Every summer in Los Angeles is the summer of tacos, but what’s happening this summer seems different and more intense. The heavyweights are stronger than ever: Jennifer Feltham and Teodoro Diaz-Rodriguez’s downtown mainstay Sonoratown, fresh off an appearance in Netflix’s Taco Chronicles (Food & Wine’s Javier Cabral is associate producer of the show), now regularly has lines out the door for its mesquite-grilled carne asada on the city’s best flour tortillas. Also downtown is the red-hot brick-and-mortar outpost of Jorge “Joy” Alvarez-Tostado and Victor Delgado’s Tacos 1986, a street-food sensation that took off like a rocket after introducing its Tijuana-style adobada and L.A.-born mushroom tacos at a Hollywood stand last November.
And all of a sudden, there are serious contenders all over the city. Incredible tacos are seemingly everywhere in Los Angeles. So this is the summer when you shouldn’t be surprised that some of East L.A.’s most spectacular tacos have found a home in Santa Monica, a few blocks from the ocean and just around the corner from the tourist-flooded Third Street Promenade.
The family behind East L.A.’s Barba Kush, led by Petra Zavaleta, is now serving its famous lamb barbacoa tacos on handmade corn tortillas at Santa Monica’s new Lanea cocktail bar. Zavaleta, who is from Puebla, Mexico, and started making barbacoa alongside her father when she was 10, became an L.A. legend with a secret restaurant at her house. Now at Lanea, her pit-roasted barbacoa, shredded atop tacos, pairs well with mezcal, tequila, and the bar’s assorted transporting cocktails (like the blue marlin swiz with blue cane rum, blue bitters, coconut, mint, and citrus). The vegetarian taco at Lanea with squash blossoms, mushrooms, and spinach is another flavor-packed option.
And then there’s the carne asada nachos at Lanea. Yes, you can get Zavaleta’s grilled steak on a taco, but having the asada atop loaded nachos with queso, guacamole, and pico de gallo is over-the-top bliss. Imagine the nachos you get at a movie theater or a ballpark. Now imagine them topped with East L.A. grilled-meat greatness. If you’re like us, you’ll start with your hands and then ask for a fork so you can eat every single queso-drenched bite. You might even take barbacoa and mushrooms off your tacos and put them onto the nachos. Nobody’s going to judge.
This is Santa Monica, so you might be eating your nachos next to the chief strategy officer of a streaming-media startup that’s a good acquisition target for Netflix. You might see boho-chic, spritz-sipping scenesters who are happily feasting after reading Lanea’s menu and learning that corn tortillas and chips are gluten-free. In case you’re unsure, the menu here lets you know that Zavaleta’s consommé is bone broth. Lanea is so L.A. in so many ways, and we’re here for it.
Over in West Adams, not far from the top-tier birria de res tacos and consommé at L.A. Birria, is the new Bee Taqueria. Bee is a walk-up window with outdoor seating and an outdoor grill for tortillas, but it’s also where chef Alex Carrasco plans to introduce a taco omakase in the near future. Carrasco (a seasoned cook who grew up in Mexico City and has worked in the L.A. kitchens of Ricardo Zarate, Nancy Silverton, Phillip Frankland Lee, Jordan Kahn, and other prominent chefs) is serving crispy media luna tacos with scallops and shrimp. He’s making ceviche while also braising pork and roasting lamb. Like Wes Avila at Guerrilla Tacos, Carrasco is a chef with fine-dining chops who knows that a tortilla can be a canvas for anything.
Meanwhile in the San Fernando Valley, a slew of newcomers have turned what was already a street-food stronghold into a pleasantly overwhelming taco wonderland. There’s the new North Hollywood location of the venerated Leo’s taco truck, known for slicing what might just be the city’s best al pastor off a trompo at a remarkably rapid pace. There’s the Peruvian-influenced Pablito’s Tacos, with glorious lomo saltado tacos, burritos, and mulitas in Burbank, Studio City, North Hollywood, and Van Nuys.
And there’s a birria de res frenzy in the Valley: You can now get tacos served with stewed beef at North Hollywood trailer Birrieria Hermanos Castro (where the soul-warming tacos dorados are perfectly crispy and meaty, and where the green salsa is a beautiful calibration of brightness and heat) and North Hollywood truck L.A. Autentica Birrieria (where dipping fried tacos into consommé is a strong breakfast move). Plus, Birrieria San Marcos, with tacos and also plates of comforting birria de res with rice and beans that are big enough for multiple meals, has trucks in North Hills and North Hollywood along with a brick-and-mortar spot in Van Nuys. It’s the craziest summer of tacos ever in L.A., so you obviously should go on a taco crawl.