Tacography of Long Beach
The establishment itself has a great Tijuana-taco-stand aesthetic, with just enough dinginess and neon lighting for my liking. The order counter is right on the street front, and at dusk, the settling smell of exhaust somehow adds to the atmosphere of the place. After ordering, you pick up your meal around the corner of the building at a small window where you’ll find an al fresco dining patio with plastic picnic benches. You can see the grill-action from the pick-up window and tacos come out piping-hot.
Starting with the asada taco, from the first bite, I could tell the meat was slightly overcooked. After a few more bites, the prevailing flavor was the cilantro and onion, meaning the meat lacked character and was too bland. Overall, not bad to scarf down when you have a taco monster in your belly to sate, but that’s about it.
Along with the asada, I ordered a carnitas taco—the pungent slow-cooked pork was a treat for my olfactory sense as I opened the foil wrapping. The meat was succulent, full of flavor, and had just the right amount of sizzling fat. An all-around great taco.
The house salsa was cool and fresh but didn’t add much of a punch. The tortillas went wholly unnoticed as far as flavor, which isn’t a bad thing, but nothing spectacular either.
Overall, the feel of the place is memorable and transporting. If you go, be adventurous and try something other than the asada.
The system works like this: You give the taquero your order then walk over to the register where you pay and get a ticket to claim your tacos back at the grill. I order two asada tacos and a carnitas taco.
The tacos are served naked, a hearty portion of meat on a double stack of tortillas. I like the DIY approach. The salsa bar has onions, cilantro, salsa verde and roja, limes, carrots—the works. There’s also a taqueria-style guacamole—emulsified and watery just how it should be.
The moment of truth: carnitas are dry and on the gristly side, a direct result of the heat lamp. Any sign of the confit-style preparation that renders carnitas succulent is gone. The asada is sad, lacks seasoning and character.
The tortillas are mass-produced and decidedly not handmade. On top of this, they were heated in oil on the grill, imparting a greasy texture and giving the whole taco a funny canola taste.
The standout among the salsas is the salsa roja, which registers a slight kick.
I must unfortunately report that this is a classic case of quantity-over-quality. Let this be a lesson to taqueros across the land. You will never ascend to the heights of the taco ranks using heat lamps.