There is, perhaps, no Los Angeles lonchero more famous than Raul Ortega, who regularly takes home top prizes at the L.A. Street Food Festival, and whose customers drive many miles to taste his version of the spicy shrimp cocktail called aguachile, his ceviche, and especially the tacos dorados de camarones — crunchy shrimp tacos — that are apparently the specialty of his hometown San Juan de los Lagos. He has been parking his truck, Mariscos Jalisco, at the same spot on East Olympic Boulevard for 11 years, lunch only. He is a rock star among taco chefs. Even Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, reportedly, is a fan.
Yet when I tagged along with Tess Vigeland to the Eastside last week for an upcoming segment on her NPR show “Marketplace,” after the requisite stops at dumpling parlors and drive-through banh mi windows, I insisted that she visit the truck, which neither she nor her crew had heard of, much less visited. In some circles, admitting that you live in Los Angeles but haven’t visited Mariscos Jalisco is like confessing that you’ve never been to Dodger Stadium, or driven through the four-level freeway interchange, or eaten a corn dog on Muscle Beach — inexcusable, really.
The truck is parked in its usual spot, and we acquire paper platesful of the tacos, fried crisp around the edges but pliable toward their bellies, drenched with a fresh chop of tomatoes and onions, with ripe avocado on the side. The taco tastes of salt and corn and clean oil, and then, as you crunch through it, of fresh shrimp. I ask Ortega where he buys his seafood, and as always he changes the subject. I conjecture whether the slight creaminess around the shrimp comes from potatoes, bechamel or cheese, and as always, he smiles and shrugs. They are his secrets. He hopes they will make his daughters rich.
We take our tacos and sit on a low wall. Vigeland takes a bite, and her eyes bulge out of her head like something from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”
“These are the best tacos I’ve ever tasted,” she says.
And really, they probably are.
3040 E. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles.