Guerrilla Tacos

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Guerrilla Tacos at Cognoscenti Coffee (Wed 9am-2pm)
6114 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(818) 640-3033
guerrillatacos.com

Wes Avila is kind of like Batman of the taco world. When he’s not working as the sous chef for Le Comptoir (currently hosted at The Wine Vault in Glendale), he’s taking taco justice to the streets with the taco cart/stand-turned-truck Guerrilla Tacos. He doesn’t have any superpowers, but he does have an arsenal of quality gadgets (in this case, ingredients) to go along with his crime-fighting intelligence, honed from his experience at some of the finer kitchens around town. [update: I’ve been told that Chef Wes isn’t at Le Comptoir anymore – solely focusing on Guerrilla Tacos now]

Le Comptoir is known around town as a place where quality ingredients, especially vegetables, are allowed to shine, and that philosophy is ever so evident at Guerrilla Tacos. Farmers market vegetables, locally-sourced proteins, and each dish made to order – this is a one-man farm-to-table restaurant operating under a taqueria facade. They’re usually parked outside Handsome Coffee Roasters (Wednesdays 5-8pm, Fridays 9am-2pm, and Saturday & Sunday 9am-1pm), but they’re also outside Cognoscenti Coffee in Culver City on Wednesdays from 9am to 2pm – which is where I was able to try their offerings, as my office had moved to Culver City recently.

The fare at Guerrilla Tacos isn’t your standard taco truck food, nor is it traditional by any sense, but they are traditionally-inspired and jazzed up in ways beyond aesthetics. So far, I’ve only tried their breakfast items (seems like the only type of tacos/burritos offered at Culver City), and each of them have been excellent. Between my two visits, I was able to sample four of their tacos, two of their burritos, and a tamale (and no, my fat ass didn’t eat all of this in two meals). Of the four tacos, two centered around scrambled eggs, and two around fried eggs.

Neither of the scrambled egg tacos contained any meat, but the respective roasted green bean and Anaheim chili were just downright delicious. So were the spinach and charred broccoli that were part of the fried egg tacos – they might have been even better than the prosciutto and pancetta that they were paired with, an amazing feat in itself. All four tacos were fully-composed, with multiple components contributing to the construction, and dressed to the nines – these dolled-up ladies are ready to be taken home by the time they reach your hands. The tortilla does get a bit lost among all the hotness, but gets the job done as the designated driver. The tacos can be messy to eat though, as it’s kind of hard to get a good grip on these busty beauties, but I like it dirty anyways.

From what I’ve read, the burritos here are relatively new to the menu. The two offerings I tried were breakfast burritos that don’t stray too far from the traditional ones I’m familiar with from my growing boy days. In fact, the second one I had, with Cook Pigs Ranch sausage, potato, avocado, and tomato habanero chili, is pretty much a traditional one made with quality ingredients. The other one, however, with that same Cook Pigs Ranch sausage but in patty form, fluffy egg, and queso blanco, was like the most awesome sausage McMuffin in burrito form.

I also tried the duck tamale, but unfortunately the duck was on the dry side, and didn’t have that duck flavor I love. Still a decent tamale though. In fact, the only “bad” thing about Guerrilla Tacos is their prices (tacos are ~$5, and burritos are $10), but I think they’re actually quite fair, for the ingredients they’re using, and each item being made to order by Avila alone. It’s not exactly buying 10 tacos from Leo’s after a night of drinking, but you’ll feel much better about yourself after eating these sexy tacos.

I’ve seen and read about their more creative and fancy offerings served at Handsome for lunch and dinner, and from the looks of it, they’re even better than the excellent breakfast fare I’ve sampled. So please Wes, let me try some of these dishes when you’re at Culver City one of these days. But for now, I’m more than happy continuing to try the creative, and more importantly, delicious breakfast tacos and burritos. Worth the ~4 mile drive from the office, that’s for sure.

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Tacos

Green Bean Scramble Taco

Spinach/Prosciutto/Fried Egg Taco

Cook Pigs Ranch Sausage/Egg/Queso Blanco Burrito

Duck Tamal, Arbol Chile

Tacos

Pancetta & Charred Broccoli Taco w/ Fried Egg, Arbol Chili, & Scallions

Roasted Anaheim Chili Taco w/ Oaxacan Cheese, Scrambled Egg, Almond Chili, & Chives

Burrito w/ Cook Pigs Ranch Breakfast Sausage, Potato, Avocado, & Tomato Habanero Chili

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Mexican Food Truck/Culver City $ A-

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Bigmista’s Barbecue

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Bigmista’s Barbecue
@ Century City Farmers Market (Thursdays 11am-3pm)
1800 Ave of the Stars
Los Angeles, CA 90067
http://bigmista.com/

Most people in L.A. (including myself) tout Bludso’s as the best BBQ joint in the city, and that claim is more than justified in my opinion. However, there is another contender quietly going about its business on the move around town, showing up in various farmers markets and catering events (and even garnering BBQ competitions honors nationally) – Bigmista’s Barbecue. The Atwater Village farmers market is probably considered their “home base” (they currently show up at a handful of farmers markets throughout the city on a weekly basis), but they began showing up at the Century City one sometime last year. There wasn’t a big announcement, and they’re not the biggest attraction by far (that would be the Hawaiian chicken stand), but it just happened that I was looking them up when they started to show up in Century City, although it’s a bit further than I would like.

