Last weekend, I drove down to South Los Angeles to see what Carnitas El Momo was all about. I had never tasted the informal stand’s famous namesake dish, which reputable taco correspondents had claimed might be better even than the ones at Metro Balderas and Los Guichos, and there is nothing better than a crackly, gooey plate of the slow-cooked pig confit on a sleepy Sunday afternoon.
Carnitas El Momo was nowhere to be seen around its spot at 61st Street and Avalon Boulevard; not on the main boulevard, not on a side street, not tucked into a warehouse parking lot. It closes early on Sundays perhaps, or was catering a more lucrative event, or the owner was visiting a relative out in Rancho Cucamonga. Time and place are always flexible concepts when it comes to tacos. (And I’ve since learned that El Momo’s parking space at Melrose and Vermont avenues may be more reliable.)
FOR THE RECORD
The headline on an earlier version of this post gave the name of the taco truck as Estilo Tijuana. It should have said Tacos Los Poblanos.
But right up the street, in the parking lot of the Avalon Swap Meet, was what looked like an impromptu Poblano food village, trucks parked in a rough square surrounding a few dozen tables, with specialists in lamb barbacoa; in the Puebla-style sandwiches called cemitas; and in the tacos Arabes, mulitas and quesadillas that are among the famous snacks of the Poblano table.
As you might expect, most of the action was at Los Poblanos, the antojitos truck – tacos Arabes, a kind of Mexican shwarma wrapped in thick, pita-like flour tortillas, have been popular since they were introduced to Puebla by Lebanese cooks a century ago. And the tacos Arabes aren’t bad at Los Poblanos, although I don’t think I’m switching my custom from either Elvirita’s or the Los Originales Tacos Arabes stand in Boyle Heights.
But almost everybody seemed to be eating what were called tacos al estilo Tijuana, Tijuana-style tacos, which were made with misshapen handmade tortillas and crunchy nubs of charcoal-grilled steak, tucked into slips of paper, and sluiced with thick, green, tart taco-shop guacamole. Taco scholar Bill Esparza has talked about the armies of Poblano cooks preparing carne asada tacos on the streets of northern Baja, so I’m assuming that these taqueros come from this proud tradition. And even when you’re really in the mood for carnitas, a few tacos al estilo Tijuana, lined up like soldiers and washed down with a huge glass of cantaloupe agua fresca, are all you need on a hot weekend afternoon. Weekend afternoons, in the parking lot of the Avalon Swap Meet, Avalon at Slauson Boulevard, Los Angeles.