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Los Angeles Taco Trucks: El Matador vs. Tacos Mi Teresita
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Since time immemorial, two taco trucks have parked in front of the dimly lit auto body shop at Western and Lexington. Two competing trucks, not 20 feet from one another, with no plenty of other real estate around and no other trucks in sight. Granted, the neighborhood seems more than happy to oblige them both, and flashy bar LA Descarga down the street certainly offers up a nice influx of late night eaters. But... two?!
Walking up, the distance between the two (El Matador and Tacos Mi Teresita) proves even more comical. Each truck has a designated spot; El Matador parks on the north end, closer to the freeway. There is little, if any cross-contamination among patrons. Both receive a steady influx of eaters, although El Matador appears to be slightly more hopping as the night progresses.
So, is Tacos Mi Teresita just pulling in folks without the patience for El Matador? Or did everybody in the neighborhood just lock in their votes for his or her favorite truck? Also... two?!?!
On this night, El Matador was the first to arrive, having parked and popped the side open before I arrived. The truck offers few curveballs, instead reaching for some straight-over-the-plate meat options like carne asada, al pastor, chicken and sesos (that would be beef brain). While not altogether uncommon, El Matador is one of few trucks that serves sesos on this side of the L.A. River.
You'd likely be surprised to hear that the chicken was far and away the best. Usually pollo is an afterthought on trucks, and many taco stands don't even carry the meat. But here, generous portions of the protein are shredded after simmering for hours in a stew of red pepper flakes and assorted spices. The result is a wonderfully moist taco with a ton of taste on its own, to say nothing of the healthy splash of salsa verde and diced white onions.
The remaining tacos hovered just above "passable" and just below "noteworthy," with the carne asada trying its best to stand out from the crowd. A little oversalted and under-grilled, this meat is saved by the salsa roja, which imparts a smoky flavor that rounds out the rougher taste corners.
Tacos Mi Teresita
Not five minutes after ordering, Tacos Mi Teresita pulls in like a Shark on Jets turf, looking for a tightly choreographed knife fight. They didn't exactly have the wheels screeching, but Teresita must have been running late because they were doors-up and ready to serve before the keys left the ignition.
What that says about an older Latino woman's ability to grill carne asada from a truck doing 70 on the freeway, I don't know.
Teresita is a little more basic than El Matador; they don't have much in the way of a paint job, and they certainly aren't slinging sesos from the order window. Frankly, what they DO have is presentation out the wazoo. Overflowing tacos are fully prepared inside the truck, with a few gratis radishes, limes, sweet grilled onions and a gigantic roasted jalapeno, doused in salt.
Sadly, looks may lighten the load, but the product at Tacos Mi Teresita don't hold a much weight. Deep, vibrant salsas offered up a surprising lack of firepower, instead merely coating a dried-out asada or soft pastor. Even the chorizo (cleverly hidden as 'linguica' on the Teresita board), normally packed with spices and a slow lip burn, felt tame. Bonus points for being moist and tender, though; most places that serve chorizo don't give it the same attention after the breakfast hour that it deserves.
The Taco Winner?
By most benchmarks, El Matador is the truck to choose should you find yourself floating down Western Avenue, drawn like a cross-eyed moth to dual competing lonchero lights. Maybe, though, there's room for two trucks after all.
Maybe they're sort of a like a buddy cop film: one's got style, the other's got substance. They certainly both had lines by the time I left, which means the neighborhood is likely to agree.