Taco Jaunts

Taco Libre (3/5)

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This place brings back pleasant memories of the movie Nacho Libre, a Jack Black classic in which he becomes a luchador to save the world or get rich or something. I can't quite remember actually, it's been a long time. It's not obvious that Taco Libre got it's namesake as a parody of the movie title, but the fact that they rhyme and that the inside is adorned with luchadors seems to suggest that the inspiration is there.

So, first I'll start with what I liked. They make one of the most bomb breakfast burritos I've ever had. Do you get to choose the meat? No. Is it the size of a small baby? No. But for the money it is so delicious, I can't recommend it enough. The eggs were cooked perfect, the bacon slices are thick, it's perfection. 

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And now the bad. The menu situation is kind of confusing, firstly their menu in my opinion is a little big. I like places that keep things small and simple, but I realize that's a personal preference. But what was strange was that as I got to the register they appeared to have a second paper menu, with different stuff on it. What. Why. Kind of annoying actually, cause I probably would have ordered something off the paper one. I included pictures of both.

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The other thing I couldn't let Taco Libre off the hook about was the prices. I didn't try a fish taco, because a fish taco costs $6. Like, bruh. $6? For one taco? I know it's Santa Monica, but this ain't James Beach. I knooooow you don't got a guy in the back scaling and butchering the fish. Ricky's Fish Tacos, one of the most highly lauded tacos in the freakin' city, doesn't even charge that much.

This costs $3.25? Pffft.

This costs $3.25? Pffft.

Dressed to impress.

Dressed to impress.

I ordered a carne asada taco to go along with the breakfast burrito. $3.25 gets you a tortilla with some carne asada on it, and then you can dress it up at the salsa bar. The avocado salsa is good, but the rest of the salsa bar is just...well it's a salsa bar. Use your imagination. Other than needing some labels so that we don't have to guess what we're putting on our tacos, it's functional. But this ain't worth $3.25. For $3.25 I can go to Guisados and get blown away by their amazing tacos. Just sayin'.

Insert salsa bar here. NEEDS LABELS I'M NOT A MINDREADER

Insert salsa bar here. NEEDS LABELS I'M NOT A MINDREADER

Also, I wanted horchata and they said they "Don't have horchata today". I guess that's only on weekdays or something? Blah. : /

El Chato Taco Truck (3/5)

Pretty standard menu, though I like the font

Pretty standard menu, though I like the font

This truck is rather easy to spot from the street, given the perpetual mob of people waiting around for their food. You'll think it's the line when you see it, but they manage to take orders so quick the elation engendered from the short wait in line is steadily eroded by the loooong wait for your number to be called. 

Dude in the hat was lookin' right at me, dang

Dude in the hat was lookin' right at me, dang

The impatient masses

The impatient masses

I'm always apprehensive about Mexican taco trucks that don't let you put the salsa on the tacos yourself. How do they know what I like? How do they know how much onion I want? Cilantro? I often throw down two kinds of salsas on a single taco, kinda like a little kid who experiments with mixing sodas together thinking they've hit on something incredibly innovative (I can speak from experience and its not that great truth be told, kinda like mixing all the watercolors together and getting brown instead of the magical rainbow you were imagining). So I didn't get to dress my tacos. It turned out ok because not only are they generous and balanced with the toppings, but you are able to request extra sides of salsa.

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Which brings me to the subject of asking for more stuff. This truck hooks. it. up. if you know what to ask for. There's some kind of bizarre secret menu of extra sides that they'll just hand you upon request. I only found out because I was lurking by the pickup window impatiently and saw just about every regular take advantage of free stuff. You can get a small bowl of hot grilled onions, sides of their red and green salsa, and a whole grilled jalapeño if you simply ask. It seems like an awful lot of free food, but ya know, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Please note the WHOLE JALAPENO and grilled onions, gratis if you ask

Please note the WHOLE JALAPENO and grilled onions, gratis if you ask

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I tried tacos with their carne asada, al pastor, and chorizo. Of the 3 the al pastor was clearly the best, there was a lot of rich flavor. The side of grilled onions and jalapeño were very welcome, especially the jalapeño. Their roasted tomato red salsa is fantastic as well, I wish I had gotten 2 sides of that rather than waste time with their so-so green salsa. But, with a horchata everything did cost a total of $7. Pretty damn good value.

If you're bumming around mid-city, El Chato is worth checking out, but I wouldn't put it on my short list of the best in LA. Just make sure you get the free stuff when you do.

Tire Shop Taqueria (4/5)

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Tacos and tires, finally united

Tacos and tires, finally united

This stand is strange. The whole deal surrounding this place isn't the usual setup for a taco stand, but still seems undeniably like it belongs in a city like Los Angeles. This taco stand has been set up in a used tire shop, I imagine to keep from being shut down as is the fate of many a street taco stand.

What I like a lot about Tire Shop Taqueria is that every taco is made from scratch, start to finish. Take a look. The tortillas are patted out by hand before being filled with freshly chopped asada and topped with homemade salsas. I had to order like 5, since I wasn't sure when I would be in Vernon again, or how long I could expect this humble taco stand to exist. It seems to be enduring, it does have its own Yelp page after all. The tacos, while incredibly fresh, didn't pack the kind of flavors that the really great stands and shops can produce. The avocado salsa that so elegantly tops each taco tastes good, but lacks the richness that can be found elsewhere. I think even a little more heat would have been very welcome. The asada was expertly cooked, however, there is a pleasant crispness on the edges.

The beautiful product of street food know-how and willingness to bend the conventional rules of where to set up shop

The beautiful product of street food know-how and willingness to bend the conventional rules of where to set up shop

If it's your first time, you'll probably stumble along the tables looking for who to give your money to. The thought did cross my mind of how easy it would have been to just simply, walk off. The register is there, however, I suppose in the waning light of the evening it became more and more camouflaged. By the register you'll find the tanks of various agua frescas that they offer, three in total on my visit. I always have to try the horchata, and I definitely picked up a order of that before paying. It's on par with the tacos, well worth the money.

Hands so fast they become a blur

Hands so fast they become a blur

Definitely not poor picture taking, blurry people make this food...

Definitely not poor picture taking, blurry people make this food...

Is this gonna be the best taco you ever eat? Nah. But they're still super tasty and worth a visit, even if just for the odd experience of figuring out where to find this place. If you take a lot of pleasure in exploring food in unfamiliar parts of the city like I do, places like the Tire Shop Taqueria are what make food discovery so much fun.