Just how amazing is the regional Mexican (and Central American) food scene in L.A.? Well, amazing enough to warrant a cast of six different restaurants dedicated to the cuisines co-starring in Laura Gabbert’s breakthrough documentary City of Gold on the only Pulitzer-Prize-winning food critic in the world, Jonathan Gold. Whether you’re in the mood for a slightly more refined version of chilaquiles that are served with sliced octopus and a dollop of crème fraiche or just need a quick solid pupusa to fill you up while shopping along Los Callejones in the fashion district, Jonathan Gold has your back with his time-honored recommendations so you can you enjoy El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula the proper way.
City of Gold had its world premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
For the most part, the Los Angeles taco game is dominated by ultra-traditional regional Mexican fillings. Fillings like al pastor tacos whose cult-following solely depends on whether they shave the thinly-sliced al pastor meat right off the trompo on to your tortilla (as opposed to the grill, where it can bundle-up or overcook) or not. That is, until chef Wesley Avila of Guerrilla Tacos busted out his plancha grill graffiti-painted with “Guerrilla Tacos” and started doing tacos filled with things like sweet potato and lambs tongues that must be tasted to be understood. The menu changes daily.
Check out their Facebook page to find out their hours and day’s menu.
Mariscos Jalisco is the quintessential street food of Boyle Heights and maybe all of Los Angeles for that matter. While they have ceviches and cocteles on the menu, their namesake item that everybody around you will most likely be eating are the deeply golden brown tacos de camarón. A folded-over fried taco that is filled with a secret mishmash of veggies and just a bit of chopped shrimp (think of a crispy potato taco but with shrimp) and then smothered in a zesty tomato salsa aromatic with oregano and thick slivers of ripe avocado. It’s a simple joy and you will probably eat at least three of them.
3040 E. Olympic Blvd. Los Angeles, (323) 528-6701
Photo via Serious Eats
El Salvador Cafe
One of the many food-based accolades that Jonathan Gold is known for is eating at almost every single restaurant along Pico Boulevard, a fifteen-mile stretch of urban road spanning across the city dotted with at least one restaurant representing almost every ethnicity found in Los Angeles. And it was during this daunting mission that he discovered El Salvador Cafe, which he credits with being the first Salvadoran restaurant on the strip. Stop here if you’re craving Salvadoran comfort favorites, in particular their extremely satisfying pupusas revueltas (filled with pork and cheese) doused with a stupid amount of their tangy salsa roja and a pile of their briny curtido, which is basically the Salvadoran equivalent to sauerkraut.
575 E Pico Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90015. (213) 741-2370.
King Taco has been open since 1974, so you know they must be doing something right, especially when people still line up and wait up to 30 minutes at times just to place their order during peak hours. Now, their tacos are by no means the best in town but they are consistent and their salsas are definitely some of the best around. Plus, they are open 24 hours. In their East Los Angeles 3rd street location, they operate a King Taco food truck in their flagship restaurant parking lot and Jonathan Gold swears that the tacos dispensed from there taste better than the ones acquired from the restaurant, we’ll let you be the judge of that.
4504 E. 3rd St. Los Angeles, CA 90022. (323) 264-4067
Rocio’s Mole De Los Dioses
Rocio Camacho is somewhat of Mole wizard, a Oaxaca native who has mastered Mexico’s national dish to the point where she can treat it as her canvas for whatever flavors she wants to show off. Her bright passionfruit mole comes to mind, or even her smokey jet-black mole made from huitlacoche (earthy corn fungus). Her handmade tortillas are probably the best in Los Angeles at the moment, especially her forest-green chewy tortillas spiked with nopal powder. She’s done her rounds in the L.A. Mexican restaurant circuit, but Jonathan Gold has been a dedicated fan since the start when she was at Moles La Tia.
8255 Sunland Blvd. Sun Valley, CA 91352. (818) 252-6415.
Photo via Los Angeles Times
According to Jonathan Gold, Guelaguetza is the best Oaxacan restaurant in the country, need we say more? Well, actually yes, they have the best michelada (with Negra Modelo on tap) and mezcal selection in the country too. The thing is that Guelaguetza isn’t so much a restaurant as it is the unofficial Oaxacan consulate of Los Angeles, going the extra mile to make sure that each dish is as legit as can be and the ambiance is as reminiscent of home as well. The space really lends itself to turning up with any kind of special event gathering with friends and family or just a nice date night spot, since they have some kind of live music band nightly and basically every dish they have on the menu is awesome, especially anything topped with their quesillo.
3014 West Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90006. (213) 427-0608.