It doesn't take much to please the locals out in Venice. They've got sunshine on their side, the beach at their feet, and a closeknit sense of neighborhood that's practically unrivaled anywhere else in Los Angeles. And it is that perfect Venice mix of well-heeled hippie, lanky surfer, aging musician, yoga pants moms and perpetually busy twentysomething that all lines up on weekdays for La Isla Bonita. This is their neighborhood taco truck.
Of course, it also helps that La Isla Bonita is regularly regarded as among the best tacos available west of the 405 Freeway. Granted, there are several decent taco shops and more than a few places to grab a bite of fresh seafood throughout Santa Monica and beyond, but this off-white truck that parks on Rose Avenue has always been a local favorite. Especially when the alternative for a good lonchero lunch means trying to snake past the freeway in less than an hour. Good luck.
The back of La Isla Bonita tells you everything you need to know about what's inside: the words "tacos y burritos" and "mariscos" are surrounded by little wooden versions of a pig, a cow, a chicken and two vividly striped fish. This truck does it all, and hopping down the line asking for a favorite will give you as many answers as there are menu items.
Plenty of folks opt for the ceviche tostada, with its thin mix of imitation crab, chopped shrimp and bits of octopus. It's a fine rendition that comes off clean and simple, but really needs a squirt of lime and the fatty slices of avocado to bring it up a level.
Others swear by the carne asada, which is thinly grilled and come pretty finely chopped. There's not much char or smokiness to be had from the straightforward beef, but you'll still notice a healthy dose of salt mixed in with the cilantro, chopped white onions and medium chile arbor salsa.
Perhaps the most shocking addition is the stewed pinto beans, which pop easily when you bite into them but otherwise don't bring much fun to the taco party. It's a rare sight to see beans come standard on a taco in Los Angeles, but then again, Venice just does things a little differently.
Hang around in the La Isla Bonita line long enough, and you'll even find people willing to stake their claim to the chicken. Generally disregarded as an outsider's order at most taco trucks (or, owing to some cultural differences, suggested to anyone who says their vegetarian), the chicken tacos at La Isla Bonita are actually pretty tasty. Grilled bites of spice-rubbed bird are chunked up pretty thickly, and manage to retain a bit of tenderness and juice. The beans don't bring much to the texture department, but don't detract, either. This is a simple, filling preparation done with care for a lunch line that can often stretch dozens deep.
For anyone just venturing through the weekday Venice streets, it's nice to know that a straightforward taco truck exists, albeit at a price point ($1.50 per taco) that's a bit higher than the average. For locals, La Isla Bonita is at once a gateway to the more formidable taco experiences that lay eastward, and a destination for plenty of lunch-starved office workers, beachcombers, travelers and aspiring actors. Just like the La Isla Bonita taco truck, they're part of what makes Venice so interesting.
La Isla Bonita
4th St. & Rose Ave., Venice (map)
Open daily 10am - 4pm, except Thursdays