There is hope in the sight of Wes Avila’s sweet potato taco splotched with almond salsa. It’s a patch of sunshine on days when we may not be otherwise noticing blue sky.
I gobbled one recently while picking up an “emergency taco kit” from Avila’s Guerrilla Tacos in the Arts District. I paid for my order online, naming a specific window of time to claim my meal. At 5 p.m., I stood at the restaurant’s entrance behind a line of thick black tape and, as instructed by a sign, texted my name to a staffer. She came out, waved hello and smiled, placed a bag on a precisely distanced table and disappeared back inside. I grabbed the food and bolted; the process felt about as safe and seamless as is humanly possible right now.
Avila’s tacos nourished me on many levels. So did the tortas, tamales, tlayudas, burritos, rellenos, barbacoa, frijoles, ensalada de nopales and arroz con leche I’ve savored from nearly two dozen restaurants over the last week.
There are no easy answers about eating food made away from home right now. Marquee restaurants in Los Angeles and around the country are closing for the safety of their employees. Others, including countless tiny, independent mom-and-pops, remain open; their owners likely don’t know how else they’ll survive.
See these recommendations as a celebration and a record of a blurring landscape. Keeping up with the many changes is nearly impossible; Avila, for example, stopped serving single tacos a few days ago. Everything on his menu, food and drink, now comes in various emergency kits. The pivot is apt.
I’ve supported these 20 restaurants with recent takeout orders. Delivered, if possible, with a generous contactless tip left for the courier. Otherwise, I dashed out for pickup — rigorously sanitized, watchfully distanced and ultimately well fed.
La Azteca Tortilleria
Food deputy editor Andrea Chang sent me to La Azteca with implicit instructions: Order the chile relleno burrito, no additions. I disobeyed — what can I say, I’m a maximalist — and asked for carnitas as well. Mistake. The flossy pork distracted from the centerpiece chile. I returned, chastened, for a relleno-only burrito that, when unwrapped, drooped deliciously in my chapped hands while the cheese oozed. I wolfed it down in a happy, escapist trance.
4538 East Cesar E Chavez Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 262-5977
Ray Garcia funnels a few headliners from his downtown restaurant’s modern Angeleno menu into generous family-style meals. Choose between three mains: a horseshoe-shaped hunk of pork belly chicharrón (a Broken Spanish signature), achiote-roasted chicken or a vegetarian chile relleno swathed in cream sauce. Handmade blue corn tortillas are useful for swiping through refried lentils fragrant with epazote and creamy with cotija. Two vegetable sides, salsa verde (dense in flavor and texture) and vanilla bean-speckled arroz con leche, complete the feast. While claiming the order I noticed a posted menu also mentioned turkey mole tamales packaged for freezing. Sold. Pickup only.
1050 Flower St., Los Angeles, (213) 749-1460, brokenspanish.com
Burritos La Palma
Long before the recent birria mania, the Bañuelos Lugo family perfected the birria burrito at its first taqueria in Jerez, Zacatecas, back in the early 1980s. The winning equation: spiced stewed beef (and nothing else) swaddled in a flour tortilla that’s crisped on the griddle to a golden sturdiness. The stateside locations in Santa Ana and El Monte maintain the simplicity. You can also disappear into the very midcentury American platillo especial, made with two birria burritos baked, like overfilled enchiladas, in green chile pork sauce and cheese that melts to rivulets. Pickup only.
5120 N. Peck Road, El Monte, (626) 350-8286, and 410 N. Bristol, Santa Ana, (657) 266-0575, burritoslapalma.com
Ropy, crunchy duck carnitas, packed into tacos or enveloped in a burrito, are the clutch order at this Eagle Rock institution. For unabashed stress eating, I love the fries given the nacho treatment with molten yellow cheese, pintos, cebollitas and cilantro. If a few carnitas happen to topple into an order of fries covered in Mission fig mole, even better. Other laudable taco fillings include fried avocado, cauliflower “chorizo” and chicken; order them in singles or in family packs meant to feed four to five people. Pickup or delivery.
1576 Colorado Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 478-2791, cacaodeli.com
Carnitas El Momo
If ever there were a food named appropriately for the times, it’s the “Aporkalypse,” a massive carnitas taco filled with a mix of maciza (chopped pork shoulder), cuerito (squiggly slivers of pork skin) and buche (delicate, wishbone-shaped slices of pork stomach). It’s a specialty of the Acosta family; its carnitas rate as a civic treasure. Carnitas by the pound, ordered for pickup in Boyle Heights, come with tortillas, salsa, limes and garnishes. Check El Momo’s Instagram account for details. Pickup only.
2411 Fairmount St., instagram.com/carnitaselmomo
Connie Cossio, owner of this institution serving Nayarit-style seafood dishes, answered when I called the restaurant. I asked her what she eats at a time like this. “Camarones borrachos,” she replied in a millisecond — a dish of shrimp sautéed with garlic and crushed pepper then set alight in tequila. Fluffy rice alongside absorbs the thin, rich sauce. Cool, bright mariscos — ruddy, punchy campechana; inky ceviche marinero garnished with diced mango — help lift spirits even higher. Delivery or pickup.
3544 W. Imperial Highway, Inglewood, (310) 672-2339, and 4532 S. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 881-9644, coniseafood.com
Need overt beauty in your life right now? Behold the tlayuda Gish Bac — a circle of life layered with pureed black beans, lacy Oaxacan string cheese, grilled steak and chicken, chile-marinated pork, with slices of tomato, avocado and slivers of rajas arranged like spokes radiating from a wheel’s center. The crackle of the foundational oversize tortilla is key, as is to consume it as quickly as possible. The other specialty at Maria Ramos and David Padilla’s restaurant is barbacoa, either goat long-simmered with chiles or a less saucy cumin-scented variation with lamb. Both are wonderful. Weekends only. Pickup or delivery.
4163 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 737-5050, gishbac.com
Moles are the crossword puzzles of Oaxacan cooking. Their complexities tease and challenge our brains; we need them more than ever. Bricia Lopez and her family have created family meals with one of four moles (negro, rojo, coloradito and the stewy variation, fortified with almonds and raisins, known as estofado) and either grilled chicken or pork carnitas. Scroll through the online menu to see other combination and solo meal options, including a platter of seven appetizers (guacamole, taquitos and fried guacamole among them) and herbed chicken soup to feed a crowd. Lopez also recently published a cookbook; now might be an ideal time to master Guelaguetza’s moles yourself. Or you could split the difference and gift yourself a jar of mole paste from the restaurant’s online store. Open Thursday through Sunday. Pickup or delivery.
3014 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 427-0608, ilovemole.com
If you remember Wes Avila’s singular tacos served from a scrappy Arts District stand nearly a decade ago, you know the chef’s mettle: He knows how to make a situation work. At his restaurant, in the same neighborhood where Guerrilla Tacos began, emergency kits are on the menu: sweet potato tacos, wild boar nachos and, to drink, pre-made margaritas or wines by the bottle. His largest emergency taco kit, a no-nonsense supply of steak or chicken that stays juicy and smoky when reheated, includes tortillas, two salsas and garnishes, plus 30 eggs and a roll of toilet paper. The Q&A for this one alone is worth a click to the website. Pickup only.
2000 E. 7th St., Los Angeles, (213) 375-3300, guerrillatacos.com
At his two locations, in Torrance and in Palms, Ivan Vasquez has created microwavable meals (including chicken mole, beef barbacoa and shrimp sauteed in chintextle, a smoky Oaxacan chile) as well as family-style meals available hot. Major bonus: Marquez’s restaurants have some of the area’s largest selections of mezcal and other agave spirits. Call the restaurant and have someone talk you through the options; bottles range from a subtle $44 Mal Bien espadin to a rare Lalocura pechuga for $165. Pickup or delivery.
1261 Cabrillo Ave., Torrance, (310) 974-8005, and 10426 National Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 559-4732, madrerestaurants.com
It has long been popular for food writers to suggest that Raul Ortega’s shrimp tacos, blazing from the fryer with a cooling overlay of avocado and salsa, might be the first or most essential dish for visitors to eat to understand Los Angeles. It’s a critical time to support this culturally vital Boyle Heights food truck. Supplement the tacos with the Poseidon, a flavor-bomb mashup of shrimp ceviche and octopus aguachile. Pickup only.
3040 E. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles (and other locations), (323) 528-6701, instagram.com/mariscosjalisco
Mi Ranchito Veracruz
Worthy standards include the chile relleno, cochinita pibil and a monster breakfast burrito. But the stars at Mi Ranchito are the Veracruz-style tamales, wrapped in banana leaves, that imbue the masa with their sweet, herbaceous aroma. Three versions stay in heavy rotation: chicken with mole negro, chicken with tomatillo sauce and a standout jalapeño-and-cheese variation that’s extra gratifying when bathed in softly spicy red salsa. Two will satisfy the average appetite. Delivery or pickup.
13363 Saticoy St., North Hollywood, (818) 287-6911, miranchitonoho.com
Mole de los Reyes
As the Bell restaurant’s name suggests, its draw is moles — some of them gloriously outrageous. (Rocio Camacho, L.A.'s mole goddess, once cooked here; the mole recipes still bear her imprint.) Traditionalists will favor the smooth, balanced mole verde. On the wilder side are one buzzing with coffee’s pleasantly bitter edge and another sweet (but not cloying) with strawberry. Staffers talk you through the best protein matches for each sauce, including sliced filet mignon and veal cutlet. Pickup only.
6242 Maywood Ave., Bell, (323) 588-5536
The beloved South Los Angeles pop-up run by Alfonso Martinez and Odilia Romero continues to soldier on. Ask for Martinez’s crisp-edged, hubcap-size folded tlayudas filled with blood sausage (the favorite), chorizo, beef, mushrooms or nopales. The couple also sells sublime tamales, including a chicken mole version and a vegan tamal stuffed with black beans that is steamed in avocado leaves, a traditional preparation from the Sierra Norte de Oaxaca. Tamales are available for takeout on Sundays; the rest of the menu is available on Fridays only. Contact Poncho’s via Instagram. Pickup only.
