Which LA taco reigns supreme? Seriously, LA must have more taco spots per capita than anywhere else in the country (I'm just going to assume that and not even bother to google it. #ignorance). And while finding a great taco place is as easy as visiting the closest food truck, determining the absolute best the city has to offer requires a lot more investigation. So that's exactly what we did. In honor of March Madness, we pitted 8 taco joints against each other in the ultimate showdown; we then spent an EPIC Saturday afternoon (8 hours to be precise) visiting all of them, taking plenty of photos and detailed notes. The group consisted of myself, Kyle (le boyfriend and photographer), Max (one of our foodie contributors), Lucas Nolan (photographer), and his girlfriend Nicole (a foodie and cook herself).
Here's how the competition shakes down....
We assigned each taco place a main category based on what seems to be their signature style: Carne Asada, Seafood, Cochinita Pibil, and Carnitas. Two restaurants in each category faced off against each other, and then the winner of each category faced off until we found an overall winner.
I have to say, we really didn't have a bad taco all day. Everything was good, and ultimately, the winning tacos in each category usually came down to balance and overall execution. After a grueling 8 hours, dozens of miles traveled, countless tacos ingested, and some seriously heated discussions, we concluded that Ricky's Fish Tacos in Silverlake is the winner! Check out the bracket below:
Now, let's get down the specifics. Check out all contenders below, with our detailed thoughts on each taco, how we came to our final decision, and of course, photos of all the delicious bites.
1. Ricky's Fish Tacos: Seafood and Overall WINNER
Our first (and ultimately, winning) visit, Ricky's is a taco truck that has a consistent location in the Los Feliz/Silverlake area. As Ricky's is all about the seafood, we ordered shrimp and fish tacos. The shrimp taco was a bit sweet, but had a really nice balance overall. The fish taco was perfectly fried-- crispy on the outside, moist on the inside-- and had a nice, subtle kick from the jalapeno. The cabbage was allowed to stand on its own (not like a crema coleslaw), which kept it crispy, and all of the provided salsas and sauces were great. Overall, it was a very well balanced and tasty taco; all of the elements were expertly executed, and worked together seamlessly.
Ricky's was the unanimous winner over it's Seafood contestant Mariscos Jalisco, but was a closer call with Tire Shop. Ultimately, Ricky's won out over both Tire Shop and Chichen Itza because of it's excellent balance.
2. Mariscos Jalisco: Seafood
One of our later stops in the day, Mariscos Jalisco was the second seafood spot and faced off against Ricky's. And they were completely different. Crispy on the outside and layered with salsa and avocado, these were the kind of tacos that Anthony Bourdain would love for their slutty satisfaction.
Though they were definitely tasty and had some nice elements, the flavors were a bit muddy, which is why they were ultimately eliminated in the first round.
3. Mexicali: Carne Asada
Our second location of the day, Mexicali was our first carne asada taco, and they were great. They had a nice chewiness to them, and for such a simple taco, the depth of flavor was very impressive. The corn tortilla was quite good as well-- substantial but not too thin.
In any other competition, Mexicali could've gone a lot further, but they lost out to Tire Shop in the Asada round due to their extreme simplicity and Tire Shop's stellar quality.
4. Tire Shop Taqueria: Carne Asada WINNER
One of the group's favorite spots of the day, Tire Shop was actually our last visit. The place has been getting a lot of buzz of late, and it's actually just a stand in a parking lot! But it's incredible what they can do in this kind of set-up. The place was packed; we arrived as it was "opening" and there was already quite the line. The asada itself was really good, and the tortillas were perfect. They were substantial and held together well, but weren't too thick. The marinade on the meat was amazing, and the creamy cool guacamole helped balance out the spice.
While the majority of the group voted Tire Shop over Mexicali in the Asada category, I was the lone dissenter. For me, the intense spice of the salsa immediately overwhelmed my palette and I could barely taste the rest of the flavors; this spice is why it ultimately lost out to Ricky's in the next round. But for the others (who clearly possess a bit more tolerance for spice), Tire Shop was one of the best of the day.
5. Guisados: Cochinita Pibil
Guisados is definitely a taco powerhouse. I've now been to their Boyle Heights, Downtown, and West Hollywood location, and it's always great. And though their cochinita pibil tacos are very good (we particularly loved the tortilla), the meat was a bit runny and the onion and spices didn't come through enough. The meat itself was very flavorful, but the taco needed some more balance overall.
We were definitely split on this decision. Max and Kyle preferred Guisados over Chichen Itza, but myself, Lucas, and Nicole voted for Chichen Itza, leading to a surprising first round elimination for Guisados.
6. Chichén Itzá: Cochinita Pibil WINNER
Another great spot of the day, Chichén Itzá (no, that's not Chicken Itzá) is a counter hidden inside a food court Downtown. With a slew of accolades (it's been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and is a favorite of Jonathan Gold), it has already become a Mexican food legend known for its Cochinita Pibil. The taco overall was great and really flavorful. The marinade was so good and evoked such a depth of flavor that the taco didn't need much else. However, we all felt that there was a bit too much tortilla (they certainly didn't need to be doubled up), and the onion could've come through a bit more.
Despite our feelings on the tortillas and onions, Chichén Itzá won this round mostly due to the textural differences between this and Guisados. It was a really close call, though, and Max and Kyle were both on the Guisados side. Ultimately, Chichén Itzá easily beat out Tacos Les Guichos on flavor and satisfaction. They made it far in the competition, but eventually lost out to Ricky's due to Ricky's superior execution in all elements.
7. Los 5 Puntos: Carnitas
Full disclosure: we originally planned to visit Carnitas El Momo, but we arrived to their location only to find out that it had changed. And by the time we made the traffic-heavy trek to the new spot, we just missed our window and they were closed. So we had to take drastic action and make a quick about-face, opting for Los 5 Puntos instead. Unfortunately, these were some of the weakest tacos of the day. They definitely weren't bad, but compared to some of the spectacularly marinated meat we had tasted that day, the carnitas were simply bland and under-seasoned. And though the choice of salsas, guacamole, and accoutrements helped liven things up, the taco didn't shine on its own.
After our visit to Los Guichos, we unanimously agreed that Guichos won this round.
8. Taco Los Guichos: Carnitas WINNER
Another solid taco, the carnitas at Taco Los Guichos boasted nice tortillas and a bit of sweet and spice. Overall, they were a bit too spicy, and just didn't blow us away.
Though they were the clear winner over the far-more-bland Los 5 Puntos, they unanimously lost out to Chichén Itzá in the second round due to their excessive use of spice.
It was an exhaustingly long day, and Kyle deserves ample credit for kindly schlepping us around. And while we felt like we tasted sooo many tacos at soo many places, it was mind-boggling to see how many more taco spots we passed (and could've stopped at). Did we definitively select THE one best taco in LA? Maybe. But to truly sample every spot this city has to offer, it will take a lot more time than one Saturday afternoon. If anything, the taco tour opened our eyes to the incredible, diverse cuisine (and how much of it there is) that exists all over Los Angeles, and if you're willing to get a bit of your comfort zone and immediate neighborhood, the possibilities for new discoveries are endless.
If you have a free Saturday, I would seriously recommend taking a mini taco tour with a group of friends...but maybe stick to about 3 spots and definitely stop for margaritas! Check out our route here, and let us know in the comments if there are any other great taco spots that we missed!