I made the trek from work a few months ago, which was about a mile-long walk, since my work is on the outskirts of the area. I’m not sure if the BBQ at Bigmista is actually considered Texas-style, but  I would categorize it as such due to the smoking. Got the sampler (of course), which had pulled pork, brisket, ribs, and hot links. The pulled pork was amazing – a perfect mix of fatty and charred, lean shredded pieces, coming together as a wonderfully juicy, smoky bite. The pork ribs were en route to such success, but didn’t have that fall-of-the-bone tenderness I was looking for. Keep in mind that the sauce comes on the side, which is always preferred for me. Bigmista’s sauce (as well as their greens actually) was much more vinegary than I was expecting, though I didn’t mind it at all (it was tangy like Carolina-style), and went well with meats in small doses. I don’t think the hot links are homemade, but were well-grilled.

But the one thing I was looking forward to the most, the brisket, was somewhat of a disappointment. The smoke rings were very evident (see below), but was way too dry – even dumping the remains of the BBQ sauce didn’t help too much. The smoky flavors were on point, but I just couldn’t get past the doneness. But everything else was good (especially the pulled pork). I really need to give their brisket another shot, and try the pig candy if it’s ever available at Century City (I’ve also heard good things about their pastrami). For now, I do consider Bigmista as having the second-best BBQ in town, but the distance between first and second is fairly significant, especially when first place does brisket so damn well. Keep in mind that they often sell out, so go early.

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Brisket

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Pork Shoulder

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Hot Links

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Pork Ribs

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Collard Greens

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
BBQ (Food Stand) $$ B

Porchetta Truck (Bucato)

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Porchetta Truck (Bucato)
http://twitter.com/BucatoLA

For a while last year, I conducted a half-assed search for good porchetta in L.A., in sandwich form in particular. By half-assed search, I mean I asked around on Chowhound and did some moderate internet browsing. A good number of people and sources pointed me in the direction of the porchetta sandwiches at Mozza2Go and Sotto, respectively. However, I haven’t seen the porchetta sandwich on the former’s menu in over a year, and while I work very close to the latter (where they only serve the sandwich during lunch), I just wasn’t feeling it for some reason. My favorite version had been the one served at Fundamental LA, but like with Mozza2Go, I haven’t seen it on the menu in over a year. Then sometime last month, Chef Evan Funke answered my prayers…

Chef Funke was the chef at Rustic Canyon, where he was the man behind those well-acclaimed burgers (though my visit wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be) and handmade pastas. He has since decamped from the Loeb/Nathan empire, and branched out on his own, taking up the space left by Beacon in the Helms Bakery District. But before the restaurant, Bucato, opens, Chef has decided to feature the porchetta that will be on the opening menu, and serve it via food truck around West L.A. (think RoliRoti). This version of the porchetta sandwich has thinly shaved slices of roast pork (a combination of pork loin and pork belly), arugula, pork crackling, lemon juice, and a pesto Modena made from garlic, rosemary, Parmigiano Reggiano, black pepper and…lard.

If that description above didn’t make you drool, then allow me to say that 1) this was the best sandwich I’ve eaten in a long time, 2) this was the best thing I’ve eaten in 2013 (so far), and 3) the search is over. I actually didn’t hear much about the truck over its first few weeks of operations, but that proved to be the perfect storm, as the good news arrived with authority (example). The sandwich isn’t very big (think of those ciabatta burgers that Jack in the Box was serving a while back), but the heaviness does hit you shortly after you’ve devoured it. The thin slices of pork carried just the right balance of meatiness and fattiness, and everything just went with it so well. The squeeze of lemon juice gave it just the right touch of acidity,the pesto was powerful but not overwhelming, the ciabatta was much lighter than I expected and crisp, and even the hint of freshly cracked black pepper proved to be genius.

I ate two sandwiches right then and there: one of the sandwiches topped with a fried egg (highly recommended – let that runny egg yolk flow), as well as their one-day-only off-menu special. It’s a good thing they told me about the special – porchetta benedict, because it held its own against the Michigan Wolverines of my culinary AP poll. It was basically a sandwich still, on the same ciabatta, as opposed to two individual benedicts. But the egg was well-poached, and the acidity of the hollandaise was a pleasant surprise – better than the heavy, curdled mess one is accustomed to. Probably not worth $4 more than the regular sandwich, but a more than welcome addition to the menu, and I look forward to seeing it on Bucato’s menu if they serve brunch.

