“Who am I, why am I here?” – Admiral James Stockdale
While I’m sure this post will carry the same weight as a vice presidential debate, read by helpless Marc Jacobs-framed foodie insomniacs with Macs and high speed Internet connections, debated with the fervor of armchair politicos with unutilized poly sci degrees and subscriptions to the Nation (which, has anyone noticed, seems to be printed on a $140 HP deskjet from 2002, appropriate for its high-school newspaper sized circulation), when Heinous (a moniker earned in college, during which time he sported a removable tooth and took showers best described as intermittent) asked me to guest blog from an outsider’s perspective on the most important culinary aspect of L.A.’s food scene, I could and did put it off for a few weeks, hoping he would forget. But then I realized that to be offered the opportunity to expound on the Taco Tour of Los Angeles, a minefield of shifting demographics and offal disguised by foreign language (lengua, anyone?), was to be bestowed the highest honor by a great friend, and I would be remiss not to give it a shot.
As the first guest contributor, I owe you readers, many of whom are undoubtedly friends or colleagues, but a few of whom may be stumblers upon, a word about your hosts, who offer up opinions on what they eat, but are less forthcoming about who they are. While the Internet Privacy Act restricts me from divulging too much, know this: however exacting and demanding they are in their views on food, they are as generous and thoughtful as people in all other respects. Whether they loved their meals (“I thanked him for what my wife and I thought was their best performance in all of our visits to Hatfield’s”), or could not leave the Chinese restaurant fast enough, they were undoubtedly cordial, pleasant and thoughtful hosts throughout. They love food, and they appreciate the rare talent necessary to consistently and inventively produce it, which shines through in their writings. I have no similar ideals, however, and while this post likely reflects Steve and Marisa’s views, it bears none of their style, grace or polysyllabic adjectives.
Back to the Stockdale quote – the answer is tacos. I love Taco Bell. Maybe not quite as much as the rats at my local outlet on West Fourth Street in Manhattan, but who can say no to a run for the Border, particularly when you don’t have a lot of pesos to spend. But when my wife and I were out in
The first stop was Tacos Baja Ensenada, a restaurant specializing in fish tacos, which we thought would be a good warm up for the tour. The drive from West Hollywood to
El Parian is located in the shadows of downtown
The house specialty was goat. I was not going to eat fucking goat. Even Steve, who orders calf brains at Per Se just because it comes with brown mustard, wouldn’t eat fucking goat. Instead, we ordered carne asada tacos, the second-choice of the house. It’s generally never a good idea to go to a restaurant and not have anyone at a four-top get the signature dish, even if it’s fucking goat, and as punishment Steve’s order of tacos came replete with a Corona bottle cap in the center of the plate (remember, we’re in the dry white person section). We don’t know where it came from, and it certainly didn’t stop any of us, least of all Steve, from digging into the tacos. Steve had mentioned that the tacos at Parian are maddeningly inconsistent – if the restaurant isn’t busy, they are ephemeral, delicate, juicy and generously proportioned on homemade tortillas. Of course, that level of taco will draw a crowd (even if you cleverly disguise your storefront as closed), which they are unable to handle. Needless to say, despite the respect I give them for making it difficult to find them, segregating white people to the non-drinking side by the cooler, and placing a bottle cap on Steve’s plate, I was disappointed in the end. A great story, but a bad taco.
Next and last on the tour was El Taurino. As we embarked on our tour on Domingo, each of the places we tried was mobbed with people, generally families celebrating the day off together. El Taurino clearly followed suit, with two snaking and slow moving order lines and a clown in need of some cheering up of its own. If you have coulrophobia or ochlophobia, you confirm our East-coast bias against soft, trendy Californians, and also should avoid El Taurino. There are a few rent-a-policias patrolling the restaurant and parking lot (which itself includes an outpost from the restaurant if you’re looking to avoid the clown), and while we didn’t get close enough to check, I think their badges all read “Rodriguez.”
The two principal taco tour themes came together at El Taurino – the house specialty and offal (unless it’s goat). First, the house specialty. At some restaurants, such as El Parian, the house specialty is listed proudly on the menu, with other dishes as afterthoughts. At others, you need only observe what others in the restaurant are eating. At El Taurino, every third table was enjoying a Fred Flintstone beefsteak specialty, which was essentially a flank steak on a bone. Although it looked appealing, I could not see cutting the meat with the only available cutlery, plastic forks and knives, and passed. Had I been more observant, I would have noticed not only what regulars were eating, but how, and simply eaten the steak with my hands. Next time. As for offal, I’d sooner donate a kidney than eat one, but this is where Steve shines. He enjoyed his lengua taco, but the rest of us had to take his word for it. Offal eaters are a lucky bunch – they try others’ dishes, but nobody wants a return bite. The pork tacos were good – flavorful and hearty – but not worth the wait on a Sunday afternoon. I would suggest a quick trip during the week, or perhaps on a day when the clown has forsaken her painted smile for a beefsteak.
We followed our taco tour with an impromptu cupcake tour of
Tacos Baja Ensenada
1528 W. Pico Blvd.
1104 S Hoover St
9635 S. Santa Monica Blvd.