Villa’s Tacos is the essential taqueria that only L.A. could dream up

Taco orders at Villa's Tacos. What Victor Villa’s style epitomizes is the L.A. dreamer, the go-getter, our critic writes.
Taco orders at Villa’s Tacos. What Victor Villa’s style epitomizes is the L.A. dreamer, the go-getter, our critic writes.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

A thrilling sort of gravitational pull always attracted food lovers to the weekly pop-ups by Villa’s Tacos in 2021 and 2022, held near a restaurant-dense corner of York Boulevard in Highland Park.

Rarely did its avid crowds feel too overwhelming, nor did the line stagnate. At night a smoky blue halo would hover around the tented stand. It bloomed from the grill’s smoldering mesquite, and the campfire-scented wafts gave me, if not exactly patience, then at least the determination to reach their source.

The scene orbited around Victor Villa, a nonstop cannonball of energy. Surrounded by tables covered in striped serapes, he and his team (many of them family or friends) refined an efficient assembly system: One or two oversaw grilling, someone chopped meats, others flattened blue-corn masa into discs or piled ingredients — crumbled chorizo, minced ranchera asada, black beans jumbled with diced nopales — onto the freshly made, silky-sturdy tortillas.

Villa frequently focused on his marquee queso tacos — tortillas fused with cheese that often formed into browned, jagged rhombus shapes resembling continents; on others the cheese ran like thinned pancake batter that seized into lacy edges. Either form resulted in salty-crisp deliciousness.

A collection of photos of staff, food and customers decorates the counter inside Villa's Tacos.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
Victor Villa, owner of Villa's Tacos, left, is a cannonball of energy. Right: The Victor special, an off menu item.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Customers either took their food to go or hung out at the perfectly named Block Party, the bar and event space outside of which the stall would set up. Wherever they wound up, people knew to first queue at the condiment station and splotch on one or all of the seven salsas based on Villa’s family recipes.

Nothing quite replicates the collective rush of hunger and joy at L.A.’s great streetside taco destinations. Villa, though, has largely managed to redirect the spirit of his mobile enterprise into the corner location of a shopping center a mile away from his perch on York. He opened the storefront in February. Look for the sign that’s very intentionally the color of a Dodgers cap.

The tiny space doesn’t accommodate seating. There is only room for a kitchen, a cooler full of aguas frescas, an ordering counter near the back and a logjam of taco lovers often trailing out the door. To eat right away, claim some space at one of two sidewalk picnic tables or a small table abutting the restaurant’s exterior.

Imagine every element of the classic al pastor taco, subbing fish for pork: the pineapple sweetness, the deep ruddy stain of achiote paste, a slick of guacamole to smooth and unite.

Jan. 5, 2023

Tacos dressed with onion, cilantro and guacamole; queso tacos; and double cheese-ringed mulitas: Villa sticks to the fundamentally three-item menu he first developed as a pop-up in his grandmother’s yard beginning in 2018, the one that eventually helped him win L.A. Taco’s annual Taco Madness competition two years running.


Among choices of meat, I savor the nubbly beef and chorizo but take particular pleasure in the rich, hashed chicken leg that absorbs the mesquite smoke most profoundly. Villa is thoughtful about vegan options, leaning into satisfying texture contrasts: half-pureed black beans smeared over a tortilla and scattered with cactus salad or potatoes crunching like home fries, or pebbly, pineapple-sweetened soy chorizo matched with the spuds.

The generous nature of these tacos invites a more-is-more approach with salsas. As you peer at the variety — all shades of green and red, save for the pop of cubed mango paired with habanero — I’d urge you not to overlook the one labeled “jiquilpan.” It’s a recipe Villa’s father learned in Michoacán, riddled with smoked chiles that echo the flavors of the grill.

Above, a griddle with piles of shredded queso at the taqueria's new brick and mortar location in Highland Park.
‘Tacos estilo Los Angeles’ is the motto at Villa’s Tacos. Above, the griddle with queso tacos cooking at the taqueria’s new brick and mortar location in Highland Park.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
A steady line of hungry customers trails out the door.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

“Tacos estilo Los Angeles” is the motto Villa adopted for his business. At the pop-up the words blazed across banners; in his first taqueria they beam from a neon sign. His L.A. style is not the approach of, say, Wes Avila, whose Guerrilla Tacos drew on his fine-dining background and whose imagination for fillings dipped equally into his personal well of creativity and the city’s cultural pluralism. Villa is the son of Mexican immigrants, but he doesn’t strive to bridge any sort of specific regional style in a Southern California setting.

Damian, a 2-year-old jewel in downtown’s Arts District, has become a modern Mexican restaurant that honors L.A.

Oct. 13, 2022

What Villa’s style epitomizes is the L.A. dreamer, the go-getter. His queso taco — large and lavish with its finishing layers of cotija, squiggled-on crema and dolloped guacamole — is deftly engineered chaos. It’s a taco built on charisma. It practically takes two hands to wield. You have no choice but to be all in. It may one day be replicated in multiple locations across Los Angeles.


For now, Villa’s Tacos still feels singular and special. My only complaint is that the cooking, once such a visual part of the experience, has been hidden behind a tall counter where you can only see the heads of the fast-moving cooks. But even if the coming-together goes unwitnessed, my enjoyment is undiminished.

Villa’s Tacos

5455 N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, (818) 741-8011,

Prices: Tacos $3.25, queso tacos $4.25, mulitas $7.50

Details: Open daily noon-10 p.m. No alcohol. Limited on-site seating. Lot parking.

Recommended dishes: Queso taco with chicken leg meat, mulita with chorizo, vegan trio, strawberry lemonade.