6 unique tacos that could only exist in Los Angeles

Most Creative Tacos Los Angeles
Guerrilla Tacos, Taco/Social and X’tiosu Kitchen push the boundaries of typical tacos with fillings such as Korean barbecue, chicken tikka masala and chicken shawarma.
(Christina House, Stephanie Breijo, Calvin B. Alagot / Los Angeles Times)
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In Los Angeles, the taco has for decades served as a canvas for diverse chefs who have long called the city home and likely grew up folding convenient ingredients from their own cultures into tortillas.

In 2008, Roy Choi brought nontraditional tacos to the mainstream with the Kogi BBQ Truck, pushing the envelope with fillings like tofu, calamari and kimchi. Yes, it was the beginning of a modern food truck revolution, and only accelerated a movement of multiethnic taco transformations across L.A.

The final product is as squat and dense as a throw pillow and looks like a marriage between a Chipotle burrito and a Panera Bread sandwich.

Sept. 29, 2023

For Tûe Nguyen, taco culture has always been closely intertwined with Oxnard, where she first landed after immigrating stateside. “There were taco trucks everywhere and the street vendors were so different from Vietnam,” Nguyen reminisced. “I fell in love.”


It’s precisely why Nguyen, when dreaming up her own menu for the recently opened Di Di in West Hollywood, knew she had to include some form of a Vietnamese taco as an ode to the city she now calls home. She settled on a banh xeo taco, a riff on the Vietnamese crepe that uses a turmeric and coconut batter stuffed with pork and shrimp. “I wanted to have a taco on the menu because it’s such a quintessential L.A. thing,” Nguyen said. “Chef Roy Choi even came in and it was so cool to have him try my tacos.”

At Lord Empanada in Monrovia, taco-inspired empanadas are a way for owner Ryan Lopez to combine his Argentinian heritage with the flavors of his hometown. “I was born and raised here while my dad was born and raised in Argentina,” Lopez explained. “Purists are against what I do, but it’s 2023 now. I love incorporating different cultures in my food.”

There’s nothing quite like the all-in experience of Victor Villa’s queso tacos, made in a style that epitomizes the L.A. dreamer, the go-getter.

Aug. 10, 2023

Two of those purists are Lopez’s own dad and grandmother, who initially saw his remixed empanadas filled with al pastor and birria as taboo. “Argentinians are very staunch and critical; they think their stuff and the way they do it is the right way,” Lopez laughed. “My grandma was not about it but the fact that she approved is a win.” Instead of a salsa bar, Lopez’s grandma’s recipe for chimichurri is included with each empanada order.

“When it comes to food, you have to think outside of the box but also stay true to your roots,” Lopez said. These six creative taco spots (and one empanada outpost) scattered across L.A. and spanning Vietnamese, Chinese, modern Indian, Mediterranean flavors and more, do exactly that.

Three banh xeo tacos from Di Di
The banh xeo tacos at Di Di feature a crispy shell filled with pork, shrimp, bean sprouts and a Thai chile sauce.
(Kathryn Ballay)

Banh xeo tacos at Di Di Weho

Banh xeo is all about the texture: lacy, golden edges; the crunch of bean sprouts; the meatiness of pork and shrimp. It took over two weeks of recipe development for chef and owner Tûe Nguyen to execute the perfect crispy shell that wasn’t too fragile to be handled, thanks to ingredients of rice flour, coconut milk, water and turmeric. Like traditional banh xeo, this version is also filled with pork, shrimp and bean sprouts. Instead of a hot salsa, Nguyen provides each order of three tacos with a Thai chile sauce that has a rounded flavor of spicy, savory and gently sweet.


755 North La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles,

Three Hainan chicken tacos from Bopomofo
The hainan chicken tacos at Bopomofo are reminiscent of carnitas with shredded pieces of juicy chicken.
(Kat Thompson)

Hainan chicken tacos at Bopomofo

Hainan chicken is traditionally prepared through poaching, which doesn’t seem like an ideal protein for tacos. However, beloved boba haunt Bopomofo finds a way to bring the spirit of Hainan chicken into taco form. The chicken here is shredded and juicy, reminiscent of fatty carnitas. To balance out the rich flavor of the chicken, the taco is topped with pickled onions, cilantro and a bright ginger and scallion sauce. To really drive home the Hainan chicken inspiration, and provide pops of texture, kernels of chicken fat fried rice are scattered throughout each taco. An order clocks in at $13 and includes three tacos with a soft, blue corn tortilla base.

841 W. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel,

Duck birria tacos and consommé from Baar Baar.
The duck birria tacos at Baar Baar come with a small bowl of consommé that features spices like garam masala and green and black cardamom.
(Kat Thompson)

Duck birria tacos at Baar Baar

The duck birria taco is, in chef Sujan Sarkar’s words, “the perfect marriage between Mexican and Indian cuisine.” Sarkar settled on duck as a protein as a nod to the popular Kashmiri ducks of northern India. The meat is braised until tender with a blend of spices, including allspice, black cardamom, chilies, ginger and garlic. Although Sarkar experimented with different vehicles for his duck birria, including roti, he settled on a fried corn tortilla as the sturdiest option, which is necessary for the side of consommé, with notes of garam masala, green and black cardamom and other warm, aromatic spices.


