Is there officially a 'first family' in the Los Angeles taco world? There may be, thanks to Chef Ricardo Diaz and his clan.
Diaz's family is responsible for the Southern California seafood mini-chain El Siete Mares, whose Silver Lake walk-up stand we profiled last year. (If you're in the mood for fish tacos and want to give them a shot, opt for the fried shrimp tacos dorados.) And if that wasn't enough, chef Diaz himself helped open Guisados, one of the most celebrated taco spots in the entire city, before splitting with partner Armando de la Torre and leavving the stewed taco empire to him (for now at least). Then, just last month, we talked lovingly about the mole fries and cochinita pibil at Bizarra Capital, Diaz's slightly upscaled beer bar and Mexican food outpost in Whittier.
Angelenos have barely had time to push away from the table and wipe our mouths before word of another Ricardo Diaz operation spreads like salsa down our shirt. This time, Diaz is back to take on the world of stewed meat tacos with a spacious, open eatery all the way out in La Puente. Known as Colonia Taco Lounge, the dark and roomy restaurant is part Bizarra—lots of puffy booths and a solid beer list—and part Guisados, thanks to hand-patted tortillas, simmered meat taco options, and long, deep flavors.
And speaking of family, Colonia Taco Lounge is actually a collaboration between Diaz and his sister, who runs (what else) a Michelin-starred taco spot in Napa known as La Taquiza Fish Taco. Need more evidence? Diaz's brother-in-law Patrick Aguirre has spent time baking bread in Yountville for Bouchon and AOC in Los Angeles before that. What a culinary family tree.
With that much kitchen acumen running in the family's veins, it's not surprising that Colonia Taco Lounge is quickly being considered one of the best taco restaurants in Los Angeles. Open since the beginning of August, Colonia has already earned praise from the city's own Jonathan Gold for their fried cauliflower tacos, which come dashed with a bit of salsa and cream. Bill Esparza, our city's taco-talking kingpin, says that Colonia is "more ambitious than his original menu at Guisados." High praise indeed.
As usual in all things Mexican food in L.A., both men are spot on. Not only is Colonia Taco Lounge elevating the braised and stewed taco game, but their more straightforward options are equally enticing. Case in point: the Sonora ($5), a grilled steak taco that, to the untrained eye, looks like a straightforward carne asada. But with a bright, fresh salsa verde and a drape of grilled green onions, the thick, tender beef shines well beyond the stuff offered at your local corner taco stand. The same is true of the Tesmole ($4) a masa-thickened mole sauce with thin chile ribbons and enough nubs of chicken to give your teeth something to sink into.
If you'd like to give Diaz's stewed offerings a try, opt for the Estofado ($3), a braised beef concotion that subverts the Oaxacan taco tradition through an East L.A. filter. The beef is tender and juicy, with freshly chopped white onions for a change of texture. And for anyone looking to embrace the fussy Taco 2.0 movement (you know, those people that call themselves "urban taco fabricators"), there is Campion, a mix of seared queso fresco, thick strips of bacon, a touch of hatch chiles and avocado.
Finally, a word about the tortillas as Colonia Taco Lounge. While the thick, hand-patted version at Guisados are among the city's freshest, they can at times bit a tad too much to work through, or even (gasp) the slightest bit gummy. At Colonia, the tortillas are thinner but no less delicious, with delicately warmed spots and roughly hewn edges that show off the handiwork being done in the back. Sturdy enough to stand up to Diaz's stews, these are some supremely well-engineered tortillas.
If drinks are your thing, Colonia Taco Lounge offers craft beer classics like Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, Ninkasi Tricerahops, and a blonde ale from Cucapa in Mexico. Cocktails like the Pepino Vago, with vodka, pineapple and cucumber can be found on the chalkboard menu as well, along with straightforward margaritas, mai tais and the Oaxaca Calling, which mixes vodka, lime and a smoky mezcal.
As a follow up—already—to Colonia Taco Lounge, Diaz and his family plan to swap out a sit down El Siete Mares in Silver Lake for a fried tacos dorados spot, which should further solidify his taco reign in Los Angeles. Until then, Angelenos will just have to make the drive out to La Puente for focused craft beer, mezcal cocktails, and some of the best tacos in all of Los Angeles county.