Mexican food in Los Angeles knows no boundaries. Of course, neighborhoods east of the LA River deservedly get the most attention, but there are quality tacos, burritos, gorditas and fajitas to be had all over this gigantic city. The San Fernando Valley neighborhood of North Hollywood is no exception.
Thanks to a large working-class population that surrounds the hip NoHo arts district strip, cheap and delicious Mexican food can be had all over the neighborhood. And while there may not be as many taco trucks crawling the streets at night, North Hollywood's ample space gives lots of room for small taquerias to thrive, supplying late night crowds and daily diners alike with all manner of great meals. Here are five of our favorites.
Tortas Ahogadas at Tortas Ahogadas La Ramadita
Utilizing a soft bolillo roll that's been toasted on the grill, hefty chunks of pork carnitas and a pool of chile arbol, the namesake Tortas Ahogadas at La Ramadita are to die for. Well, if you aren't killed by the scorching heat from all that chile sauce first. As a delicacy direct from Guadalajara, these soggy spiced sandwiches require a lot of fortitude. First, there's the process of picking one up or forking your way through the thing, and then there's all of that perfectly crusted, tender carnitas to deal with. The chile arbol, of course, presents its own challenges, but with a cup of fresh horchata you might be able to emerge unscathed. Don't count on it, though.
Tortas Ahogadas La Ramadita: 5946 Vineland Avenue, North Hollywood, CA
Carne Asada Tacos at Tacos La Fonda
La Fonda is one of North Hollywood's best late night trucks, setting up after the sun goes down on the corner of Vanowen and Vineland. Their entire approach is unconventional: large, thick, freshly fried tortillas, large chunks of asada that haven't been chopped to bits, and a salsa bar that strays far the usual salsa suspects. But it's exactly this confluence of oddities that makes La Fonda a standout.
The tortillas are wide, warm, and chewy, easily standing in for two of the regular street tacos you'd find elsewhere. The Carne Asada Taco, chunky as it is, comes well-salted and tenderly grilled, with enough give to make you feel like you're really biting into a piece of steak. And that salsa bar, depending on your proclivities, could well be a savior. Overflowing with sour cream, grilled onions, limes, nopales, pico de gallo and shredded lettuce, La Fonda's salsa bar has something to please every palate.
Tacos La Fonda: Northwest corner of Vanowen and Vineland, North Hollywood, CA
Chicken Tacos at Casita Tacos Al Carbon
There are a few different Casitas Tacos Al Carbon floating around the San Fernando Valley, but none is as highly regarded as the North Hollywood location. With their namesake charcoal-fired tacos, Al Carbon has carved out a smoky niche in the world of NoHo tacos. The not-so-secret comes from the use of actual charcoal on an open grill, which gives off plenty of radiant heat char the edges of any protein above it, without sacrificing on juicy tenderness.
The Chicken Tacos are the best of the bunch, since they've been chopped more thoroughly and kissed more gently than the other tacos. The mixed bits provide crispy mouthfuls of burnt edges throughout the large tacos, and a lashing of the fiery salsa roja adds a wonderful underbelly of heat.
Casita Tacos Al Carbon: 11300 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood, CA; 818-508-8118
Carne Asada Gorditas at El Michoacano
El Michoacano is a tiny, wonderful North Hollywood gem. The minuscule hut on the corner of Lankershim and Sherman Way serves up a concentrated mix of Mexican greats, including their thickly fried Gorditas ($6).
If you consider $6 to be a lot to pay for the gorditas you're used to eating at a certain Bell-named national taco purveyor, then you're absolutely right. But for the same money, El Michoacano's gorditas feature two crackling rounds of just-fried masa dough, pressed into disks like a savory ice cream sandwich. Inside is a mountain of carne asada, salted and chopped, with a smear of beans, handful of lettuce, a single tomato slice and a dose of Mexican cheese to string it all together. Good luck picking up this beast by hand—it's far too hot, wide, and messy to allow such a maneuver. Stick with your weak plastic fork to dig away at the insides until you corral the whole gordita, than chow down for one of the great cheap eats in North Hollywood.
El Michoacano: 7201 1/2 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood, CA; 818-982-6625
Zacatecas Spicy Fajitas from Salsa & Beer
What a great name, right? It says almost everything you need to know about this North Hollywood sit-down Mexican spot on Sherman Way. Of course, it might drive sales if the place were called Salsa & Beer & Zacatecas Spicy Fajitas, but the name would get a little crowded on the sign.
For now, just trust us that the Zacatecas Spicy Fajitas are the thing to order at Salsa & Beer. Yes, they come served on a sizzling cast iron skillet, just like at every casual dining chain with a neighborhood vibe, but the platter here is something different. Thick chunks of freshly grilled carne asada run the bottom of the pan, while juicy ribbons of chicken are sprinkled throughout. There are butterflied shrimp as well, charred at the edges, with just enough snap. The spiciness comes from a few whole jalapeños that have been added to the flames, sliced, and left with seeds intact for an extra level of heat. Bell peppers and softened onions round out the skillet, with an accompanying plate of rice, beans, guacamole, and corn tortillas that is a meal unto itself. If you prefer to sit down with a beer while you gorge yourself on Mexican food, Salsa & Beer is the spot for you.
Salsa & Beer 11669 Sherman Way, North Hollywood, CA; 818-503-Al 1220