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.
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.
View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Matt Rodbard (@mattrodbard) on
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.
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.