Travel

My Favorite Tacos in LA Are in the Parking Lot of a Tire Shop

For $1.50 a pop, these are not to be missed.

April  8, 2019
Photo by James Ransom

Choosing the best taco in Los Angeles is like trying to find the most exquisite grain of sand at the beach. There are too many possibilities, countless excellent options. Selecting one single winner would inevitably feel subjective and controversial. It’s best to enjoy tacos in Los Angeles like how Scrooge McDuck enjoys his money: Just bask in the glory of the amazing taco abundance surrounding you.

Even so, if you’re visiting Los Angeles for the first time and want to eat exemplary tacos, it’s hard to know where to begin. Locals can recite a litany of different taco styles worthy of your attention, from al pastor at Leo’s Tacos Truck to braised meats at Guisados to crunchy shrimp tacos at Mariscos Jalisco. The wide variety of regional taco styles on display across the city makes choosing that much harder.

But everyone needs to start somewhere, and for the uninitiated I would recommend heading to Tire Shop Taqueria right away.

Tire Shop Taqueria is a bustling operation that sets up shop in the parking lot across from a used tire store in South Los Angeles. They make their own tortillas from scratch all night long, and Tijuana-style carne asada is grilled over real mesquite coals. The words "Tire Shop Taqueria" don't actually exist anywhere on the premises; it’s just the name that ended up sticking, by word of mouth, to this humble and ambitious operation.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Hi Leo (and Stephanie!). Thanks for the feedback. You can blame me, the editor, for the misleading headline, which I've updated. As for the article, I think you've reiterated Josh's original point: "Choosing the best taco in Los Angeles is like trying to find the most exquisite grain of sand at the beach. There are too many possibilities, countless excellent options. Selecting one single winner would inevitably feel subjective and controversial." Which is why he made clear at the beginning that he was covering just one piece of the puzzle, an iconic taco joint he loves in particular. That said, yes, I would very much love to read your full list. I'm sure everyone else here would as well. Thanks!”
— Eric K.
Comment

You’ve found the place when you see the line of eager customers snaking toward gentle wafts of smoke from the tented outdoor kitchen. The line moves quickly and the energy is high: Masa is rapidly being pressed into discs and cooked on a flattop to form new tortillas, while meat is constantly being flipped and rotated on the fiery grill. The cooks responsible for Tire Shop Taqueria are lightning-fast. If they took over the operations at your local DMV, the line would move fives times faster, guaranteed.

Everything moves so quickly that ordering can feel stressful if it’s your first time, especially because most people waiting in line are return customers who already know what they want, and the small menu on display contains almost no information whatsoever. You don’t want to hold up the line behind you, so the first lesson to learn is that if anyone asks you, “Con todo?”—your answer should be a quick, resounding “Yes!”

(This means “with everything” and ensures that your taco comes topped with diced raw onion, fresh cilantro, a little splash of red salsa, and a generous dollop of creamy avocado salsa.)

The hardest decision at Tire Shop Taqueria is choosing between carne asada and chorizo. Plump, spicy chorizo is fresh pork sausage that gets lightly charred on the grill. Carne asada, on the other hand, means large, thin fillets of beef that have been seasoned and marinated before they too get charred on the grill. The chorizo and carne asada both get finely chopped before being served.

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The obvious solution here is to order both the chorizo and the carne asada. Add some variety to your order, though, by getting a carne asada taco along with a chorizo vampiro. A vampiro is basically the same as a taco, except the tortilla is first placed on the grill with a small handful of cheese, so the edges of the tortilla get crispy and slightly charred and the cheese becomes a molten pool of pure happiness. The combination of charred tortilla, melted cheese, and chorizo works particularly well.

There are a few more items on the limited menu, including quesadillas and mulitas. It’s always tempting to satisfy your curiosity by trying something else on the menu, but the standout items at Tire Shop Taqueria are truly the tacos and vampiros. For what it’s worth, the quesadillas and mulitas are basically the same thing: an extra large tortilla, filled with melted cheese and the meat of your choice, con todo. The only difference is that a quesadilla is one tortilla folded over onto itself, and a mulita is two tortillas pressed on top of each other to create a sandwich of sorts.

And the only reason I’m explaining this is because I don’t want any rookies slowing down the line with their questions.

Do you agree with Josh? What's your favorite taqueria? Tell us in the comments below.

