El Pariente is famous in the Highland Park area for its Jalisco-style birria, goat soup, which is an especially potent palliative on the other end of a hard Saturday night. Goat or menudo; it's up to you. You will wait in line at the truck, parked in the lot of Serrano's Tires, and you will be rewarded with a stout foam cup of goat in consomé, ready to be dosed with chopped onion, thin hot sauce, radish, whatever your trembling hands require. The tortillas are soft and homemade, unlikely to shock the system. And on those days when soup requires too much commitment, when Chivas has lost and your sorrow is just too great, you can get your goat meat tucked into tacos instead.
York Boulevard at Nolden Street, Highland Park.
Tacos DF, decorated with splendid murals, including a reworking of the Last Supper with classic Mexican movie stars in place of the disciples, is also the only place in town I have run across tacos made with chicharrón prensado, a gooey, porky, slithery meat with overtones of head cheese, scarlet and chunky in appearance and as dense as molten lead. Chicharrón prensado is usually described as pressed pigskin, and there are certainly bits here matching that description, but it is clearly more than that – escaped scraps of carnitas meat, perhaps, or cartilage stewed into submission, or fat that didn’t quite render the first time around, but is now ready for its closeup.
3342 Tweedy Blvd., South Gate, (323) 564-3221.
The tacos de longaniza are a couple of honest tortillas, a sprinkling of diced onion and generous handfuls of crumbly, well-browned pork sausage, undoubtedly made from the same pigs as the carnitas, that are well-flavored with cumin, salt and spice. Splash on a bit of the thick, green salsa, grab a bottle of Manzana Lift, and you are in your own, equally delicious taco universe.
5305 N. Figueroa Street, Highland Park, (323) 478-8383.
If you have only experienced ears in Asian restaurants, the orejas at Los Güichos may come as a surprise -- the ears have been snipped into strips like lengths of old reel-to-reel tape, soft and melting, where you might expect them to be crunchy, and with the deep, developed porky taste of the very best carnitas. Splash a bit of brightly flavored tomatillo salsa on the tacos, and you're good to go.
Parked on the southwestern corner of Slauson Avenue and Olive Street in Los Angeles, a short block east of the Harbor Freeway.
The tacos de papas at El Atacor #11 are different beasts entirely: thin corn tortillas folded around bland spoonfuls of mashed spuds and fried to an indelicate, shattering crunch. The barely seasoned potatoes exist basically as a smooth, unctuous substance that oozes out of the tacos with the deliberate grace of molten lava. The glorious stink of hot grease and toasted corn subsumes any subtle, earthy hint of potato, and tacos de papas evaporate so quickly that you are thankful they are available 10 to an order, slicked with cream and thin taquería guacamole, piled together in a foam takeout container like so many lunch-truck taquitos.
2622 N. Figueroa Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 441-8477. Papas taco also available at El Atacor No. 8, 86506 Whittier Blvd., East L.A., (323) 832-9263.
Tripas are not actual tripe but the very top of a calf's small intestine; slender tubes still filled with half-digested milk. If you do not fancy offal, tripas is not a meat likely to convert you -- they are strong-tasting, those things, and just rubbery enough to remind you of what you are eating. The tripas at La Carreta are grand. Almost everywhere else, tripas are boiled; here they are boiled and fried, which gives them both pleasant elasticity and a resounding crunch -- it's the taco to have when you're having only one.
1471 E. Vernon Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 232-7133.
If you've been to Mexicali Taco & Co., either the old taco table down on Beaudry or the tidy new storefront on Figueroa where it flows into the Pasadena Freeway, you know about their namesake Mexicali tacos: sizzling nubbins of chopped carne asada -- flame-grilled! -- packed into fat flour tortillas they bring up from Baja a couple of times a week. You sprinkle them with pickled onions, moisten them with fluid taqueria guacamole and a spoonful of habanero salsa, and you're good to go; there's nothing quite like them in Los Angeles. Who wouldn't want a well-executed Mexicali-style taco? You can even get a vegan one if that's your thing. But like everybody else who visits Mexicali Taco & Co., I am obsessed with the vampiros, rather larger flour tortillas folded over chorizo, chicken or carne asada, maybe all three, as well as a squirt or two of garlic sauce and what can technically be described as a boatload of gooey, stretchy melted Mexican cheese.
702 N. Figueroa Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 613-0416, MexicaliTaco.com.