Before we begin gushing about how cool L.A. chefs are for embracing tacos, we must first acknowledge that even Vince Neil has his own taco joint these days. Now that that’s out of the way, we can exult in the spreading scene of professional chefs who are committing themselves to the tortilla these days, engineering tacos with clever techniques, heartfelt regional research, and gourmet ingredients.
News broke this week that Walter Manzke, formerly of Bastide and Church & State, is teaming up with Tijuana’s Tacos Kokopelli to bring Pretty Cash Taqueria to John Sedlar’s former Playa space on Beverly. Which got us thinking, nowadays you’re almost as likely to find a great taco in a chef-driven restaurant as you are on the side of the road. Without further ado, check out our guide to L.A. taquerias being run by chefs with .formal restaurant backgrounds.
Guerrilla Tacos: At Downtown’s “Taco Madness” event, Wes Avila employed the fattest asparagus we’ve ever seen for his market-driven tacos (and you know what they say about the size of a chef’s asparagus). It seems like this former Le Comptoir chef has no limitations as to what he’ll put in a taco, using ingredients like uni and kanpachi, lamb, pork belly, sweet potatoes, wild mushrooms, and leeks to create stand-out tacos with stunning salsas. Until Avila hatches that brick and mortar he’s dreaming of, you can find him Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at Handsome Coffee Roasters. 582 Mateo St. Downtown.
Tacos Punta Cabra: Former BLT Steak chef Josh Gil and Daniel Snukal, known to L.A. for their ongoing work as Supper Liberation Front, paint a sublime, superior tribute to Baja at this tiny Santa Monica taqueria where everything is made by hand. Fat, popping shrimp, lightly battered fish, and uber-fresh scallops mark some of the best new tacos in town, equally amazing in cocteles and tostadas. They even serve vegans with cauliflower tacos. 2311 Santa Monica Blvd. Santa Monica; 310-917-2244.
Cacao Mexicatessen: Tapping the culinary school education of one of its daughter, Andrew Lujan and family’s Mexican restaurant in Eagle Rock features a short but impressive “taqueria” menu featuring such contemporary classics as duck carnitas and chicharrones, Merlot-braised lamb, and vegetarian hibiscus tacos. 1576 Colorado Blvd. Eagle Rock; 323-478-2791.
Escuela: Steve Arroyo, famous for foreseeing the small plates craze at his popular Cobras and Matadors, turned his attention to tacos in 2011 and opened Escuela. Using all natural ingredients, you’ll find cheffy (and pricey) contents like branzino, Maine lobster, pork ribs, and Baja-battered Langoustines in your tortillas. In addition to vegan and gluten-free tacos, you’ll even find a take on the gringo hard-shell using braised beef shank. 7615 Beverly Blvd. Mid-City; 323-932-6178.
Loteria: Chef Jimmy Shaw’s homage to Mexico City’s street and stall tacos still stands as one of the city’s O.G. destinations for chef-driven tacos. The tiny tacos, with strongly spiced and authentic ingredients, including regional favorites like cochinita pibil, carnitas en salsa Morita, chicken in pipian rojo, and veggie-driven tacos like mushrooms and epazote, and papa con rajas. 6333 W 3rd St. Mid-City; 323-930-2211.
B.P. Taco: After finding success with Blue Plate and B.P.Oysterette, Jennifer Morton’s Blue Plate team hatched this dressed-up taco spot on Downtown Santa Monica, adding to a rising tide of South Beach style to the waterfront. You’ll pay a premium for lobster and truffle oil tacos and they actually charge you for salsa, but housemade tortillas with fillings like brisket and grilled Mahi Mahi are worth a taste. 1515 Ocean Ave. Santa Monica; 310-458-1515.
Tinga: Inspired by the flavor profiles of places like Super Rica Taqueria, chef Jerry Baker and his wife, Chris, spawned the tight and tidy Tinga on Hollywood, serving a well-curated menu of tacos featuring spice-rubbed pork, lemon-brined chicken, vegan papas bravas, and his titular chipotle-steeped chicken tinga. 142 S La Brea Ave. Hollywood; 323-954-9566.
Bar Ama: For Josef Centeno’s puffy tacos.
Kogi: For Roy Choi’s short rib Korean taco, the living legend that launched a thousand ships.
Fig: For Ray Garcia’s wonderful tacos during Sunday brunch.
Rivera: For John Sedlar’s flower petal tortillas, one of the city’s most stunning things to eat/gaze upon.
Spirit House: For Johnny Lee’s sous-vide Kurobuta pork chasu tacos that Jonathan Gold recently put everyone on to.
Jar: For Suzanne Tracht’s once-in-a-blue-moon “Taco Nights,” returning May 22 with four tacos and Peligrosa Tequila cocktails. Reservations at 323-655-6566.
Komida: Though Yamashiro chef Brock Kleweno hatches a new concept at the restaurant’s farmers market each spring, we still pine for his balls-out approach to tacos with Japanese flavor profiles at Komida.