Taco Wednesday: Tacos de tripas
When the planets were young and I was courting my wife, our occasional tiffs would usually end up with me walking over to a local taqueria, where I would buy a plate of tacos to take over to her for lunch. This particular taqueria, while it was probably best-known for its succulent beef tinga, had a secondary concentration in organ meats, and it was from these that I invariably chose the Tacos of Reconciliation. Simmered lamb sweetbreads, carefully fried snouts, brains, spleen, the glandy meat from the back of a cow's tongue -- they all made their way onto those plates. In retrospect, I probably should have bought her peonies instead, but we had an unusual relationship, and she did like organ meats a lot.
So it makes sense that on the day of our 22nd anniversary last weekend, we drove down to La Carreta, a cheerful, ranch-themed taqueria east of USC famous for its quesadillas, tortillas made to order and pots of free beans, but which specializes in tacos de tripa.
One of her favorite of those Tacos of Reconciliation involved tripas, which are not actual tripe but the very top of a calf's small intestine; slender tubes still filled with half-digested milk. If you do not fancy offal, tripas is not a meat likely to convert you -- they are strong-tasting, those things, and just rubbery enough to remind you of what you are eating. I have heard it said that you should never order tripas on your first trip to a restaurant, and it is probably true -- it's not something you want to trust to a random street-corner taquero.
But as those things go, the tripas at La Carreta are grand. They charge a few cents more per taco for them than they do for all other meats, including the pork-shoulder chorizo made in the back, and they are set off in larger type on the menu board. Almost everywhere else, tripas are boiled; here they are boiled and fried, which gives them both pleasant elasticity and a resounding crunch -- it's the taco to have when you're only having one. Does it still taste like tripas? Sadly, yes. They were slightly too pungent for me. But Laurie was beaming, the sauce was running down her chin, and I remembered why I was in love.
1471 E. Vernon Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 232-7133.
-- Jonathan Gold
Photo: Jonathan Gold