If you’ll pardon the foul language for just a moment, there’s something important that needs to be said:
We f*cking did it.
Guys, WE DID IT. After years of monkeying around in space, sending James Cameron to the depths of the ocean to find his old goatee, we humans finally pulled back, took a good hard look in the refrigerator, and realized what was missing. We needed a gas station convenience box that prepares, heats and serves burritos, with optional sides, in under three minutes. And now it’s here.
Is there officially a ‘first family’ in the Los Angeles taco world? There may be, thanks to Chef Ricardo Diaz and his clan.
Diaz’s family is responsible for the Southern California seafood mini-chain El Siete Mares, whose Silver Lake walk-up stand we profiled last year. (If you’re in the mood for fish tacos and want to give them a shot, opt for the fried shrimp tacos dorados.) And if that wasn’t enough, chef Diaz himself helped open Guisados, one of the most celebrated taco spots in the entire city, before splitting with partner Armando de la Torre and leavving the stewed taco empire to him (for now at least). Then, just last month, we talked lovingly about the mole fries and cochinita pibil at Bizarra Capital, Diaz’s slightly upscaled beer bar and Mexican food outpost in Whittier.
Angelenos have barely had time to push away from the table and wipe our mouths before word of another Ricardo Diaz operation spreads like salsa down our shirt. This time, Diaz is back to take on the world of stewed meat tacos with a spacious, open eatery all the way out in La Puente. Known as Colonia Taco Lounge, the dark and roomy restaurant is part Bizarra—lots of puffy booths and a solid beer list—and part Guisados, thanks to hand-patted tortillas, simmered meat taco options, and long, deep flavors.
It can be tough for taquerias to make a go of it in East LA, where the standard for tacos is higher than perhaps anywhere else in America. It’s even harder for late night taco trucks, considering their proliferation in the area, particularly on that stretch of Olympic Boulevard that shoots east of downtown.
So what can a single truck like Tacos El Korita do to stand out in the crowd? Paint their truck bright purple, for one. The brightly lit lonchero is decked out in a very regal looking hue, with even more flash and color on the ordering side of the truck, where glossy pictures of your potential meals are highlighted in saturated colors. But the real eye candy is inside the truck. That’s where you’ll find a pile of raw masa, ready to be hand-slapped into a thick, warm, satisfying corn tortilla—right before your eyes.
If you spent all of last week wrapped up in New York’s foolish taco debates, it’s likely that you missed out on the ever-so-soft opening of Taco Love, a feel good taco shop on the corner of Sunset and Laurel, just across the street from The Laugh Factory. The teal and tile corner spot is offering an alternative to both New York and L.A.’s Mexican food culture, with San Diego-style burritos, wrapped tacos and lots of guacamole.
Koreatown has a certain fascination with Mexican food. Despite the overwhelming Korean demographics, taco stands, trucks and sit down Mexican restaurants litter the neighborhood. Many of them offer late night hours as well, ensuring your hours-long Hite beer and soju binge won’t go unrewarded.
On Third Street in K-town, between Kenmore and Catalina, you’ll find Marielas Tacos. It’s the sort of hard-backed booth, tile floor and harsh lighting taco joint that this city thrives on. And while Marielas isn’t the late late kind of spot (they close at midnight), you can find much of the same rowdy demographic pouring in through the glass doors on the weekends. It’s a nice contrast to all of the Jesus bumper stickers and quiet workers behind the counter.
Far from the ancient Mayan ruins that bear its name sits Chichén Itzá the restaurant, a Los Angeles stalwart in the booming fast casual Mexican food world. There are no temples, no hidden secrets; there isn’t even a full-fledged restaurant. Chichén Itzá exists in the Mercado La Paloma near USC, where walk-up counters and open, shared seating are the way of life. But much like the original Chichen Itza, there are always tourists. And this Chichen Itza is pretty amazing, as well.
Most of the camera-snappers that come to Chichen Itza (the restaurant) have heard of one thing: The cochinita pibil. The slowly roasted pork dish is a calling card for the state of Yucatan, and nowhere is the pig handled with such tender love and care as at Chichen Itza.
Word around the taco cooler is that chef Ricardo Diaz — he of Guisados, Cook’s Tortas and Bizarra Capital — is planning to open a fried taco concept in Silver Lake in the coming months, aptly called Duro (that’s “hard” in Spanish). Diaz belongs to the clan behind mini Mexican seafood chain El Siete Mares, so it’s no surprise that the longtime Eastsider is taking over the Sunset Boulevard sit-down version of his family’s restaurant to open something more fun and vibrant on his own.
Of course, all this taco chatter got us hungry, and before we knew it we were in La Puente, home to Diaz’s other recent venture: Colonia Taco Lounge. Open since August, the restaurant features a slew of guisados-style tacos, plus craft beers, a small stage, and lots of free parking. Sounds like a winner already.