Mexican food in Los Angeles knows no boundaries. Of course, neighborhoods east of the LA River deservedly get the most attention, but there are quality tacos, burritos, gorditas and fajitas to be had all over this gigantic city. The San Fernando Valley neighborhood of North Hollywood is no exception.
Thanks to a large working-class population that surrounds the hip NoHo arts district strip, cheap and delicious Mexican food can be had all over the neighborhood. And while there may not be as many taco trucks crawling the streets at night, North Hollywood’s ample space gives lots of room for small taquerias to thrive, supplying late night crowds and daily diners alike with all manner of great meals.
We’ve seen puffy tacos before in Los Angeles. Classy casual chef Josef Centeno’s downtown spot Bar Amá offers them as a near rite of passage for anyone looking to break into LA’s Tex-Mex game. But after Bar Amá, the next best place to get crispy, fried puffy tacos around town is…where? Anywhere?
One place: Arturo’s Puffy Taco, in Whittier. Aside from Bar Amá’s upmarket version, Arturo’s is virtually the only place you’ll find the decidedly Texan fried delight. In fact, Arturo’s prides themselves on doing a lot of things in the supposed Tex-Mex tradition—with varying levels of success.
Most Mexican food events in Los Angeles are, frankly, inelegant affairs. Yes, you’ll find some of the city’s best tacos, endless piles of tamales or any number of Oaxacan specialties. But they’re almost always served in a parking lot, under a few pop up tents, or dotted across a patchy lawn somewhere. East L.A. Meets Napa is different. It’s classy.
But don’t think for a second that it doesn’t offer some of the city’s best moles, cocteles, stewed meats and other finger-licking grub. This is, after all, still a Mexican food festival.
Metro Balderas is a well-known taqueria in Highland Park. Actually, you might as well just say “it’s a taqueria in Highland Park”. The concentration of high quality tacos that come from this sliver of land northeast of downtown Los Angeles is remarkable, from the fantastically fried fish at Via Mar Seafood to the permanently parked La Estrella lonchero. What Metro Balderas is said to do exceptionally well, though, is carnitas.
Around many kitchens, the lowly potato simply serves as a starchy filler in the absence of meat or a supporting role to meat. After all, potatoes are cheap, easy to cook and season, and readily available all over the world. But at El Atacor #11, the Cypress Park outpost of a dwindling Los Angeles Mexican food chain, the potato tacos are legendary.
Across the tacosphere, the tacos de papas at El Atacor #11 are considered bona fide members of the L.A. Mexican food discussion. They are no low-level vegetarian stand-in for a supreme carne asada or otherworldly carnitas. They themselves are the object of so much attention. Jonathan Gold, that living seal of approval for all things food in L.A., has waxed poetic about the airy tacos he found at El Atacor #11 in 2006. Just this year, L.A. Weekly listed those same tacos in one of their always-divisivetop ten lists. All this for a simple potato taco? Apparently so.