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Los Angeles: El Taurino's Salsa Rojo, Better Than the Actual Tacos

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[Photographs: Paul Bartunek]

Just around the corner from the King Taco outpost on Pico Boulevard sits El Taurino, an expansive corner taqueria that shares more than just a heritage with its nearby neighbor. Turns out, El Taurino is owned by the same folks as King Taco, and it shows.

At first glance, El Taurino has a leg or two up on its more well-known sibling taqueria. The interior is large and inviting, with multiple ordering stations, vibrantly painted walls, and a jungle of fake plants. The staff is friendly and the separate dining rooms at least give the impression of a fun, tasty time for all. The same can't be said for the tacos.

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Chicken and carnitas.

At $1.25 each, most of the tacos arrived on lukewarm tortillas in a state of undress that would make the nearby mural of the Virgin Mary blush. The carne asada had long ago been let out to play, only to dry out in large, chewy chunks. Similarly, the carnitas may have been left out in the sun to fry. Juicy morsels with crisp edges were a rare porky find, but the majority of the taco quickly veered into chicharron territory.

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Al pastor.

Only the al pastor offered any real remedy to the taco malaise. Well-seasoned with deep chili flavors and portioned off in large chunks, the pastor must have sucked up what little moisture the kitchen had laying around. Without the crunchy the bites of a true trompo, the pastor made the best out of a bad situation on the dense commercial tortillas.

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Al pastor, carne asada, and cabeza.

El Taurino gets a lot of love online, although from the prepared meats it was hard to imagine why. Then, with a splash of bright red salsa roja, all became clear. The thin, vibrant red pools are deceptively fiery, giving even the most ardent hot sauce fan a run for the napkins to dab off the sweat beads.

If El Taurino were a monster movie, Tokyo would be the tacos and the salsa would be Godzilla. The movies aren't about Tokyo struggling to save itself against disaster. The movies are about that fiery, show-stopping Godzilla, overpowering everything in his path in true cinematic monster fashion. And everyone loves him for it.

Dabbed with pungent chunks of white onion or refreshing cilantro, these tacos are still largely a snoozefest. But El Taurino's masterful salsa rosa puts butts in seats. Late-night club kids, hard-working Pico Union locals and a few old-timers looking to recreate a past meal all cram in as the night wanes on, forming lines toward those inconspicuous registers. Here, the monster reigns supreme.

El Taurino

2306 W 11th St, Los Angeles CA 90006 (map)

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