Parked in a car wash lot not half a block from La Estrella, one of Highland Park's most venerable taco trucks, El Pique has had to scrap and fight for every $1.25 taco sale. Luckily, there are a few options (including the cabeza tacos) on the menu to throw your spare change at, should the line at La Estrella bend past the curve of tolerability.
There are certainly no surprises at El Pique. All of the protein basics are represented, from asada and al pastor through the "head meats" (lengua and cabeza). You can wrap those up in a bun or inside a large tortilla and next to some rice, or touched across the diameter of a double stack of thin, griddled taco-sized tortillas.
What you won't find is the ever-elusive suadero (rib meat) or risky sesos (cue zombie "BRAAAAINS" sound bite), or even anything much from the menu that stands out as must-have.
The leader of the pack is definitely the cabeza tacos, which ought to be close enough to the brain to lure in a few late-night zombies looking for a smooth and lightly greasy filler to sop up some of the evening's mistakes. Each bite of cabeza is soft and velvety without the thick funkiness that can undermine a lot of poorer cuts of meat. It's clear that the cabeza has been left to simmer alongside a healthy (or, rather, completely unhealthy) dose of lard.
The carne asada tacos aren't far behind, imparting a noticeable saltiness that cuts through the mild but delicious salsa roja. Were this much salt poured over your steak or seared in with your burger, you'd be at risk of hypertension before you paid your bill. But here the asada chunks are big enough to help hide such a heavy hand, even if the final result is still just a bit out of balance.
Sadly, the al pastor can't be saved. At El Pique, there's no vertical spit in sight, which means the pastor is either bussed in from a neighboring town or it never starts on a spit in the first place. The latter is the more likely case, which all too often leads to crumbly, dry, rounded bites of pork that do little to impart the smoky, slightly citrus-y complexities of true al pastor. Not even the tangy zip of the deep red salsa can save the day.
With El Pique, you sort of have to know what you're getting yourself into. Instead of waiting to dance with the pretty girl at the La Estrella truck, you've got to be willing to set your sights a little lower. You'll still end up being surprised at how much fun you're having, and you might even sneak in a moment of real affection, but ultimately your heart lies elsewhere. As it should.
El Pique Truck
Parking lot at York Blvd. and Ave. 53, Highland Park CA 90042 (map)
About the author: Farley Elliott is a freelance writer and comedian living in Los Angeles. He covers comedy and food for LAist.com and performs regularly at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in Hollywood.