Serious Eats

Los Angeles: Sky's Gourmet Tacos Aren't Exactly What You'd Expect

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[Photographs: Clay Larsen]

In Los Angeles, there is no sanctity in food. This town invented the Korean BBQ taco, the sushi burger, and all sorts of wacky pizza concoctions along the way. So it should come as no surprise that Sky's Gourmet Tacos, a Mid-City sit down spot with a soul food bent and one hell of a great lemonade, serves up some of the tastiest and most inauthentic tacos in this part of town.

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For any hardcore taco aficionado, reading the menu at Sky's should elicit more than a few chuckles. Beyond the extensive vegan options and the cheesecakes sold by the slice, chef/owner Barbara Burrell liberally tosses around words like filet mignon, crawfish and ground turkey on her hanging menu. There's even something called Sky's Sassy Sauce (more on that later).

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Beef, turkey, and tilapia tacos.

The "famous" tacos themselves are large-fisted affairs, complete with double-stacked corn tortillas, warmed on the griddle. But when paired with a fish option they turn up fried and dusted with spices plus a touch of cornmeal, resulting in a crunchy, almost gritty, oily first bite. Your choice of meat is layered on, and then the whole operation is overwhelmed with shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes and a nice toss of shredded yellow cheddar. The salsa (or should I say, Sky's Sassy Sauce) is splashed liberally across the middle in spurted, chunky blasts. This isn't the deeply smoky achiote salsa rojas you'll find on some of the better trucks around town, but it's not "This Stuff's Made in New York City," either.

The protein options at Sky's are a lesson in pure multiculturalism. Filet mignon, that sought-after cut of beef in high-end steakhouses from the Palisades to Downtown, rarely makes an appearance on your local taqueria menu board. Shrimp and even lobster certainly aren't unheard of south of the border (or over at Ricky's Fish Tacos), but a crawfish taco evokes a sense of deep Southern cooking. The simply-labeled beef and turkey come ground up in a bath of "taco seasoning"-style flavors. A little bit of chili powder, a touch of cumin, and a lot of salt. This is the middle American, premade taco four-pack portion of the Sky's Gourmet Tacos menu. Plus that Sky's Sassy Sauce, with its light sweetness and undeniable tinge of heat. Add some in with your beans and rice and you've got a whole lot of Caribbean flare on one plate.

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Tilapia taco.

The great part is, nearly everything here works. It's a unique combination of fusions across disciplines, but the ground beef taco is a moist, cheesy, over-spiced reminder of growing up in a town without Mexican options. The tilapia, served in one long strip after spending some time over a grill, is soft and airy. With a lemon wedge for squeezing and a lemonade for drinking, this is one of the best summer tacos you're likely to come across.

Lobster taco.

Then, there's the lobster. It's an utterly new beast, battered and fried to golden brown, then wrapped in its own fried tortilla that's been dipped with spices beforehand. Add a handful of yellow cheese and a dash of diced tomatoes for a rich, almost creamy taco that is warm and fresh and really magnificent. It's also—dare I say—a lot better than the more authentic lobster taco Ricky will serve you from his outdoor frying operation.

By now it should come as no surprise, but the only real dud of the bunch is the carnitas, a hearty attempt to tackle the porky Mexican staple. Instead of deep flavors that explode in your mouth with each succulent bite, this carnitas is largely bland, only slightly helped along by a limp pico de gallo. But that's alright; Sky's Gourmet Tacos is not the place to find your true Mexican corazon. No, this is a different spot altogether, a mix and mash of almost all the Pico Boulevard cultures surrounding Barbara Burrell's glass storefront. But with ample outdoor seating and one of the best lemonades in the city, fresh from a mason jar, you'll find yourself falling in love with just about any taco that slides your way.

Sky's Gourmet Tacos
5408 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90019 (map)
323-932-6253; skysgourmettacos.com

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