As the tile mosaic at Guerrilla Tacos declares, LA don't play. Especially not when it comes tacos. No, the street food stable, food truck favorite, and cornerstone of Mexican cooking is serious business around these parts and no visit to Los Angeles is complete without eating at least one taco. Whether you're looking for breakfast or birria, vegan or meat-heavy, crunchy or soft, LA's top taco spots have you covered.
Not many chefs have gone from manning a street cart to having their praises sung by Michelin inspectors, but seven years, a food truck, an Arts District restaurant, and about a million tacos later, those bragging rights belong to Wes Avila. Everything in his corner lair is flamboyant including the haute Mexican cuisine, music, house-made agua fresca, graffiti-inspired design (table numbers are fashioned out of spray paint cans), staff, and even customers.
Order at the counter, secure seats, and then feast on fabulous tacos (and potato taquitos) inspired equally by the city, the season, and his heritage. If you’re having trouble choosing between the butternut squash (with halloumi, figs, and candied pecans), saag curry eggplant, swordfish with uni butter, or the pork/ tendon/chicken liver mousse, opt for the $95 omakase option.
Parked in the same spot on Olympic for more than a decade, this rolling institution and its mastermind Raul Ortega always earned high praise from beloved food critic Jonathan Gold and often glides to the top at street food competitions with its signature tacos dorados de camaron (fried tacos with shrimp). They are crunchy on the outside and warm and juicy on the inside. The salsa adds spice and heat, the lime slices an acid burst, and the pat of avocado some creaminess. There's no alcohol served and cash is a must.
This celebrity magnet is so cool and casual that seeing a shorts-clad Christian Bale sharing a bowl of guac or a slice of tres leches cake with friends is commonplace. The mostly Mexican menu is ratcheted up a notch with pan-Asian touches. Think tandoori chicken fajitas, coconut curry mussels, samosa empanadas, and crispy Burmese tofu in tamarind sauce. Four types of tacos are always available and served in pairs: red meat, seafood (Yucatan chili shrimp with serrano aioli and pickled onion), chicken, and vegan (a mind-blowing fried garnet yam in sweet and spicy peanut sauce). There’s also usually a daily taco creation like fried chicken sandwich tacos. All are served on cooked-to-order tortillas using masa made from responsibly sourced Oaxacan heirloom corn. Word of warning: this member of the esteemed Rustic Canyon family is priced for Westside wallets.
In 2016, service industry veterans Jennifer Feltham and Teodoro Diaz-Rodriguez struck out on their own to create a welcoming downtown taqueria that honored the taco stylings of the Northern Mexico border town where Teo grew up. That region is known for carne asada cooked over mesquite wood fire served in flour tortillas (FYI vegans: they’re made with lard). They quickly became a fixture of Fashion District lunch breaks and taco tours. Filling options include: steak, chicken, chorizo, roasted poblano chile/pinto beans, and crispy tripe. Add major heat with chiltepin salsa, wash it all down with lime cucumber agua fresca, and have patience, there are never enough seats.
Gilbert's El Indio
In a city that changes frequently, the yellowing headshots and decades-old photos of baseball teams and scruffy pets stapled to every flat inch of this 45-year-old family-run joint become as comforting as the humble fare they serve. Crispy-shelled tacos and soft-shelled basics can be ordered a la carte or as a combo with extra tortillas, refried beans, and rice. It’s affordable, usually generates leftovers, and includes all-you-can-eat chips and salsa and bottomless zesty pickled carrots. The cash-only Santa Monica gem is beloved by locals and filled with families.
Teddy's Red Tacos
The stiff competition in LA for the best birria (Jalisco-style braised meat with spiced multiple-chile sauce) could make for a tense reality show. One contender would be Teddy Vasquez with his Slauson Avenue truck, and newer Venice brick and mortar store that's mere steps from the sand. He specializes in simmered beef filling known as birria de res. The titular bright red consommé is truly a thing of beauty and likely the reason the tacos are so addictive. Throw in radish slices to add crunch and calm the heat.
There may be no better place in the city to spend Mezcal Mondays than either of the two Madre locations (Palms and Torrance) thanks to a very deep stable of Mezcal and tequila (we're talking 300 varieties) and bartenders who know how to use them in cocktails. The drinks pair well with the Oaxacan cuisine Madre specializes in like goat barbacoa, six types of mole, banana leaf-wrapped tamales, chicken taquitos, tongue in green sauce, and crunchy crickets with queso fresco. If you’re with a large group, or simply have a hard time deciding which protein to try, the sampler plate comes with multiple meats and all the fixings. To give customers an authentic experience, the owner imports cheese, spices, and chiles from his homeland and often uses a thicker version of tortilla known as a memela.
Chef-about-town Walter Manzke (Republique) grew up in San Diego and is well-versed in the farm-to-table lifestyle and Tijuana taco trips. He combined those elements with skills picked up in renowned kitchens and his music obsession (the name references Tom Petty and Johnny Cash) to create his self-proclaimed “semi-authentic" taqueria. The mid-city favorite is splashed with vibrant street art and the crowd is just as lively, a likely side effect of stiff margaritas and dirty horchatas.
High-quality ingredients are important to Manzke and it starts with tortillas made in-house using organic, non-GMO heirloom maize from Mexico and the restaurant’s rooftop garden. Tacos not to be missed include the charcoal-grilled octopus, Thai shrimp with roasted peanuts and a satay sauce, and roasted butternut squash with crispy leeks.
