Serious Eats

Los Angeles: Tacos from the El Paisano Truck

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[Photographs: Jon Mackey]

It's little wonder that the battered and faded late-night truck on Sunset and Everett in Echo Park is named "the peasant" in Spanish. As you crawl along Sunset this slice of the Eastside, the beer stores and latenight dance spots start to fall away. Elysian Park Avenue, cresting towards the lights of Dodger Stadium, is the de facto line in the asphalt for the business-casual hipster. Any further and Sunset turns to meet the northern end of downtown. El Paisano, that scrappy truck, is food for the hardworking folks.

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The al pastor is avoidable. With no vertical spit in sight, the previously prepared pork is reheated and rolled around on the griddle for a while. This makes for a few crispy bits here and there, but the overall impression is forgettable. You'll need a couple of well-timed spicy carrots to give you any sort of bite-for-bite heat, but thankfully they're in large supply, along with wide strips of white onion and a few wedges of lime.

Once you cross over to the workaday meats, the often passionate discussions surrounding El Paisano start to make a bit more sense. The buche really is the highlight here, with an unmistakable tenderness and simple, earthy flavors. Unlike the misplaced al pastor, the well-heated salsa verde that comes standard on every taco is a welcome addition. The sharp heat and occasional jalapeno seed cut through the fattiness of the buche, which might otherwise make this long-boiled bit of innards too funky and overwhelming.

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The cabeza, those chopped and stewed cheeks and jowls, is another unspectacular but ultimately worthwhile possibility. Inside the lukewarm store-bought tortilla and nestled under a mound of diced white onions, you might overlook your first bite as a mere assemblage of mediocre ingredients, served from a dinged-up truck just off the street. You wouldn't be entirely wrong, but isolating a nibble or two of unadulterated cabeza reveals some beefiness you wouldn't guess the taco had in it. The meat could use some time on the plancha to lose some of that stewed wetness and really concentrate its flavors, but you sort of get the idea that these guys are doing the best they can.

There's a lot to respect for the day to day loncheros like El Paisano that keep this city rich with tacos, even if their forgettable flavors don't make you jump for joy. So, El Paisano will continue to plug away as a neighborhood favorite, and little more. There's a certain kind of pride in that.

El Paisano Truck

W. Sunset Blvd. / Everett St., Echo Park (map)

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