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Head to this Mexicali-style taco truck in East L.A. for barbacoa-stuffed vampiros and fresh flour tortillas

What it is:

Asadero Chikali is the Pérez family’s Mexicali-style taco truck; a burly black cube with a flame-spitting grill and an all-important tortilla press. The truck has been in operation since October 2017, but the Pérez family has been selling food since July 2015, when the four Pérezes — matriarch Rosa, her daughter Ana, her son Jose, and Jose’s wife Melva — decided to set up a Mexicali-style taco stand in the frontyard of their East L.A. home. Jose recently had an unsettling incident at work — he’s a postal employee — and making tacos based on Rosa’s Mexicali-style cooking seemed like the perfect family side hustle.

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The truck is a true family affair. Ana is a teacher, and both she and Jose still work full time, hurrying straight from their jobs to the truck on most weeknights. Rosa and Melva, meanwhile, are in charge of the food: Melva on salsas and tortillas and Rosa on her signature shredded beef barbacoa and the guisados – stewed meats and vegetables – that they serve as fillings in their breakfast tacos. Jose usually runs the social media and promotions for the truck and coordinates with vendors, while Ana takes orders and runs the register. Her husband, Juan Mojarro, grills the meat and operates catering events. Sometimes, Melva’s parents come up from Mexicali, Baja California, to help, and other relatives pitch in whenever they’re needed.

Where you are:

The truck parks in the spacious lot of a combined tire shop/smog station/car dealership on Atlantic Boulevard a few blocks south of the 60 Freeway in East L.A. They set up four or five plastic tables on the blacktop just out of the path of the pungent smoke that billows out of the roof of their custom-designed truck. The truck is always hopping, crowded with people who wandered in from the neighborhood and homesick people who traveled miles for a taste of the Mexicali cooking they remember. Customers are often decked out in hats and jackets from Mexicali sports teams, a growing community of expats around a mesquite-powered grill.

The family-owned taco truck, Asadero Chikali, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner from an auto dealership lot on S. Atlantic Boulevard in East Los Angeles.
The family-owned taco truck, Asadero Chikali, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner from an auto dealership lot on S. Atlantic Boulevard in East Los Angeles. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

What you’re eating:

Carne asada tacos, at least two but probably more, on fresh, hand-made tortillas, either flour or corn. The asada is grilled over mesquite in large slabs by Mojarro, then chopped to bits in a display window that faces the hungry crowd. The meat is salty, juicy and fragrant with smoke.

But it is the flour tortillas, handmade by Melva with flour the family brings up from Mexicali, that complete the experience. They’re buttery and delicate, cooked until brown blisters rise and fall across their surface, thin as tracing paper but sturdy enough to support the generous portion of meat. The gentle flavor is a perfect complement to the assertive asada, but they’re delicious enough to be torn to shreds and eaten on their own.

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The menu is limited – the Pérez family wanted to home in on their hometown favorites – but that doesn’t mean it’s short on highlights. In addition to carne asada they serve chicken, grilled and chopped like the asada, and a solid version of long-cooked barbacoa from Rosa’s recipe. You can get each of those meats in taco form, as a quesadilla, or, best of all, as a vampiro.

The flour tortillas on the family-owned taco truck, Asadero Chikali, are handmade.
The flour tortillas on the family-owned taco truck, Asadero Chikali, are handmade. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Vampiros are a much-celebrated but relatively uncommon snack, popular in Sinaloa and the border states of northern Mexico, that consist of a tortilla grilled into a crispy disc topped with melted cheese and the meat of your choice. The barbacoa is particularly well suited to vampiros; the crunch of the tortilla plays off of the rich tenderness of the stewed meat. Top it with a scattering of their red onion and habanero mixture and a few hits of lime and salsa .

If you want breakfast:

They recently expanded their hours to include mornings starting at 9:30, serving tacos de guisado instead of their grilled meats. There are a handful of options, mostly eggs, potatoes, beef, and chorizo in various permutations on those excellent flour tortillas. Each is delicious, but the classic combinations of chorizo con huevo and bistec con papa are particularly great, warm and comforting on both physical and emotional levels.

For dessert:

If you’re the sort who likes a cinnamon-sugar nightcap, there is an outpost of the vaunted truck Churros Don Abel just a few short blocks north on Atlantic, where you can get churros with caramel and strawberry, a cup of cafe de olla, and a fried banana after you polish off your tacos.

Info: 401 S. Atlantic Blvd., Los Angeles, @asaderochikali on Instagram.

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