Right now, the truck will probably stick to a somewhat consistent routine until the restaurant opens in around eight weeks’ time. So expect it at the Santa Monica food truck alley on 26th and Pennsylvania around lunchtime Wednesdays-Fridays, around lunchtime on Saturdays and Sundays at Helms Bakery (near the future Bucato), and at the Santa Monica Wine Expo at least a couple of nights a week – but check their Twitter and Instagram for exact details. Basically, this is a truck worth chasing, and enjoy the chase while you can – because once the chase is over, you’ll never relive that thrill and magic ever again.

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Porchetta Sandwich ($6), add egg (+$2)

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Porchetta Benedict ($10 – off-menu special)

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Sandwiches (Food Truck) $ A-

Ricky’s Fish Tacos

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Everyone who knows or thinks they know about food has heard about food stand operating out of a small parking lot on Virgil Ave. And everyone who’s been here has done nothing but sung the praises of the tacos that come out of the fryers here, especially the fish ones (duh). I’m not going to go into too much detail, as countless people have probably described these tacos in detail and the history/details of this operation on their respective (and better) blogs or on Yelp, where it’s the #1 rated “restaurant” in LA.

What I will say, however, is that these are the best tacos I’ve ever had. Numerous people have told me that this is how it’s done in fish taco capital Ensenada, and Ricky’s still hangs/beats the best of those. And I wholeheartedly believe that, with my limited experience. While that proclamation means nothing coming from someone like me, for me to come to that conclusion while eating said tacos on a midday Saturday when it was cold and slightly drizzling and eating outside really says it all. I’ll brave any condition for this, although it probably wouldn’t reciprocate (it is a food stand operating outdoors, after all).

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Notes: cash only. Hours are usually around 12pm-4pm Wednesdays-Sundays (check Ricky’s twitter day of to make sure).

Chris Hei grade: A-

Ricky’s Fish Tacos
1400 N Virgil Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Twitter: rickysfishtacos

Ricky's Fish Tacos (Food Stand) on Urbanspoon

Lomo Arigato

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Of all the food trucks that frequent the Bebe offices near work, I find myself ordering from Lomo Arigato the most by far. It’s far from the best Peruvian food I’ve had, but sure trumps all the other food trucks that visit us (well, Grilled Cheese Truck is good too, but they rarely visit), and definitely trumps the available lunch options within walking distance. My coworkers love the fried rice and the noodles, but I usually stick with the lomo saltado. Very ghetto in appearance and execution, but well-seasoned and more filling than meets the eye. Always a pleasure to get the email re: them coming (although I did skip their visit last week).

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Chris Hei grade: B

Lomo Arigato
Twitter

Lomo Arigato (food truck) on Urbanspoon

Tacos Leo

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Hola alli!

That’s “o hei there!” translated to Spanish. Well, technically it’s “hi there.” And it’s a literal translation (no one says “hi there” in Spanish, I don’t think). And it’s not punctuated correctly…

As I mentioned in a previous post, Sunday is becoming the day when I drive out of my way to try a casual place that has been sitting on my to-dine list. On this particular Sunday, I drove to the gas station on the corner of Venice and La Brea, the host site of what is arguably the best traditional taco truck in LA. The lot is always packed when I drive by, and this night was no exception. Meanwhile, the truck across the street was lonely.

The thing to get at Tacos Leo is the tacos al pastor. They cut the meat from a rotating spit (probably more popular in correlation with gyros and shawarmas). There’s a whole pineapple spiked on top of the spit, from which a small piece is sliced along with generous portions of the meat onto small corn tortillas – very traditional al pastor. The meat itself had a red-ish outside hue, not too different from Chinese char-siu. It was good by itself, but even better with the assorted salsas and condiments from the self-serve bar next to the truck (go for the guacamole sauce). Very nice.

As is the case with a place like Fab Hot Dogs, I’m not sure if I’d go too far out of my way for this. But if you’re hungry and headed home from SGV or wherever on the 10W, I strongly advise you to exit at La Brea and pay Tacos Leo a visit. You won’t regret experiencing a slice of LA life, courtesy of the delicious slices of al pastor. Oh, and it’s $1 per taco. I didn’t stutter…

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Chris Hei grade: B+

Tacos Leo
Corner of La Brea Blvd & Venice Blvd

Tacos Leo on Urbanspoon

The Grilled Cheese Truck

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Wasn’t a big fan of this place in the past. Grilled cheese sandwiches marked up and served out of a truck? Recipe for disaster. But the Grilled Cheese Truck continues to be one of the most acclaimed and popular food trucks in the city. So when it came by my work a few weeks ago, I gave it another shot (despite the long line). Ordered their signature Cheesy Mac and Rib grilled cheese sandwich, which has mac and cheese with sharp cheddar, BBQ pork, and caramelized onions. Unlike many other trucks that serve stuff you can easily make at home, at least it seems like a lot of care went into the sandwiches here, despite their simple appearance. Bread well-grilled, mac and cheese authentically cheesy, BBQ pork cooked pretty well, and caramelized onions soft and sweet – all of these complementary components going into a heavy and hearty sandwich. Nothing amazing really, but satisfying to the simple boy in me.

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Chris Hei grade: B

The Grilled Cheese Truck
Twitter: @grlldcheesetruk

Grilled Cheese Truck on Urbanspoon