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Los Angeles: Why Is Tacos El Gavilan So Darn Popular?

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[Photographs: Paul Bartunek]

For a small, Los Angeles-based Mexican chain, Tacos El Gavilan sure has fans. What other mini taco empire can claim devotees that make their own commercials for the restaurant, just because they want to? With more than 17,000 Facebook fans and only four locations, El Gavilan is pulling in four times as many taco-addicted enthusiasts per door than El Chato has in total. That's some serious reach.

But what if all of these hundreds of Twitter followers and thousands of Facebook fans are wrong? Or, at least, misguided? What if - and I'll probably have to swap faces with someone after this sentence just to protect myself - what if Tacos El Gavilan just isn't that great?

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Sure, it's good. Well-fried corn tortillas with a heap of meat is likely to be pretty good by default. But when word reaches the LA Taco Bureau's brittle, failing IKEA desk that Tacos El Gavilan is the best joint in town, there better be more than just hype in each bite. Sadly, that's not the case.

It's best to stick to the carne asada, at least as far as the Central Avenue location just south of downtown is concerned. The dinky walk-up window serves lots of other protein options under their plastic awning, including carnitas, chorizo, al pastor, buche and cabeza, but you're likely to find yourself increasingly frustrated the further down the list you travel. Instead, if you lean heavily on the excellent salsa bar, you may be able to salvage some tweet-worthy tacos from an otherwise unassuming plate. A multitude of salsas, including a smoky chipotle and a fiery roja, certainly liven up the party quick. The spicy, pickled jalapenos still have some snap to them, too.

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In descending order, the chorizo is next on the list as a fair but underseasoned entry. The warm mound of deep-hued pork certainly had the look of a champion, but without any deep notes of red peppers and garlic and salt and cumin, it's nothing more than a mound of swine in search of a good time. And while I'm normally a fan of buche, the offal bites had all of the funkiness and none of the flavor. Instead, the bites were chewy, with the long-boiled feeling that can sometimes strip away taste and leave nothing but rubber behind.

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Clicking around Tacos El Gavilan's various internet destinations, you may start to realize that maybe ordering the tacos at all is a mistake.

Cheese mulitas are a popular option, as are the oversized quesadillas, stuffed from end to end with your choice of meat and a few pounds of shredded cheese. Post after post delights in the free cup of beans with every purchase, too. Perhaps the ownership should consider a name change to Mulitas El Gavilan?

Tacos El Gavilan

1900 S. Central Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90011
facebook.com/TacosElGavilan

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