If you spent last Saturday in a tailspin of sticky margaritas and dry, chewy tortillas, you really owe yourself redemption through some of the best Mexican cuisine L.A. has to offer. Your options abound, of course, from the traditional Oaxacan gems of the Westside and perfection of KTown's Guelaguetza to the marriage of cutting-edge culinary schooling and rooted custom at Northeast L.A.'s Cacao Mexicatessen and the inspired regional creations of South L.A.'s La Huasteca. But the options feel truly endless in East L.A., where mouth-watering names and signage beckon from every major block. Below you'll find five must-try recommendations for guaranteed satisfaction east of the river, three pushing conventional boundaries, one that aces the art of the shrimp taco dorado, and one time-worn classic that never fails to impress. Take a look!
This corner taco shop set up by Cook's Tortas owner Ricardo Diaz recently tied for the distinction of "L.A.'s Favorite Taco" after a city-wide vote for its thick, hand-chiseled tortillas burly enough to brace the kitchen's dank stewed meats, braises, and fiery salsas. Bigger (and better) than most local taco breeds, the mainstays on the changing menu include chicken with tinga and pumpkin-seed spread mole poblano, steak picado, and The Yucatan's famous cochinita pibil with an adjustable heat level offered from one to ten. Also, if a certain impish staffer is working, your horchata may even be dyed blue in solidarity with your fellow Dodgers fans. 2100 E. Cesar E Chavez Ave. 323-264-7201
Also picked, in a tie, as the 2012 title-holder of "L.A.'s Favorite Taco," this colorful lonchera carries the expected order of tostadas de ceviche, aguachiles, and cocteles, all with squeaky fresh seafood. But Jalisco primarily packs eaters in for its specialty: game-changing shrimp tacos stuffed, fried, then smothered in a lean coat of tomato salsa and studded with avocados. Crunchy, comforting, and cool all in one bite, even die-hard fans of Ricky's and Baja Ensenada are said to have switched allegiances here. 3040 E. Olympic Blvd. 323-528-6701
Los Cinco Puntos
The Stax to Guisdado's new soul, this over 40-year-old butcher shop and market has similarly fat, handmade tortillas employed for giant tacos that sheltering mounds of meat. A frontal display breaks down the barnyard, stuffed with translucent sheets of tripe, freshly boiled pink lengua, organs resembling hot links, ribs, shredded carnitas, and tender slices of pork cheek. The pig-obsessed place is worth a look just to watch gargantuan vats of stewing meats and beans groan aside a non-stop patter of hands slapping tortillas onto the plancha. It's better when you make it back home with the chile verde tamales. 3300 E Cesar E Chavez Ave.323-261-4084
Rocio's Moles del Dioses
Rocio Camacho's cunning mole magic and deep dedication to pre-Colombian recipes put many of her former employers on the map, like Casita Mexicana, Moles La Tia, La Huasteca, and now her own spot on a flavorless block in Bell. The chef's sauces stand on peaks and valleys of expansive and elusive tastes, whether in her traditional Oaxacan standard or moles made with beets and mescal or tequila and lime. Highlights on the huge menu include a shareable pot of spicy red broth bobbing with seafood, carrots, and potatoes called Dioses Caldo de Piedra, various versions of queso fundido, and a luscious cut of guayaba-smoked pork with spicy strawberry and mango salsa mimicking carne de chango. It's hard to go wrong and easy to get hooked here. 6242 Maywood Ave. Bell. 323-588-5536
Moles La Tia
Another twist on Oaxacan tradition, La Tia goes beyond the usual suspects with moles made using pistachio, huitlacoche, hibiscus, passion fruit, and coffee, in shades of green, purple, and white, as well as jet black and brown. All tastes are satisfied in this kicked-back café, whether you want a vegetarian option of mole-topped portobello or have ever wanted to jump into duck with tamarind mole and frog legs topped with a mole of fine herbs. The owners recently reanimated their Gallo Grill down the street if wood-grilled meat is feeling more like your thing, though La Tia has barbacoa come Saturdays and Sundays. 4619 East Cesar Chavez Ave. 323-263-7842.
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