705 West 9th St., Los Angeles, (213) 266-8989,

Overhead shot of a chicken shawarma and vegan falafel taco
X’tiosu combines brothers Ignacio and Felipe Santiago’s Oaxacan heritage with prior experience cooking in a Lebanese kitchen.
(Kat Thompson)

Falafel and chicken shawarma tacos at X’tiosu Kitchen

Brothers Ignacio and Felipe Santiago combine their Oaxacan backgrounds with culinary experiences in a Lebanese kitchen to create X’tiosu’s famous tacos. The chicken shawarma is, in its traditional style, spit-roasted, then sliced onto double stacked corn tortillas before it’s garnished with cilantro and onions. A dollop of “Arabesque” salsa, a creamy and herbaceous dressing that’s both nutty and tangy, and a hot pink matchstick of pickled turnip complete the taco. For a vegan-friendly option, get the falafel taco, which begins with a crispy hockey puck of a chickpea fritter. It’s topped with a smoky and spicy black bean-based sauce and a sprinkling of pickled onions and carrots.

923 Forest Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 526-8844,

The lomo saltado taco at Guerrilla Tacos
Guerrilla Tacos has a rotating cast of creative tacos, including a Peruvian-inspired lomo saltado option.
(Brittney Valles)

Lomo saltado tacos at Guerrilla Tacos

Guerrilla Tacos takes its taco menu to new creative heights. Everything is worth trying: a sweet potato taco topped with fried corn and feta cheese that’s been around since the restaurant’s inception; a vegetarian take on al pastor that pairs mushrooms with charred pineapple; and a rotating cast of interesting tacos, including most recently a coconut shrimp version topped with coconut salad. Then there’s the most popular taco, the lomo saltado. This Peruvian-inspired taco begins with juicy strips of marinated steak layered atop hefty roasted potato wedges. Red onion and tomatoes provide acid while a sprinkling of cilantro freshens up what would otherwise be a heavy — and massive — taco. Holding it all together is a fluffy flour tortilla smeared with a spicy and sour aji verde sauce. This taco is practically a meal in itself, which makes the $10 price tag more palatable.


2000 E 7th St., Los Angeles, (213) 375-3300,

The tacos at newly opened Taco/Social.
The tacos at newly opened Taco/Social intentionally “break the rules” with unlikely fillings.
(Kat Thompson)

Nola Po Boy at Taco/Social

Innovative tacos have become so popular in Los Angeles that there’s now a restaurant devoted solely to the craft of rule-breaking and genre-bending tacos. Taco/Social, which just opened on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock, dedicates most of the menu board to “freeform” tacos, which take inspiration from Vietnam, India, the American South, Thailand, Greece and beyond. Each taco comes with a fresh, hand-pressed flour tortilla with ample chew and alluring brown leopard spots from the griddle. My favorite of the bunch was the Nola Po Boy taco, with a generous heap of cornmeal-crusted shrimp, tangy pickle chips, pickled red onions, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes and a creamy mayo-based sauce. A close second was the Greek Life: French fries and roasted chicken are smothered with tzatziki and a tongue-tingling habanero sauce and finished with pickled red onions. The best part of Taco/Social, however, is that there is a flavor of taco for everyone — a true celebration of the diversity of people, and tacos, in Los Angeles.

1627 Colorado Blvd., Los Angeles,

Spicy asada empanada with chimichurri
The empanadas at Lord Empanada draw from chef-owner Ryan Lopez’s Argentinian background and growing up in L.A.
(Ryan Lopez / Lord Empanada)

Birria queso, al pastor and spicy asada empanadas at Lord Empanada

OK, technically these aren’t tacos. But this Argentinian Mexican mashup dreamed up by Lord Empanada founder Ryan Lopez is definitely worth mentioning. All the empanadas begin with a flaky, flour-based dough that is deep fried until the skins blister with a satisfying crackle. There are over a dozen fillings to choose from, but the birria queso, al pastor and spicy asada really embody Los Angeles taco culture and Lopez’s upbringing as an Angeleno. The queso birria is filled with marinated beef and plenty of melty Monterey jack cheese and served with a side of consommé for dipping. The asada is stuffed with thinly sliced steak and a blend of aromatic spices that provide relatively mild heat but ample flavor. The al pastor follows the classic combination of marinated pork with juicy pineapple. For vegetarians, there are empanadas with classic Mexican flavors, too: Find the soy chorizo with vegan cheese and potato or a spicy black bean empanada, one of the original flavors that dates back to Lord Empanada’s humble beginnings as a COVID pop-up.


1540 S. Myrtle Ave., Monrovia, (626) 415-1044,