Having lived in Los Angeles for most of my life, I can confirm that Angelenos are spoiled with great taco trucks, Mexican food stands, and sit-down restaurants all around town. You can eat roadside on the cheap or have a formal dining experience. And to do the Los Angeles food scene right, you have to put at least one Mexican meal on your itinerary. To help narrow the choices, here is a rundown on five of my favorite Mexican establishments.
With locations in Studio City, Glendale, and Water Village, Hugo’s serves up some of the most flavorful tacos in Los Angeles. Don’t expect table service; here you’ll order at the outdoor counter and find a seat at a picnic table. Ask for hard or soft tacos with your choice of chicken, steak, pork, grilled fish, soy chorizo, or mixed veggies.
You also might opt for some of Hugo’s other dishes such as tamales, quesadillas, or Mexican sandwiches. In my opinion, the secret to food at Hugo’s lies in the salsas, or sauces. To any dish add an overflowing spoonful of Tomatillo Jalapeno, Honey Chipotle, Salsa Negra, Salsa Habanero, or Salsa Arbol. Personally, I like to order soft tacos filled with steak and topped with Salsa Negra.
Ricky’s Fish Tacos
The philosophy at this taco truck is simple: all seafood tacos, all the time. Ricky’s serves two kinds of fresh Ensenada-style, seafood tacos, shrimp and fish. I prefer the latter. The taco comprises a tender fillet of battered and fried whitefish placed inside a fresh corn tortilla, and topped with chopped cabbage, tomatoes, onions, and jalapenos. A variety of hot sauces and sour cream are available as condiments.
Viewfinder Tip: Many Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles have menu items in Spanish. If you don’t know what something is, ask for an explanation.
The problem with Ricky’s: The food is so good, you’ll want to eat way more than your fill. The tacos are perfect for a casual lunch if you are in the Hollywood area. Just be sure to check Ricky’s twitter handle, @RickysFishTacos, for hours of operation and location (as they can change from day to day).
Petty Cash Taqueria
Petty Cash is a hipster hangout for Mexican food. The chefs here are inventive, taking traditional Mexican dishes and making them avant garde. Octopus tacos, sea urchin topped guacamole, and beef brisket quesadillas are just a few items on the menu—a menu that changes seasonally, as much of the produce is bought at local farmers’ markets. Juices for cocktails are squeezed fresh every day.
It’s hard to recommend just one dish at Petty Cash. At the top of my list are the nachos with al pastor pork, a dish draped in white Mexican cheese and topped with a soft poached egg. These are the best nachos I’ve ever consumed.
Al Pastor Nachos from Petty Cash
Casa Sanchez Mexican Restaurant
Located in West Los Angeles, Casa Sanchez provides a very different experience to the other restaurants mentioned here—it is a concert hall merged with a bar and sit-down restaurant. Talented Mariachi bands dressed in traditional regalia perform in large groups on stage throughout the night. Musicians play violins and guitars as men and women sing classic Mexican ballads. This means that while you eat steaming-hot plates of fajitas or mole enchiladas and sip your Margarita(s), you can take in quite a show.
Frida is the swankiest Mexican restaurant in town, right in Beverly Hills on Beverly Drive. The interior of this eatery is decorated with striking Mexican art and ornate lanterns. Fun to order is the heaping bowl of addictive guacamole, which is served in a molcajete (a traditional Mexican tool similar to a mortar and pestle). The ceviches are tangy and fresh, and soups, such as Pozole with a pepper broth, blanched corn kernels, and chicken, hit the spot.
The chefs also prepare all sorts of different tacos, including some with lobster or rib eye. Another specialty of the house is chicken smothered in mole sauce. When you dine at Frida’s, be sure not to skip out on the full bar that offers a selection of margaritas and cocktails. My favorite is the Blackberry Margarita, with muddled blackberries and lime juice.
What are some of your favorite U.S. destinations for Mexican food?