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Los Angeles: Enjoy the Smoky Asada at Sergio's Tacos

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Sergio's carne asada tacos. [Photographs: Paul Bartunek]

In and around Los Angeles, tacos know no geographic boundaries. Take, for example Sergio's Tacos, a growing taco empire that is quickly coming to dominate the southeast Los Angeles County landscape. With locations in East L.A., Montebello, and Whittier along with their Atlantic Boulevard location in Commerce—plus a roaming truck that comes complete with its own al pastor spit—Sergio's is winning over the hearts and stomachs of every working-class neighborhood they've entered.

That pale yellow location in Commerce sits on the edge of ranch house suburbia and industrial scourge. With a parking lot just big enough for their parked lonchero and a few subcompacts, you might miss Sergio's altogether were it not for their big rectangular sign that shows a photorealistic al pastor spit being attended to by a cartoon cactus and his sombrero'd friend. Look closer and you'll also notice a menu plastered to the wall outside the front door; step inside and the reason is clear. The place is tiny, with less than seven tables in total, which makes butt-to-face proximity a real issue when someone feels like gawking up at the menu board over the grill. And besides, most people at Sergio's know what they want the moment they walk in the door.

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Sergio's in the sun.

That answer is usually carne asada. Served heavily inside a burrito or piled up into a simple taco, the asada at Sergio's is surprisingly smoky for such an otherwise straightforward affair. Wide sections of thin, marinated salted beef are given a serious once-over on the grill, producing meat with lots of caramelized char, sometimes enough to make you cough with smoky appreciation. Then again, that could just be the salsa, a mixed chile blend that cranks the heat up fast and doesn't let go until you've sipped off a good inch of sweet, cinnamon-laced horchata. How the locals manage to make it through a meat-only carne asada burrito is beyond rational comprehension.

You'll also find a most passable al pastor, marinated in a heavy glaze of onions and ground chiles and citrus. Rather than the spit-shaved slices of pastor you're likely to find at their late night truck, the version at the Commerce location is rounded at the edges from an all-over session on the griddle and nearly soaked in the spices and juices that give it such a pungent flavor. The bites with the withered and slightly blackened onions are the best, since they give off enough latent earthiness and offer a contrast to the big, tender bites of pork.

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Tacos al pastor.

You'll find a similar consistency with the cabeza, tender chunks of beef cheeks and jowls that has been run over by a salsa verde truck. Be careful: this quiet-looking green condiment carries more heat than you might expect, and the peppy excess of cilantro in the mix gives off a serious freshness that almost verges on minty.

Find solace in the buche instead. An off cut that most folks tend to skip, it's a hot item at Sergio's--and for good reason. Rather than the overly funky, boiled and sometimes rubbery bites that can mar a good buche experience at lesser taco houses, here it's buttery, tender, and freshly salted to battle back some of that organ flavor. What's left is smooth and satisfying, especially when paired up with the crisp white diced onions and a splash of the heat-laced salsa roja.

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Tacos buche.

Sergio's Tacos manages quite the balancing act. Their Commerce location teeters between industrial and residential, with day workers and night walkers both making the pilgrimage for tacos, super nachos and burritos. They also tightrope between good and great, depending on the day, the order, or the whims of the cooks in the back. Is it a destination stop? That depends on where you're driving from. If nearby Commerce Casino is calling your name, a swing down Atlantic Boulevard before or after a round at the tables for some of Sergio's carne asada and buche tacos is well worth the ride. For everyone else... let's hope Sergio's opens up closer to you soon.

Sergio's Tacos
2216 S Atlantic Blvd, Commerce, CA 90040 (map) SergiosTacos.com

About the author: Farley Elliott is a writer and comedian living in Los Angeles. He writes about strip mall food for LA Weekly and covers the LA beer scene for KCET.

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