Serious Eats

Los Angeles: Taco Zone Truck in Echo Park, You Can Do Better

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[Photograph: Paul Bartunek]

Taco Zone is one of Los Angeles' most beloved late night taco trucks, having successfully weathered the flood of gourmet fusion trucks that continue to zip around town (although, with the tide receding, some are beginning to look for any brick-and-mortar in a storm). In fact, it almost feels like Taco Zone has been there forever, quietly serving a wide selection of meats while the Echo Park neighborhood around them changes.

Traditionally an overwhelmingly Hispanic neighborhood, slow gentrification has brought wine bars, fixed gear bikes and legions of hipster kids looking for low rent, live music, and late night eats.

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The truck itself bears the scars of these changing days. Instead of the hand-painted signage found on many of the thousands of true loncheros throughout the city, Taco Zone is littered with band stickers and advertisements for indie clothing lines or bike shops. And while the faces behind the counter haven't changed, the inevitable line out front flashes an income level well beyond the Echo Park of five years ago. The stickers, the clientele and (sadly) the blandness of the tacos are a testament to a changing demographic.

Taco Zone still offers the same line up as always: carne asada, al pastor and pollo for the meek, with lengua, buche and tripas for those of us with a taste for adventure. However, one night in line will convince you that the suadero is a crowd favorite, as most every plate will have at least one of these brisket-like tacos.

Once ordered, the front-facing window is large enough to watch your food being made, which for this truck doesn't mean much, unfortunately.

While other trucks in town keep the al pastor vertical or constantly hit the plancha with new rounds of carne asada, Taco Zone's meats seem to magically refill themselves from the same metal bins you're likely to find at Chipotle. Everything is just a wrist-flick away, which is great for dealing with lines of drunk Cold War Kids fans, but the exposure time doesn't do much for the flavor.

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Most of the meats are excessively dry, including the normally moist chorizo, which was slightly crumbly and lacking the juicy-greasy goodness (that helps to sop up all those vegan beers).

This is where the salsa bar will save you with a mild verde and just-kickin-enough roja to help wet down the whole affair. Granted, you'll still wish you'd sprung for the excellent horchata as you try to chew against the clock with some of the drier bits, but the onion-cilantro mix and salsa additions do well to ease the pain.

Carne asada is the winner if you still end up here. Wherever they pulled the meat from in that tiny roadside trailer, it managed to maintain a hint of the juiciness the others lack, while still packing a reasonably strong steak flavor and a dose of salt. The fan favorite suadero did not fare as well, coming off prickly and stiff, an unfortunate effect of having been shredded long ago and left to air out. The chorizo had a mild spice to it, but was ultimately too crumbly to do much more than help get more salsa down the gullet.

It's a shame that Taco Zone isn't a better truck. They certainly have, or had, the neighborhood to make good on their late-night promises. But with a line no less than four people deep, it's easy to see why there's not much impetus to change things around. Thankfully Echo Park still has more than a few great taco gems to be discovered and discussed.

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