L.A.’s taco culture is an ever-evolving affair. Popular spots fall off just as new places come on strong, meaning there’s never a shortage of exciting places to discover and explore.
Just this year, a handful of taco operations have begun making a name for themselves, whether slinging old school carnitas or next-level fusion plates, while still others made waves simply by moving on. There’s exciting taco news on the horizon, too, along with the emergence of a detailed taco digest, meant to demystify the many regional influences of this city’s great carts and trucks. Here then are the most notable taco stories from the year that was.
You likely recognize Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu, the upbeat cooking team behind longstanding Bell restaurant La Casita Mexicana. Their image is fairly iconic, particularly in the Mexican-American community, where the two have been watched weekly on various cooking programs and cooking competition shows across both Telemundo and Univision. But it’s not uncommon to find the affable Martin del Campo and Arvizu still hard at work at La Casita Mexicana, which has been going strong in Southeast L.A. for more than fifteen years.
It’s hard enough for any restaurant to make it to the twenty year mark, let alone one with as little signage and hidden-in-plain-sight feel as Santa Monica’s The Buffalo Club. Yet it’s exactly that quiet confidence and under the radar approach that has made the longtime Olympic Blvd. restaurant a standout with Hollywood types looking to escape for a quiet meal, media moguls eager to feel in the know, and an entire generation of locals who just want to drink in peace.
Almost imperceptibly, downtown’s always demure Q has managed to turn one year old this month. The slim, wood-lined eatery garnered a nod from Bon Appetit as one of America’s 50 best new restaurants, and is considered the standard bearer for quality Edo-style sushi, but chef Hiroyuki Naruke remains as soft-spoken as ever.
Sitting in his quiet, well-lit Financial District restaurant before another night of coursing out $165 omakase meals to waiting diners, Hiro-san talked with Eater about his newfound appreciation for Los Angeles, and why serving only what he wants is so important.
You may not know it just by looking at chef Carlos Salgado’s modern Mexican four-course menu at his Costa Mesa restaurant Taco Maria, but the fine dining chef’s biggest inspiration may well be a hole-in-the-wall taqueria in Orange. That restaurant — his parents — sparked a lifelong love of Mexican cuisine, cooking and Orange County itself.
After stints in the Bay Area as pastry chef at fine-dining spots like Commis in Oakland, Salgado returned to Orange County to start Taco Maria as a market-driven food truck, before eventually expanding into Costa Mesa’s hip OC Mix Mart. Now one year in at his wood-lined open kitchen restaurant, Salgado is blessed to have the eye of L.A. diners, and to be serving the kind of food (in exactly the kind of town) that he’s always wanted.
No one would accuse Diep Tran of breezing through her five years as owner of Good Girl Dinette. The ambitious chef pushes plates of Vietnamese-style diner food in Highland Park, opening the doors to her first restaurant in the middle of some of the worst economic turmoil in American History. Still, five years in, Good Girl is going strong.