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Food

Cochinita pibil takes over Echo Park at Tania’s Tacos

A cochinita pibil taco in a blue corn tortilla from Tania’s Tacos in Echo Park.
A cochinita pibil taco in a blue corn tortilla from Tania’s Tacos in Echo Park.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

It’s Saturday morning at Echo Park Lake when Tania Macin hoists the heavy lid off a vintage yellow Le Creuset stock pot.

Peeling back a damp stratum of aromatic banana leaves, she unveils a bubbling, adobe red guisado of cochinita pibil, the Yucatecan specialty of achiote-rubbed, citrus-marinated, slow-braised pork, before ladling a large spoonful into a single blue tortilla made by Kernel of Truth Organics in Boyle Heights.

The 32-year-old Macin, who moved to L.A. from her hometown of Mexico City in 2018, launched Tania’s Tacos in October with her girlfriend, writer Erin Mosbaugh.

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Frustrated by an endless job search — she worked as a digital marketing specialist in Mexico — Macin, who learned to cook from her Veracruz-raised grandparents, stumbled into cooking.

After receiving heavy praise for the cochinita pibil she brought to a friend’s dinner party, she and Mosbaugh purchased a grill online and brought Tania’s Tacos into existence.

“At first I thought, ‘What if I do a pop-up and nobody comes?’” she said. “Well, at least I’d have a lot of food for three months.”

While the traditional recipe for cochinita pibil involves suckling pig cooked underground in a stone-lined pit, Macin uses bone-in, skin-on pork shoulder for both the cochinita tacos and the sloppy Joe-style sandwiches on King’s Hawaiian rolls that are the core of her four-item menu.

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Tania Macin prepares a cochinita pibil taco at her taco stand in Echo Park.
Tania Macin prepares a cochinita pibil taco at her taco stand in Echo Park.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

First she grills the banana leaves to make them pliable enough to line her pot and to impart similar flavors as you’d find in a banana-leaf wrapped tamal colado.

She makes her recado rojo in a molcajete, grinding achiote paste with ingredients including clove, garlic, pepper and oregano, and then loosens it with naranja agria, a mixture of lime and orange juice that mimics the tart tang of the Yucatán Peninsula’s native oranges.

After marinating overnight in the fridge, the dish simmers for eight to 10 hours on low heat on the stove before it is transported to the park.

The result is a clean cochinita pibil rich with the essences of pork, achiote, clove and cinnamon. Onions pickled in naranja agria and a salsa of pineapple and chile manzano provide a vital kick of acid.

Tania Macin at her taco stand at Echo Park Lake with possible customers, a girl on a bike and a woman walking a dog.
Tania Macin at her taco stand at Echo Park Lake.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Each taco overflows with broth, the sturdy tortillas demonstrating tremendous load-bearing capabilities as guests start by sipping excess broth off the top before going in for their first bite of saturated, shredded pork.

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For the meat-free, Macin also offers mushroom quesadillas and an excellent version of the Mexican cornbread pan de elote that should not be neglected, regardless of your dietary orientation.

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The positive reception of park-goers and the encouragement of the veteran vendors of Mexican, Salvadoran and Vietnamese street cooking who work the same beat has been uplifting, Macin said.

“You can only apply for jobs for like, four hours, and then what do you do?” she asked. “This has brought back my dignity. I’m doing something. I’m not unemployed. I have a thing.”

Tania’s Tacos will pop up next on the north side of Echo Park Lake on Jan. 26 at 11:30 a.m.

751 Echo Park Ave., Los Angeles, instagram.com/taniastacos


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