Editor's note: It's about time we dedicate a whole column to tacos in Los Angeles, wouldn't ya say? That's where our man Farley Elliott comes in! He'll be eating from trucks, taquerias, and wherever else he can find tasty fillings wrapped up in a tortilla. —The Mgmt.
Tucked under a staircase with that perennially-closed look, Sermeno's is the type of Los Angeles Mexican restaurant that doesn't exactly step out to find you.
But once you're inside, the array of meats, sides, and sauces are immediately at hand. Literally. At waist height and running the length of the main entryway is a steam table that offers most of the night's simmering selections in simple metal containers.
For most Angelenos on the taco hunt, this is a far cry from the dry, high-heat griddles that service the trucks and stands that dot the sidewalks at night. Not falling in line with the rest of the taco pack may hurt Sermenos' bottom line slightly, but it does wonders for the tender, flavorful meats that end up inside your tortillas.
The slow-roasted carnitas are given a touch of heat from a few well-placed chili seeds. Otherwise, the tender pork stands proudly on its own, pulling apart in nice chunks with each bite. The crisp white onions help to add a textural crunch to round out the affair.
The barbacoa doesn't fall apart quite like the carnitas, but the deep red juices that follow each bite will ensure you that this beef is every bit as tasty as its pork counterpart. Stewed with a few onions, some cumin and a few more neutral spices, the barbacoa doesn't need any salsa roja. Just a touch of cool cilantro will do.
The dry, crumbly chorizo is given a slight boost from a crusty sear that develops after a healthy amount of time on the plancha. It's not enough to save this taco staple, though, as the commercial-grade flavors are quickly drown out by chunks of dry tortilla that will have you reaching for the Jarritos.
The finely chopped asada may have you wishing you hadn't strayed from the other meats, as it doesn't maintain enough juices to overcome the dense, lukewarm tortillas. Thankfully, a well-stocked salsa bar means a few dollops of spicy taco lubrication are always on hand. The salsa bar offers a fresh taste of green and red salsas, as well as those delectably spicy carrot slices, pickled nicely while still maintaining a slight snap.
And no matter the meat, it's always a good idea to give tacos a little onion and cilantro love. Fresh-cut versions of both will give off a fresh yet smooth flavor without impeding the underlying ingredients.
The tortillas, however, are pulled straight from the bag and probably given the once-over with little more than a hair dryer and a smile. With no elasticity or slightly greasy constitution, they're prone to crack open in spots and dry up in others.
Sermeno's is a nice option for all-day tacos on a stretch of Santa Monica Blvd. that otherwise houses little more than some tire repair shops and the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. You wouldn't be blamed, though, for skipping the tortillas all together and just pointing through the steam table glass for a few spoonfuls of whatever looks good that day.
6115 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles CA (map); 323-467-1202