At the recently opened Carlos’s Tijuana Tacos in Whittier, great gusts of grill smoke engulf a vast line of customers, many standing for more than 90 minutes to get tacos, mulitas and quesadillas before the new street-side taquería sells out.
Carlos De La Rosa Marquez and his father, Carlos Marquez, are behind the new spot, which is made up of sidewalk canopies, prep tables and two blazing grills. Like many taqueros preparing Tijuana-style tacos, the elder Marquez was born in Puebla state, plying his trade in Tijuana, and then settled and raised a family in this East L.A. neighborhood.
“He used to make these when I was younger, and I’ve always enjoyed them,” the younger Marquez recalls. “I told him, ‘We should do something like this.’ He’s always worked for someone and never had a stand [of his own]. So we started by cooking everything in the back of our house, bouncing ideas off each other, and just went from there.”
Tijuana-style tacos are most obviously demarcated by a giant finishing dollop of guacamole, but these have all the other components you’re looking for too: meats grilled over mesquite charcoal (asada is the standout, but chicken, chorizo and pork adobada are also available) and handmade tortillas that come off the griddle just seconds before they’re stuffed and handed over to be eaten.
Fiery chipotle-, tomatillo- and serrano-based salsas, each made with charcoal-toasted chiles, are available near a pot of complimentary frijoles de olla. Marquez says champurrado will be available on the colder nights ahead.
Backed only by Facebook and Instagram accounts and the help of some influential local food lovers, Marquez Jr. was surprised to see such big crowds showing up on the stand’s initial nights.
“We never expected this many people,” he says. “We were excited the day before, as we saw followers coming in on Instagram. What most shocked us is that about 15 people were already waiting as we were setting up. It was a rush.”
A week or so after opening, the father-son duo added tacos vampiros to the menu, made with tortillas that spend a little extra time on the griddle until crisped, bearing creases said to make the tortillas resemble bat wings, along with a sprinkling of cheese and pico de gallo on the interior.
Carlos’s Tijuana Tacos plans to be open Thursdays through Sundays, starting at 6 p.m., until the meat runs out. And you may want to count on that continuing to happen and arrive early, just to be safe.