2023 was a banner year for José Morales, the owner and taquero of food truck Tacos La Carreta. Not only did his truck debut on the Los Angeles Times’s “101 Best Restaurants” list at number 85 but it was also named Best in Show at the 2023 Taco Madness event hosted by L.A. Taco. Now, the Mazatlán-style taquería is opening its first permanent restaurant in West Whittier sometime in February 2024 once it receives final permits.
The 35-seat strip mall location’s design comes from taquería specialist VH Contractors. The minimally appointed dining room features white and gray walls around a counter kitchen with corrugated metal siding accents that give the room a rustic, taco cart-like feel. Pops of color come courtesy of firetruck red bistro-style chairs and a red ceiling inside the kitchen that complements the logo. The restaurant’s central decoration depicts Morales’s journey as a taquero and includes an LED taco cart and a mural featuring symbolic nods to Mazatlán and his hometown of El Verde, in the municipality of Concordia.
Morales, who began his culinary training at age 12, comes from a family of taqueros, including cousins who own some of Mazatlán’s most famous taquerías such as Tacos Playa Sur and Tacos Wicho. This regional carne asada style is growing in popularity here in LA, with upwards of 20 Sinaloa-style taquerías serving it. Morales honed his craft of cooking carne asada over an open fire from this proud tradition.
“Taco culture runs in the town of El Verde,” says Morales. “During the holidays we come back from different parts like LA, Ciudád Obregon, Culiacán, Mazatlán, and Guadalajara, and trust me, there are about 500 of us all over the place.” The group meets in El Verde annually to share taco tales and accomplishments and recommit to the values of their profession and their pueblos.
Since taking the reins from his father, who operated the truck off and on for nearly two decades, in 2020, Morales has perfected his menu in the image of the taquerías from his hometown. Tacos de carne asada includes grilled and chopped sirloin steak spread on a corn tortilla, covered with finely chopped cabbage and red onion that keeps the salsa from running. Guacamole, mild salsa roja made with tomatoes and serranos, and salsa tatemada made with roasted tomatoes and jalapenos are served on the side. Complimentary add-ons include roasted onions and chiles toreados, which come in the form of blistered chiles gueros, or the more spicy chiles jalapenos.
The same steak and fixings are used in quesadillas made with large flour tortillas, while papas locas are a specialty of mashed potatoes flattened on the grill. Vampiros are regional Sinaloan tacos built on a toasted corn tortilla with melted Monterey Jack cheese, stacked with carne asada, red onions, and cabbage, and then finished with salsa roja and guacamole.
Chorreadas use the same ingredients but are served on a pair of corn tortillas dripping with asientos, unrefined pork lard Morales sources from a local butcher shop. In Mazatlán, most taquerías use wider corn sopes for chorreadas. Tacos La Carreta will be importing these thick tortillas, known as pellizcadas in Culiacán and northern Sinaloa, directly from Sinaloa. Customers can choose between Morales’s classic chorreada, with two corn tortillas, or pellizcada, a new menu item exclusive to West Whittier.
The pellizcada joins the formidable torito — a roasted, butterflied Anaheim pepper bound to a swath of melted cheese and chopped sirloin — then dressed with La Carreta’s standard toppings and wrapped in a large flour tortilla. And finally, there are crispy tripas (chitterlings), a recent addition to the menu. Last year, Morales added high-quality tripas from Sinaloa, imported by CarnEncanto, to his taco truck’s menu. They appear in the mixta, a plate of carne asada and tripas served with tortillas and condiments on the side.
Morales is the talk of the town back in El Verde, thanks to his taquería’s accolades and new brick-and-mortar. It’s a reputation Morales has earned through sheer dedication to being a taquero, a pride one can observe in his deft motions as he assembles tacos in seconds. His love and appreciation for this lifestyle are even etched on the wall of his first restaurant. “I won’t stop until everyone knows who Tacos La Carreta is — and where it comes from,” says Morales.
Once it opens in February, Tacos La Carreta, located at 11402 Washington Boulevard, West Whittier, CA 90606, will operate from Sunday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m.