It’s an understatement to say that tacos are beloved in Southern California. Although their exact origin is unknown, they have long been associated with Mexico, eventually finding their way north of the border where they have found a strong foothold.
Despite their humble beginnings as street food, tacos have evolved from just a tortilla filled with meat, onion, and cilantro. In the United States, many creative liberties have been taken, including the invention of the hard shell taco. There may be many renditions today, but a simple street taco can be incredibly satisfying for me. Good corn tortillas and flavorful meats define my idea of a tasty taco. Delicious salsas are a bonus. I must confess, in recent years, I have developed a strong love for tacos dorados — crunchy, golden fried tacos.
The idea for this month’s article began with my first visit to Enchilada House (133 N. Bandini St.), the quintessential hole-in-the-wall establishment that one drives, or walks, by without noticing. An Eat in San Pedro Facebook group member had raved about the potato tacos, so I went to investigate. Each order of crunchy tacos comes with two golden fried tortillas loaded with potatoes, shredded lettuce, salsa, and cheese that melts from the heat of the hot shell. It’s simple but so good! The beef version also includes potatoes. What makes these stand out is that the hard shell is perfectly crunchy and doesn’t fall apart. Ask for their salsa because it’s spicy and makes the crunchy tacos even more delicious. My next favorite is the carne asada taco which has a generous amount of flavorful meat, and it is served on corn tortillas with onion, cilantro, and creamy avocado salsa. Insider tip: this is a cash-only place.
Continuing with the theme of hole-in-the-wall places I had never been to, I visited Tacos Jalisco (1202 S. Gaffey St.). The cashier recommended the street tacos with chicharrón, served with radish slices and a wedge of lime on the side, which was my favorite choice. The crispiness of the pork skin, along with the diced onions and cilantro, was delicious. The chicken super taco was packed with juicy meat, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, sour cream, and cheese. I also tried a hard shell taco with carnitas, busting at the seams with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and cheese. Overall, the meats at Tacos Jalisco were moist and flavorful.
I went to SP Tacos (114 N. Gaffey St.) because friends had raved about their street tacos. I was looking forward to trying the suadero, an underused flank-like section of cow’s belly traditionally stewed and served shredded in tacos. I found it to be relatively dry and lacking in flavor. The lengua (tongue), and carnitas were good, but my favorite was the marinated chicken because it was very flavorful. The only options for crunchy tacos are carnitas and chicken, filled with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese. I liked the variety of salsas available, and in particular, the very spicy green meoqui. Radishes and pickled jalapeños are also available, but their cucumbers in a mild tangy salsa are the most impressive. Make sure to ask for them with your order.
Lastly, I visited El Taco (901 S. Pacific) because of its history. A few years ago, the San Pedro library hosted journalist and Taco USA author Gustavo Arellano for a talk about Mexican food. From him, I learned that in the 1950s, Glen Bell, the founder of Taco Bell, opened the first El Taco in Long Beach after owning restaurants in the San Bernardino area. He sold the El Taco restaurants and opened the first Taco Bell in 1962 in Downey. Our El Taco is one of the few remaining. Here you’ll find the original crunchy taco that Bell made famous. Truthfully, these fell short after the hard shell tacos mentioned above because they are bland. The chunky chicken and pork soft shell tacos are a better choice. spt