How El Chato, a Mid-City Taco Legend, Won the City’s Heart One Bite at a Time

Originally Featured on Eater LA →
El Chato Full Plate
Photo by Paul Bartunek

With El Chato, the guessing games are over. I park, I walk up to the ordering window, and I know exactly what I’m going to get: the al pastor quesadilla, with griddled onions on the side. I’ve long ago traded the palm-sized $1 tacos for the $5 quesadilla, arguing with myself that I get more meat, more flavor — and more of that unstoppably smoky salsa — if I spring for the larger order. The thing is a beast to eat, and would by any reasonable health professional be deemed a threat to humanity’s arteries, but there is nothing so satisfying as those first few bites, shoulder-to-shoulder around the trunk of a car under the warm decadence of a flashy action franchise billboard.

That is El Chato. The hunkered-down eating over a trash can or a car hood, the messy parking lot, and the crowds that never seem to dip below 20 people anymore. To eat at El Chato is to experience a Los Angeles that isn’t trying to be anything else — more or less — than what it already is.

Farley Elliott is a food and travel writer living in Los Angeles. He is the Senior Editor at Eater LA, and has bylines everywhere from LA Weekly to Los Angeles Magazine to Thrillist to Tasting Table. He’s also the author of Los Angeles Street Food, a guidebook to LA’s amazing street food culture. Oh, and he’s that guy from that Tiny Hamster Eating Tiny Burritos video.