Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Taco Tuesday

Taco Thursday: Tongue tacos

You are hungry. It is late. You are driving down one of the major thoroughfares in East Los Angeles. You pass a well-lighted taco table Your car is already swinging into a U-turn. You are at the heart of the Eastside taco universeYou are hungry. It is late. You are driving down one of the major thoroughfares in East Los Angeles. You pass a well-lighted taco table –- there are lots of taco tables -– but two blocks away you realize that the air is still scented with grilling meat, that you had spotted a proper, pineapple-topped al pastor spit (with flames) and that the sidewalk was crowded with dozens of taco eaters instead of the usual lonely one or two. Your car is already swinging into a U-turn. You are at the heart of the Eastside taco universe.

The intricate choreography of the taco men seems as though it has been practiced over years. One works the al pastor device, carving off stacked layers of pork as they char; cooks the carne asada on the griddle; occasionally grabs a stack of tiny taco tortillas and moistens them just on one side in a bowl of jus.

A second cook concentrates on chopping the meat, working his cleaver and tongs in a rhythm pretty close to the double-bass-drum solos Tommy Lee used to rock at Motley Crue shows, filling long ranks of tortillas with the deftness of a Vegas pro dealing blackjack.

A third cook mans the wet grill, or whatever the technical name is for the sombrero-shaped metal device in which simmers pig stomachs, loops of tripas and other high-test offal.

A fourth guy, positioned just outside the awning, collects money.

You collect your tacos al pastor, dress them with tart green salsa, a scattering of chopped onions and cilantro, and thin taqueria guacamole, and find a wall to lean against. The meat is slightly crisped and rich -– perhaps too rich, because it tastes more of commingled organ juices than it does of pork, which is not undesirable but also not what you were expecting, not at all.

You get back in line and get a few tongue tacos to go. The organ-y flavor will be more appropriate, you suppose. You are correct.

A caveat of sorts: This taco table, although it has held down the corner of Caesar Chavez and Hicks for at least a couple of years, may not be a strictly approved vendor and is basically unnamed -- it appears on Yelp as simply "Taco Table."

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-- Jonathan Gold

Photo credit: Jonathan Gold / Los Angeles Times

Taco Tuesday: Duck skin tacos

TacoIf you are in the habit of roasting ducks, or of rendering duck fat for confit, you know that the tastiest bits are often those scraps of crunchy skin left behind on the cutting board — brown, shriveled, squiggly bits of what are essentially pure duck fat and pure duck flavor. You know that you could probably toss them into a salad, use them to garnish mashed potatoes or sprinkle them over whatever soup you may make the next day from the ruined bones of the carcass, but you won't. That skin is never leaving the kitchen. This is why you're The Cook.

So you may be interested to know that the estimable Cacao Mexicatessen, which goes through an awful lot of duck in the course of making its notorious duck carnitas, also happens to sell tacos stuffed with fried duck cracklings, which it calls chicharron de pato. There's not much to see here — a tiny, hand-patted tortilla; a drop or two of tomatillo salsa; a few slivers of julienned radish — but there doesn't have to be, not when what we're talking about is one or two bites of pure duck evil. You will find the tacos de chicharron de pato on the Taqueria de Maya menu, and if you think there may be some credence to that calendar thing, you may as well have two.

1576 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 478-2791, cacaodeli.com.

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Photo: Jonathan Gold / Los Angeles Times

Taco Tuesday: Chorizo taco at Arturo's

ArturosIs it late-ish? Is it prom night?  Are you a tuxedo crushed in with gowns and other tuxedos, on your way to the after-party? Are you hungry? You may be on your way to Arturo's, a.k.a. the Yellow Truck, the second-most beloved vehicle on Pasadena's taco-truck row.

Shouldn't we be at the most beloved truck, you may protest? No, you should not. The trucks are almost identical in quality, but Arturo's has a much shorter line, and the stretch Suburban you are driving around in may actually be able to fit in the tire-shop parking lot. You are 30% less likely to get salsa rojo on your shirt, because there is room to move.

And although the truck is probably best known for its juicy lengua, stewed beef tongue, tonight is special: get the chorizo; loosely packed griddle-crisped sausage. Crunchy-skinned, a little spicy, spiked with those unidentifiable chewy bits that are really best left unexamined, Arturo's chorizo tacos are what you want to be eating halfway through the night. In the parking lot at 400 S. Fair Oaks, Pasadena.

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-- Jonathan Gold

Photo: Arturo's chorizo taco splendor. Credit: Jonathan Gold / Los Angeles Times.

Taco Tuesday: The joys of barbacoa

Barbacoa at My Taco

There are few pleasures more reliable in Los Angeles than the lamb barbacoa at My Taco in Highland Park. This is not, unless I'm mistaken, the legendary barbacoa of rural Hidalgo, pit-roasted for hours in a wrapping of maguey leaves, but more of a city version: a delicate, spicy tangle of long-cooked meat crisped on hot metal, blackened at the edges, caramelized to a sweet, subtle gaminess. One especially hungry friend doesn't eat My Taco's barbacoa as much as he seems to will it into his belly; imagine streams of lamb passing an event horizon like interstellar gas into a black hole.

This barbacoa is customarily ordered by the plate or by the really big plate – you tear off pieces with a tortilla and moisten them with the hot goat consomme that comes in a foam cup on the side. Or you could get a barbacoa torta, a big sandwich plumped out with guacamole and beans. But sometimes, a half pound of lamb isn't in your plans. At such times, there is the taco de barbacoa: an ounce or two of meat, a couple of fresh tortillas, period. If you want to add chopped onion and cilantro, maybe a few drops of mild yahualica salsa, it's up to you.

6300 York Blvd., Highland Park, (323) 256-2698.

--Jonathan Gold

Photo: A plate of barbacoa at My Taco. Credit: Paul Bailey / Flickr

 

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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.