Slideshow: The 10 Best Tacos I Ate in 2012

Vegetarian Taco from Soho Taco Truck
Vegetarian Taco from Soho Taco Truck

The tacos at the Soho Taco truck in Orange County were an absolute surprise, and perhaps one of the best things I ate in Orange County all year. It takes serious chops to pull off an upscale taco in this town, but these were all expertly executed, particularly the vegetarian option. A thick pile of perfectly sautéed peppers, onions, a few spinach leaves, and Portobello mushrooms are hit with chipotle sour cream and enough deep, funky spice to make you forget all about the meat you might have come for.

Soho Taco: Visit sohotaco.com for upcoming locations.

[Photograph: Paul Bartunek]

Tacos in the Mexican Desert
Tacos in the Mexican Desert

After chomping my way through the hotels and taco stands of Los Cabos for four days, my final excursion with Cabo Adventures to the rugged, sandy hillsides of the Baja Peninsula actually involved one of the single best meals I had on the trip. Handmade tortillas from masa prepared on site, with large tender chunks of chicken in a thin mole and a deep, fiery salsa roja. You could taste the tradition in every bite.

Cabo Adventures: Weekly excursions

[Photograph: Farley Elliott]

Baja Taco from Tacos Baja Ensenada
Baja Taco from Tacos Baja Ensenada

East L.A. folks rave about Tacos Baja Ensenada, and for good reason. While their regular fish tacos are more than serviceable, it's the Baja Tacos that deserve their share of the spotlight. A gigantic value at $3.25, the griddled flour tortillas emerge with a heaping golden mound of both sea bass and shrimp, crispy and warm beneath a pile of shredded cabbage, tomatoes and a thin, slightly spicy crema.

Tacos Baja Ensenada: 5385 Whittier Boulevard, Los Angeles CA 90022 (map); 323-887-1980; lataco.com‎

[Photograph: Paul Bartunek]

Carnitas Tacos from Tacos Los Guichos
Carnitas Tacos from Tacos Los Guichos

Now this is the place to go for carnitas in Los Angeles. The tender pork with perfectly crispy skin is a weekend-only operation, but it's the five-day wait that makes it all worth it. This is slow-cooked, deeply porky stuff that comes stacked on your griddled tortilla with shreds of salty, crispy skin. Each bite is perfect, and as you stare down one end of the taco with each bite, you find yourself wishing the other end would just keep going into infinity so you never had to stop eating.

Tacos Los Guichos: Corner of S Avalon Blvd and E Slauson Ave, Los Angeles CA 90011 (map)

[Photograph: Paul Bartunek]

Papa Con Rajas Tacos from Loteria Grill
Papa Con Rajas Tacos from Loteria Grill

You won't find many of the $3 taco options from Loteria Grill at other taco spots around town, but that's not for lack of taste. The papa con rajas taco, filled with creamy potato chunks mixed alongside poblano peppers, pulls otherworldly flavors from such simple ingredients. This taco has is light and soft with a hint of a salt and enough heat on the backend to still make you perk up in your metal folding chair.

Loteria Grill: Inside the Fairfax Farmer's Market, 6333 W 3rd St, Los Angeles CA 90036 (map); 323-933-9211; farmersmarketla.com

[Photograph: Paul Bartunek]

Shrimp Tacos Dorados from Mariscos Jalisco
Shrimp Tacos Dorados from Mariscos Jalisco

The Mariscos Jalisco truck has a long tradition of excellence. Raul Ortega has been slinging the deep-fried, hard-shelled shrimp tacos for years, first in his seaside Mexican state of Jalisco and now in East L.A. The $1.75 tacos come plump and warm from their recent fry bath, while the tender shrimp inside maintains its juiciness and a powerful blend of peppery, salty, hot spices. The edges are crisped up perfectly and the crunchy tortilla breaks away in satisfying chunks without shattering to bits.

Mariscos Jalisco: 3040 East Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles CA 90023 (map); 323-528-6701

Lobster Taco from Sky's Gourmet Tacos
Lobster Taco from Sky's Gourmet Tacos

Sky's on Pico serves up some of the most deliciously inauthentic tacos in the city, and their lobster taco is the hands-down winner. Crustacean chunks are battered and fried to a golden brown, then wrapped in a fried tortilla that's been dusted with cayenne pepper and assorted spices. Add a handful of yellow cheese shreds and a dash of diced tomatoes for a rich, almost creamy taco that is warm and fresh and really magnificent.

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

[Photograph: Clay Larsen]

Carne Asada Taco from Mexicali Taco
Carne Asada Taco from Mexicali Taco

After their run-in with the long arm of the food police, Mexicali Taco popped back up in Chinatown earlier this spring. Their diminutive space let them expand their menu slightly, without losing the carne asada that helped earn them 2011's Taco Madness trophy as the best taco spot in L.A. The well-salted beef arrives in thick chunks after spending some time grilling over a very forgiving heat. The edges are crisp and meaty, with a pliable interior that's got a pleasing chew and smoky underbelly. If you're feeling like a true cowboy, ratchet up your taco for $1.50 more by adding a fried egg on top (aka Ranchero style). You won't be disappointed.

Mexicali Taco: 702 N Figueroa St, Los Angeles CA 90012 (map)

[Photograph: Paul Bartunek]