Breakfast burritos gobble up all the glory and while we would never kick them out of bed, allow us to make the case for breakfast tacos. Specifically the ones you'll find at the three HomeState locations. The Texas Kitchen churns out the city’s finest including three vegetarian options, one with shredded brisket, another with chorizo, some with beans, and a couple with bacon. Choose either flour or corn tortillas and top them with ooey-gooey queso, which pops with jalapeño heat. Yes, they also have migas and anytime tacos, but the breakfast ones are where it’s at. There’s always a line and none of the restaurants have a lot of seating.
Don’t let the low-rent early-'90s look of their website deter you from trying Frogtown’s finest al fresco dine. Dotted with pastel Eames-adjacent plastic chairs, cinder-block planters, and vertical cacti, the sprawling patio (a creatively reused auto body shop) accommodates big groups easily and is extremely pleasant on warm nights. Tacos, fresh off the mesquite grill, are served in warm flour tortillas. The standard proteins make an appearance but it’s the small details like grilled pineapple on the al pastor and the squash and pickled fennel on the vegetable option that stand out. So do the artisanal cocktails, punched up with gourmet ingredients like kaffir dust, burnt corn husk, turmeric, seaweed, and Topo Chico.
Kogi Korean BBQ
The melting pot that is LA is reflected in the overall food scene including its taco offerings. The most famous example is the Kogi BBQ truck and the ensuing immobile taqueria. Created by celebrity chef Roy Choi, its most famous dishes like short rib tacos, kimchi quesadillas, and spicy pork tacos marry the techniques, preparations, and ingredients of Korean BBQ and Mexican cuisine. Hunting down a food truck, particularly Kogi, on Twitter to grab a late-night snack in a darkened parking lot is one of the most LA experiences a visitor can have, but a visit to the restaurant is a close second. Pacman burgers. Kogi dogs, and citrus tofu salads are on offer along with more traditional Mexican tacos like pollo asado, carnitas, and calamari.
Ricky's Fish Tacos
This no-frills affordable Frogtown/Los Feliz food truck, which made an appearance on our 2019 Editor's Choice Awards list, is run by an Ensenada native who knows what it takes to make the perfect crispy Baja-style fish taco. The taste of the warm, expertly fried, never soggy battered fish paired with crispy cabbage, fresh pico de gallo, and rich crema instantly transports you to a beachside street cart. Shrimp tacos are also on offer but are a distant second. The food truck is closed Monday and Tuesday.
While most people come to this West Hollywood haunt for the nightlife scene more than the food, the tacos are worthy of a cheat day visit. Additionally, taco salad is an option if you prefer a similar fix with slightly less calorie guilt. If you have no such reservations, order the Double Decker, a crunchy and soft-shelled beast Frankensteined together with a layer of beans and stuffed with beef picadillo, lamb birria, or the fusion pork belly taco. Vegans get tomato and black bean while vegetarians get mushroom and corn. We also highly recommend the blackened cauliflower bowl with quinoa, cashew crema, and Yucatan onions and the seasonal margarita especially if sour cherry is on offer.
Sky's Gourmet Tacos
Sky’s has melded Mexican culinary concepts and soul food in ways you’ve probably never imagined for more than two decades. Case in point, the mid-city famous crawfish taco or the Cajun shrimp taco. Some have traditional innards like pork carnitas, steak, or white fish but management suggests smothering the tacos in Sassy Sauce and pairing them with sweet tea. Or you can go fancy and fill your tortillas with lobster, salmon, or shiitake mushrooms.
This is one of the safest places for vegans to eat as they offer a full separate menu, keep ingredients isolated from forbidden foods, and cook meat-free orders on a separate grill. Surprisingly, Sky's is also known for cheesecake so make sure to try a slice or two.
Tacos Tu Madre
This corner joint in Los Feliz is small—if you blink while walking down the street at the right time, you’ll miss the order window—but its tacos are mighty delicious. And made fast and moderately priced. You’ll first want to Instagram its famous “make tacos not war” neon sign in the thumbnail-sized dining room, but if weather permits, take your vegan banh mi, fried avocado, vegan eggplant soyrizo picadillo, ahi tuna, or sweet and spicy chicken tacos to the streetside open-air seating area. The epicurean experience is not complete without a round of red velvet churro bites.
With a name translating to stew, this homegrown chain’s flavorful braises now bubble all over town including West Hollywood, downtown, and Burbank. The flavorful one-pot wonders—like chicken tinga, chile verde chicharron, mole poblano, and cochinita pibil—are made daily along with the masa for tortillas at the original Boyle Heights outpost. Many have been brought to tears by chile toreado, a simmering jumble of serrano, habanero, jalapeo, and Thai chiles blistered on high heat. One vegan and three vegetarian options, including mushrooms with cilantro, are available. Street-sized singles are all less than $3.50 and gluten-free.
If you’re a taco traditionalist—as in you believe carne asada is the one true filling—this inventive Eagle Rock establishment probably isn’t for you. But if the mere mention of tacos stuffed with duck confit, fried avocado, pork belly cracklings, Korean short rib, or sea urchin with tempura-battered chile guero makes you drool, make haste to this casual cantina. It's decorated with straw hats, fringed blankets, and other south-of-the-border crafts and frequented by Eastside hipsters. While there, tack on an order of mission fig mole (on shredded chicken or fries) and a horchata cocktail.
It's appropriate that you'll find this Mexican food truck set up most nights in front of the Encino post office as their tacos are worth writing home about. Especially the grilled (to perfection) shrimp tacos topped with raw squash, roasted corn, cotija cheese, pico de gallo, and a zippy chipotle sauce. Asada is marinated in homemade chimichurri and can also be thrown atop fries instead of a tortilla. Al pastor has hot pineapples, chorizo is worthy of cheat day, and zucchini-heavy veggie tacos come in hard or soft shells. Acasa mostly dabbles in call-ahead take-out but there are a few tables and chairs for people who prefer to eat everything fresh off the grill.