This year's L.A. Taco Festival was a great excuse to take a subway, explore Mariachi Plaza, and listen to live banda music, while supporting the Jovenes Inc. foundation in its efforts to help at-risk Boyle Heights youth. The tacos, as you'd expect, were delicious, although the temperatures were high and the lines were long. Taquerias are as popular as the Dodgers in this part of town.
I had a great time. But on the walk back to the car, I couldn't help myself. A block away from the festival and just a couple of storefronts east of the great bar Eastside Luv was Apache's Carne al Carbon, one of the key old-school taco joints in this part of town, the taqueria equivalent of places like Lupe's #2 and Al & Bea's.
What Apache's serves reflects neither Mexico City street food nor the revered carne asada traditions of northern Mexico, but 10,000 barbecues in Eastside parks and backyards, the ones where the meat is always carne, the drinks are always cold, and somebody's Uncle Rudy is always manning the grill. If you peer over the counter at Apache's, what you see are steaks sizzling on the grill, probably flap meat (although I've never asked), without much in the way of marinade. When you get your tacos, each is wrapped in a slip of white paper, and the tortillas are filled to bursting with chopped bits of that same steak, charred and bubbling, more than slightly chewy, and leaner than you might expect, served on what look like battered aluminum pizza platters. Hot sauce -- it's not really salsa -- is served in little pill cups. Uncle Rudy would approve.