Leftovers: El Taco Loco No. 3

Plenty of buche and tripas for the District:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

As with the proliferation of any foodstuff (think pizza, for one), the omnipresence of the taco has diminished its own street-level existence. What should be a quick, thoughtful fast food—tortillas pressed from fresh masa, mounds of carefully spiced meats—has instead devolved, too often leaning on low-budget fillings and prepackaged tortillas. A superb taquería is central to a Californian existence, and El Taco Loco is as honest as they come.

The restaurant isn’t alone, though—there are branches of El Taco Loco scattered all over the South Bay, including a North Long Beach location crushed up against the 91. Some of them have more tenuous ties to the El Taco Loco nucleus than others, but it’s the third installment up on Magnolia Avenue that should be the focus of your appetite.

El Taco Loco No. 3 benefits from a central location that grants it easy access to all the major arteries surrounding the 710. It’s in a rough-hewn neighborhood—one where the cracked asphalt leads to an equal number of apartments and warehouses—but the restaurant itself is a lively place, completely covered in pastoral, as well as culinary, murals and, of course, outfitted with a set of flat-screen TVs.

There are absolutely zero pretenses about El Taco Loco—its tables all have their own paper-towel dispensers, its juicer is stained with the fruits and vegetables of the day, and its menu offers all the brain and intestines mandated by taquería tradition. And for this, look no further than the smiling, suicidal pig hamming it up on the multicolored menu board.

Tacos are the restaurant’s ultimate delivery device, blowing by burritos that waste time and space with beans and rice. Packing a well-sized handful of meat into pliable and puffy handmade tortillas, the tacos here are in fact easy contenders for some of Long Beach’s best. And at El Taco Loco, it’s important to repress your innate desire for the classic carne asada, al pastor and carnitas. These are all fine options, but they’re nowhere near the level of El Taco Loco’s more curious cuts of meat.

The restaurant has become well-known in part for its tripas, which despite the obvious cognate, isn’t honeycomb tripe but rather intestines a la chitterlings. A tripas taco is a good choice—slivers of long-marinated beef heated up via a quick trip to the grill—that becomes even better with a blast of salsa. But despite the tripas’ relative fame, it’s nearly bettered by the buche, El Taco Loco’s lightly fried pig stomach. Both the tripas and buche (and chicharrones, for that matter) work extremely well in taco form, as the meat takes its rightful place as the center of the meal.

Tortas are also offered with the same taco-style variety. Between the bolillo, however, El Taco Loco’s offal doesn’t succeed quite as well as it does swaddled in a tortilla—the bread simply absorbs too much flavor. Instead, tortas here are best as vehicles for classic fillings that can trade on familiarity, especially the crisped carnitas.

El Taco Loco’s menu—perhaps following a course set by the map-like painting of each Mexican state—covers a lot of ground. Beyond the aforementioned taquería options are what could amount to an entirely separate restaurant, everything from breakfast plates to dinner-sized portions of roasted chicken slathered in mole. But as those with late-night appetites know (the restaurant is open 24 hours), El Taco Loco’s draw will always be its tacos, rolled up and packed on the plate like a pile of finely foiled cigars.

EL TACO LOCO NO. 3 1465 MAGNOLIA AVE | LONG BEACH 90813 | 562.437.6228 | OPEN 24 HOURS | FOOD FOR TWO $5-15

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