What a happy word “taco” is! It’s so perfect, it doesn’t seem real — like a word made up by a marketing consultant during a particularly inspired moment. The hard “T”…the soft “ah”…the hard K-like “C”…the easy-out “oh” — what a simply delicious word.
In various Spanish dialects, it means everything from “wedge” to “billiard cue” to “short stocky piece of wood.” It can also refer to a pudgy person — which I like, because if you eat too many…well, there you are!
More than burritos or enchiladas or tamales, we love tacos, soft tortilla and hard, filled with just about everything under the sun. But more often than not, protein, rice, beans, cheese and salsa. So simple, so down-home — and so good.
It’s also…so ancient. Tacos were eaten long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. And when they did arrive, tacos were among the first local foods they tasted. We love our tacos — served from trucks, from stands, and from very casual cafes. It’s the perfect grab-and-go, takeout chow. The purveyors are near infinite. But there are a few great ones I’ve had of late:
The powerful story of how the neighborhood gathered together to keep Molito’s Grill/Cantarito Mexican Grill (2300 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach; 562-494-5597) from going under during the pandemic is one of the great restaurant stories of 2020. But for those who missed it: Several months ago, owner Oscar Rodriguez posted a tearful video on the restaurant’s Instagram page, telling his customers that he was on the verge of closing because of the COVID-19 fallout.
Local humanitarian Tito Rodriguez — aka the Hood Santa — mobilized his friends and followers through his charitable organization, Hearts. Add a GoFundMe page, and the bottomline is…the restaurant is still in business. And the tacos — ordered from a window adjacent to the parking lot — are a joy. Losing them would have been a crime.
They come both soft and crispy, filled variously with chicken, carnitas, beef or cheese, with blackened fish or shrimp, even with potato. They come packed variously with lettuce, pico de gallo, cheese, guacamole and chipotle cream salsa. The tortillas are handmade. And there’s much more on the menu — oversized breakfast plates of huevos rancheros, chorizo and eggs, machaca and eggs, and much more, along with great breakfast burritos.
There are more burritos for lunch and dinner, along with combo plates, tortas, quesadilla and “super” nachos. But it’s the tacos I grab when I’m in a hurry. Tacos in the car — make any trip so much better.
There’s a sizable crowd waiting for food at La Taqueria Brand (1430 E. 7th St., Long Beach; 562-612-1418, www.brandlataqueria.com), which refers to itself as LT Brand, and comes with a story about growing up on a ranch, and listening to ranchera, banda, norteno and mariachi music in the town square while eating food from a favorite taco cart. And, as the name suggest, tacos are the dominant dish here — though there are also consommés, burritos, mulitas, nachos, quesadillas and more.
But about those tacos: They’re really something to behold…and to taste. I love the Birria Street Tacos, made with long, slow-cooked meat “estilo Tijuana,” a pair of yellow corn tortillas packed with meat-dripping juices, topped ever-so-simply with cilantro and onions, a wonder of a dish with a minimum of fuss and fanfare. Add cheese, and it becomes a “quesataco.” You can get it with the birria broth as well, a wonderful dish on a chill late winter’s night.
The tacos come jammed with, variously, carne asada, al pastor, chorizo, chicken, beef tripe, carnitas, vegan picadillo, vegan pastor, vegan chorizo and braised beef. The salsas are many — deeply intense. If you’re hungry enough, get them with the Cali Fries, topped with melted white cheese, cheddar cheese sauce and sour cream. And meat. And guacamole. And pico de gallo. French fries like the French never imagined.
And while we’re on the topic of tacos, I’m waiting for the long-delayed opening of Panchos Vegan Tacos (1837 E. 7th St., Long Beach; 562-908-0093, www.vegantacos.net), the original three branches of which are in and around Las Vegas, and which will offer street tacos, crunchy tacos, tacos dorados, and full-sized tacos, filled with vegan meats (wheat-based carne asada, al pastor and chorizo, soy based “chik-end,” jackfruit carnitas, mushrooms and cactus) and potatoes, in a setting surrounded with Day of the Day memorabilia.
You like your tacos with a side of grinning death heads? I do – I mean, who doesn’t? The message is…live today, because, well, you know.
This content was originally published here.