I hesitate to call this a "top" 5 list, as I obviously did not have time to try every taco stand, cart and establishment in the massive L.A. area during our recent month-long stay there (in part because some of the joints listed below got repeat visits).
Let's just consider it five great places all across the City of Angels metro area to eat the all-time classic that is the taco.
#5 - Great Mex
(703 E Balboa Blvd, Newport Beach)
This place has a huuuuge menu, including breakfast items, tortas and chimichangas. I'm sure it's all good, but truth be told we only ate tacos there. Great Mex has about 15 tasty types on offer from a few different tortilla choices. They also have four locations, but we only tested the one right near Newport Beach. It's a cozy place with great service and a very generous self-serve toppings bar, which I always love. Make sure to drop by on Tuesdays, when all the tacos are only $1.25.
#4 - Kogi Truck
(location depends on the day)
Chego and LocoL truck are also excellent, by the way). This was the most hotly anticipated one of the three, and it was so worth the anticipation. The calamari taco was particularly good, especially considering how difficult an item it is to prepare correctly, and the short rib with kimchi is just downright explosive. Kogi has four trucks, with each parking in three different places during an average day (check the schedule here).
#3 - Telegraph & S. Arizona
#2 - Venice Fish Tacos and Smoothies
(1701 Ocean Front Walk, Venice Beach)
#1 - Guisados
(541 S Spring Street, Downtown)
This spot now has five locations (having just opened one in Burbank), but we only visited the one. It... was... AWESOME. Their tacos are all the products of slow braises, leaving all the proteins falling apart and delightfully juicy. Guisados has an incredible 16 different taco choices on the menu, with each having its own unique flavor and level of heat. The tinga de pollo, mole poblabno and chorizo quesadilla our favorites among the ones we tried. While this joint is not quite as affordable as the last two places, it has an additional ace up its sleeve: namely, the agua frescas. Without a shadow of a doubt, their cantaloupe edition is the best one I've ever tasted, light years ahead of all other agua frescas. No lie, it's freakin' amazing, and the perfect sip to go with their top shelf tacos.
Crap... and now I'm hungry. And 5,697 miles away from Guisados. Blërg.
- Greg Seltzer