4318 S Main St., Los Angeles, instagram.com/ponchostlayudas
Walter Soto and Julia Silva make some of the most spectacular tacos in Los Angeles. Silva is a tortilla artist; Sonoran-style flour discs are her pliant canvases. Soto grills the meats and composes the tacos. Carne asada, beef birria and a wondrous, chin-staining chile colorado typically comprise the fillings: get all three. Eating these directly from the box alone in your car doesn’t in any way diminish their grandeur. Saturdays only. Pickup only.
1401 Mirasol St., Los Angeles, (323) 246-6819,elrusola.weebly.com
The Burrito 2.0 is both a delivery godsend and superb encapsulation of what makes Jennifer Feltham and Teodoro Diaz-Rodriguez’s downtown taqueria so special. The elastic, almost creamy tortillas are made from Sonoran flour and pork lard. Carne asada — short ribs grilled over mesquite and blitzed with a cleaver — is the meat of choice, though you can also opt for chorizo, chicken, tripe or chile poblano. Guacamole, Monterey Jack, sharply spicy chiltepin salsa and pinto beans round out the tidy package. Burritos (and smaller, equally wonderful chivichangas) also show up in “party sizes.” A meatless option includes grilled poblanos and spring onions with corn tortillas.
208 E. 8th St., Los Angeles, (213) 628-3710,sonoratown.com
2019 was the year of Tacos 1986. Jorge “Joy” Alvarez-Tostado and Victor Delgado grew their roving Insta-sensation — a stand selling Tijuana-style tacos and outfitted with an eye-catching trompo — into permanent locations in downtown and Westwood Village. The power move in the takeout era is the Perron taco, a once-secret menu item now openly listed online. Cheese sizzles on the griddle and fuses onto a flour tortilla; on top are beans, onions and a healthy slick of guac. To complete it, choose either carne asada or the restaurant’s inky mushrooms simmered in salsa macha. Delivery or pickup.
609 S. Spring St., and 10874 Kinross Ave., tacos1986.com
A weekend afternoon spent reading the deep archives of grass-roots-journalism paragon L.A. Taco led me to Duarte and the spectacular fish tacos from this mini-mall taqueria. The restaurant assembles textbook Baja-style beauties: crisp slabs of fried tilapia; small, doubled-up corn tortillas; whiskery shreds of cabbage, pico de gallo and a finishing gloss of spiced mayo that distantly rumbles with heat. Very easy to down two or three. Ricky’s Fish Tacos, arguably the city’s most famous purveyor of the genre, is currently closed; a quick run to Tacos Ensenada makes for an excellent alternative. Pickup only.
2171 Huntington Drive, Duarte, (626) 359-4959
Teddy’s Red Tacos
Teddy Vasquez crowns his tacos with Tijuana-style birria de res and its consommé, which dyes everything in its path a shade between traffic-cone orange and the piercing red of Moira Rose’s lipstick on “Schitt’s Creek.” His Deluxe plate is a fixture in modern L.A. life. It was one of the final things I ate in a group before the shutdown, at a communal table on an Echo Park sidewalk. Now at my own table, the taste rings with the familiar peal of chiles and herbs; the flavor is almost nostalgic.
46 Windward Ave., Venice, (310) 452-7910, instagram.com/teddysredtacos
Tortas Ahogadas El Rey
I hunkered for a torta ahogada, the “drowned” sandwich that’s a specialty of Guadalajara; an article by Cesar Hernandez onL.A. Taco guided me to the two restaurants run by Abraham Mota and his father, Francisco. In the restaurant the cooks would assemble the torta; now the ingredients are packaged for home assembly. Pork carnitas come stuffed in a birote salado, a Guadalajaran roll with a craggy crust and soft, gently salty crumb. Pour warm, brothy tomato sauce and a salsa infused with zinging chile de arbol over top; you’ll start with a fork and likely graduate to a spoon. El Rey also makes solid tacos de canasta — soft steamed tacos designed for portability (they’re traditionally sold from baskets in Mexico, as the name implies) and thus perfect for this moment. Pickup or delivery.
6503 Pacific Blvd., Huntington Park, (323) 387-4156, and other locations, info.laliveapps.com/m/tortaselrey
Times writer Gustavo Arellano clued me into the Hawthorne restaurant’s Zacatecan-style of birria de res, typically served on its own rather than as a taco filling. Humming with the smokiness of guajillo chile, a bowl of Zacatecas’ birria is good medicine. It’s an off-the-menu special that’s always available. On the more Southern Californian end of things, Food colleague Jenn Harris nudged me to Tom’s burrito, an imposing torpedo filled with carne asada, beans, cheese, guacamole, onions and sour cream, smothered in fiery green chile and yet more cheese. A nap-inducing burrito is healing in its own way.
13737 S. Inglewood Ave., Hawthorne, (310) 679-5161, zacatecasrestaurant.com