These days, finding an inventive new taco in Los Angeles is as simple as turning a corner. Or, if you're heading east on Sunset Boulevard, all it takes is edging your car around the bend and into the northern reaches of the perennially-hip Silver Lake neighborhood. At popular upscale taqueria Malo, the fried Tacos Dorados are not only unique, they're also delicious.
There's nothing particularly "fusion" about these golden, crispy tacos. Rather, they're a reintroduction to childhood for chef Robert Luna, who grew up in the nooks and corners of his mother's kitchens. As a longstanding Boyle Heights cook herself, mother Luna imparted into young Robert a love of simple flavors and local ingredients.
The results speak for themselves, as Luna helms Silver Lake's Malo and the loftier Mas Malo downtown, each with a slew of nightly patrons and wide praise for their Mexican-inspired dishes.
Ask anyone about Malo, though, and they're likely to point you to the Ground Beef and Pickle Tacos Dorados. Fried up in pairs at $6 an order, these simple concoctions are at once familiar and fanciful. The crispy, slightly oily shells arrive brimming with tufts of shredded lettuce and the much-maligned yellow cheese.
Thankfully, this isn't a bowl of Skyline Chili; the cheese is merely partner to the seasoned ground beef and pickle slices held within. The moist, meaty undercarriage of each filled taco is a rush of salt and beef and tangy zip from crisp, vinegar-y pickle bits. Topped off with some warm, gooey fat from the now-melted yellow cheese, and the whole thing tastes like a reinvention of the cheeseburger, not the taco.
Legend has it that Luna's mother, looking to cook up a hamburguesa but lacking the bread, created the now-famous concoction on the fly. Since then, Luna has been tweaking and perfecting any taco he eats, long before he sees fit to let it grace his menu.
Other Dorados favorites include the Potato and Cheddar, which can fill you up quickly with satisfying starches, but could use a little crisping on the potatoes themselves. The Shrimp and Bacon combination is tasty and fun, as if two different appetizer servers at a cocktail party bumped into each other and the results got hidden inside a fried taco shell. The braised chicken is the most straightforward offering, a moist but unassuming option that really requires some salsa to liven up the party.
It should be mentioned that Malo has a number of soft taco options as well, king among them being the carnitas. Slow-braised then finished on the griddle, each bite is a porky testament to even-handed seasoning and a belief in the process of the marinade. Homemade tortillas stay warm and satisfying, while the accompanying sour cream and guacamole are, if anything, a bit of a distraction.
Both Malo locations remain popular for many reasons, not least of which is the cantina side of things, with tequila-heavy drinks being concocted before candle-lit patrons all night. But you'd be hard-pressed to find two tables in a row without at least one order of the Ground Beef and Pickle Tacos Dorados. There's a simplicity to the ingredients, an execution in the cooking and a heritage to their story that keep these tacos moving out the kitchen and into the waiting hands of hundreds of guests, happy for a bite from days gone by.
4326 West Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 90029 (map)