California has something for breakfast that is even better — chilaquiles, which are Quinto’s side of the menu.
In Los Angeles, chilaquiles are mostly disappointing. When made with thick, store-bought chips and just a pair of plain salsas — red and green — individual flavors often can’t punch through the mass of soggy chips. In contrast, there are solid chilaquiles everywhere in Mexico, even at hotel chain buffets. “The tortillas have to be thin; that’s the key,” says Farfán, who fries the thin tortillas in-house specifically for chilaquiles. Quinto prepares four different salsas — verdes clásicos (mild green salsa of tomatillos and chile serrano), and rojos (tomatoes and red chile serrano), then for the spicy versions blend in one of their house salsas. The verdes picositos (spicy green salsa), and rojos picositos get about three spoonfuls each of guacachile for a selection of salsas made just for the chilaquiles.
“We start by making the salsa, then we add the secret seasonings of our mothers to make it special,” says Farfán. Quinto’s chilaquiles are covered in salsa and then layered with crema and queso before being topped with chopped red onions. Steak and eggs, as well as other meats, are available as add-ons, but consider them essential for a complete breakfast. The salsa sticks to the chips and separates at the bottom of the plate in a sea of liquid that has streaks of crema, while the chips maintain their crispness. Add a few spoonfuls of salsa macha for extra heat. Simply put, these are the best chilaquiles in Los Angeles, as good as they would come in México. (Note, the chilaquiles are available all day.)
According to CDMX chef and restaurateur Daniel Ovadia, who serves crispy chilaquiles at his restaurant Peltre, it’s all about the process. “The salsa for chilaquiles is more watery, and I don’t toss the totopos in the salsa because they will absorb too much liquid,” says Ovadia. In Mexico City, fully wet chilaquiles work better for the torta de chilaquil (chilaquiles torta); crunchy restaurant-style chilaquiles like the mouthwatering versions at Taquerate California feel truer to the dish’s origins.
The molletes, an open-faced breakfast sandwich of refried beans and melted cheese, can be prepared with any of the taqueria’s meats or eggs, and there are even Chilango-style tacos dorados, a beloved antojito that’s more ideal for lunch.
Opening a Mexico City-style taquería and breakfast spot has been a dream for Farfán and Quinto, who are inspired by CDMX institutions Los Parados and El Califa, as well as neighborhood taquerias like Los Paisas and Los Papis from Farfán’s barrio of Centro Histórico. “There are lots of Tijuana-style places, but we wanted to offer something different, something from our hometown,” says Farfán.
Taquearte is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Open at 8 a.m. on Sunday. Chilaquiles are available in the morning while tacos start at noon. Located at 4518 1/2 Rosemead Boulevard, Pico Rivera, (323) 545-7387.