12 Comments

Smaug April 8, 2019
Most likely the "best" (if there can be said to be such a thing) tacos in LA are made in someone's home.
 
garlic&lemon April 9, 2019
Actually, probably not in this case. It takes a LOT of effort to ground your own masa and make fresh corn tortillas. Then all the prep for the meats, salsas, and extras means that folks who love tacos in LA have their favorite trucks that they follow or tiny authentic places that they visit. The best tacos are from places where they are made regularly. At home, we just slap together what we've got into tortillas and call it good.
 
Smaug April 9, 2019
I don't find making tortillas that hard. Most of the tacos, and other such dishes, that you hear about are commercially made, and tend to consist of very simple fillings and a lot of salsas and condiments to complete the dish. This makes sense if you're running a taqueria or even throwing a large party, but I find it more practical for a home cook to make more complete fillings containing what you actually want to eat. This can be as much or as little work as you're willing to put into it, but the results can be as good as you're up to.
 
Ireri L. April 8, 2019
Those tacos suck! My best advice is to keep looking for the best taco AND to try places that don’t have a line full of hipsters. If you see a place where a lot of latinos go after work or on the weekends those are the places you need to try.
 
boulangere April 8, 2019
There's a couple of minutes I won't get back.
 
Stephanie B. April 8, 2019
Please don't mention Guisado's. I'm glad you didn't spend time on that place, but it doesn't even deserve a mention - unless is to warn people away. I went there once when I first moved to LA because it was nearby and had good yelp reviews. Rookie mistake - will never go again, unless I want some casual chemical poisoning (read more on that below). The tacos were underwhelming at best, the horchata was cloyingly sweet, and the worst and weirdest was the pickled onions used to garnish the tacos smelled like they had been pickled in acetone. 100% smelled they came out of a nail salon.

Anti-hipster sentiments aside, I do agree with Leo that this article would be better if you wrote about more than one taco place. LA is a big city, explore more!
 
Leo April 8, 2019
As a 37, yr old Los Angeles native and taco aficionado, I'd like to thank you, Josh. I've shared this article with many of my friends and we're all laughing at you and your professional opinion on the matter. We were wondering if you've ever been to any other taco joints in the city or if this is just the first one you decided to whip out your pen and paper on in your taco-gum-shoe exploration. "Tire Tacos" is a decent spot but to limit this article to ONE recommendation under the umbrella title of "Where to get the absolute best tacos in LA" is laughable and highlights your naivety. Let me know if you'd like some real suggestions on what places to get the best pastor or asada or buche or carnitas or pollo or pibil or tortillas or salsa or anything else. In the mean time, you should go stand in line at "Taco Zone" in Echo Park with all the other hipsters and while you're there, feel free to write yet another hipster review on one of the most over-rated taco joints in arguably the best city to find the ambrosia that are TACOS!
 
Stephanie B. April 8, 2019
Hey Leo, as a non-native LA resident I'd like to hear your suggestions!
 
Eric K. April 8, 2019
Hi Leo (and Stephanie!). Thanks for the feedback. You can blame me, the editor, for the misleading headline, which I've updated. As for the article, I think you've reiterated Josh's original point: "Choosing the best taco in Los Angeles is like trying to find the most exquisite grain of sand at the beach. There are too many possibilities, countless excellent options. Selecting one single winner would inevitably feel subjective and controversial." Which is why he made clear at the beginning that he was covering just one piece of the puzzle, an iconic taco joint he loves in particular.

That said, yes, I would very much love to read your full list. I'm sure everyone else here would as well.

Thanks!
 
Stephanie B. April 8, 2019
Sorry Eric, didn't mean to come off as mean. I just had a strong visceral reaction when I read Guisdado's. I guess those acetone onions really scarred me.
 
paseo April 8, 2019
Gee, Leo, relax and get over your 'expert' local self. He clearly stated that there were many choices for great tacos in LA. I lived there for years and what was my favorite one time was superseded by another place a week later. Too many places for great tacos - all different in their own way and most were amazing. Personal choices all. And spell check is a worthwhile investment.
 
Ireri L. April 8, 2019
That place actually happens to be mediocre. Choosing THAT taco place as his favorite only validates the fact that people like it due to “yelp” reviews from hipsters and lack of actually trying go out and try other places. Leo’s tacos across from that place are insanely better or the taco guy right outside of Thirsty Crow in the same neighborhood. You won’t find high numbers of likes on yelp because people that actually eat there don’t yelp, which is good for me. Glad the title of the article was changed changed.