We’re all reading the great articles put out by LA Taco, right? These are the upstanding people who cover all things taco in Los Angeles. They created Taco Madness, too, and they don’t just cover tacos: they’ll tell you about the best breakfast burritos, cemitas, ceviches, coffee … and beyond that, they cover some of the darker problems in the city, both those that impact the lives of LA’s badass taqueros but also larger issues of police and government abuse both systemic and otherwise, and many things in between.
A very recent LA Taco article, one of their common neighborhood food guides, introduced readers to the great taquerias of La Puente. The little we know about La Puente is taco-centric: for a few glorious years, a place called Colonia Taco Lounge existed … and it was literally the best taqueria we’ve even been to: inventive and authentic tacos, high end and not, a wide range of recipes, amazing cocktails (oh, pepino vago) … it was fun while it lasted. Its great chef Ricardo Diaz still has excellent restaurants in Whittier, but they just aren’t the same. (Oh, we miss you, fried cauliflower taco. And you, chicken tesmole. And you, duck carnitas, and lamb barbacoa, and shrimp in coconut rice … on and on and on).
Since we’re fairly clueless about La Puente and its tacos, we thought we’d try a few places from the article–not in a single afternoon, to be clear. Here’s our recap–starting from solid on up to the spectacular.
El Super Pepe/Birria Super Pepe, 1545 N. Hacienda Blvd
This is a fun Wile E. Coyote/Roadrunner-decorated food truck parked in front of an Aldi. Our go-to order at birria places is the quesabirria taco, so we got a couple of those and also a couple dorado tacos. Here’s a strange new one for us: the tacos came with little salt packs. And … they needed the salt. These looked good enough but the birria didn’t have that spicy complexity we appreciate most about it, the thing that sets it apart from so many other taco fillings. These were fine, to be clear, just not at the same level as our more locally-favored (and recently rebranded) TijuaBirria, which really might be the best beef birria we’ve had.
Baja Urban, 762 Glendora Ave
Baja Urban just seems cool. Nice decor. We ran right outside, as we were the only afternoon customers and the Weeknd (clothed?) was screaming about probably cocaine through the speakers. The server was great–she made recommendations, didn’t blink when we said we weren’t too hungry, took our orders, came back with some fairly sad chips and a much sadder salsa, and we were a little bummed. Then traffic picked up–more people came–and we felt a little more reassured. Our tacos came out, too, and they were utterly gorgeous.
We even ordered this monstrosity.
There’s probably a reason you’ve never heard of (let alone tried to eat) a taco ahogada. L.O.fing.L. This was literally a hot mess. We’ll henceforth leave the drunken foods to breads and/or flour tortillas. While the fish and shrimp tacos do both look great, the batter came on a bit strong (as did the slaw/salsa combination), so the fish/shrimp flavors were disappointingly muted. (We will note that we asked for alternative salsas to that which came out with the chips, and the server — scrambling by this point but doing great — brought us three: a very tomatillo-gloopy green salsa, a thin and heat-forward quite good hot sauce, and a pretty amazing habanero sauce: full flavored, fruity, plenty of back end burn.) That green cilantro-laden delicate morsels of puerco chile verde taco is one we’d definitely eat again without complaint.
We also tried a couple places a little further east. Here’s another nice thing about La Puente: it’s so easy to get there on fun surface streets and so to avoid the 10. You can take Valley. You can take Valley’s doppleganger Temple. You can probably take Amar. You can take Asuza. If you take Temple/Amar, you get to wind through both Cal Poly Pomona (a lovely campus to drive through) and Mt. SAC, with its hidden buried football stadium, animal sanctuary, and planterarium. (But–whither John Brantingham?)
Birrieria La Suprema, 437 S. Azusa Ave
Look at the decor at this place! It’s the brightest … the most ostentatious Aztec warriors-holding-the-woman velvet paintings we’ve seen. We stupidly got our food, the recommended birria (chivo, or goat) burrito, to go. We ate the burrito in a local park (we had food from the next stop, too, and didn’t want to be rude).
This burrito is ridiculous. It is huge. It is so, so savory.
It consists of three simple things: excellent frijoles (not entirely mashed, salty, fatty, plenty of flavor) plus stewed goat (savory, rich, tender)wrapped in a we’re pretty sure restaurant-made flour tortilla, chewy and dense and salty. This burrito is amazing. We suspect their simple bean and cheese burrito is a winner, too–next time we’ll get that and a birria platter (or birria tacos). Highly recommended.
which brings us to Taqueria La Princesa, 17349 Valley Blvd …
…and it is even more highly recommended. Move over Tacos La Central: this is our new favorite taco place that doesn’t regularly appear on the LA Times Top 101. We ordered four tacos (cabeza, al pastor, carne asada, pollo) and a chicken tinga quesadilla (quesadilla tortilla is hand-made to order).
The tinga was excellent: nicely stewed, tomato-rich, slickened with soft tendrils of onion, the tortilla maybe a little on the thick side but better for being hahaha bespoke. Neither of us knows cabeza well enough to have much to say other than it was soft, flavorful, and savory. The pollo taco–grilled chicken vs the tinga–was excellently smoky and still nicely chickeny. The al pastor and the asada were the stars, as they often are: the asada was impressively spiced, very peppery with a slight crispiness that gave way to a yielding chew, and the al pastor was bright, fruity, savory, spicy … all things a good pastor should be.
Best of all: the two hot sauces. Reviewers seem to prefer the red hot sauce, and it is fantastic, slightly creamy, veryvery spicy, and smoky, all done in way that balances and complements the food. We liked the green even more: a little more runny than the red, very nicely spiced chlorophyl that acidically and spicily brightened all the foods (did we combine the hot sauces? Absolutely).
Yeah, we’ll be going back to La Puente. We will get there in ways that make Google Maps yell at us, ways that are more fun than convenient. And we’ll be eating delicious tacos, maybe in a park, maybe not, and feeling happier and fuller for it.