Friday, August 5, 2011

Must Eat Los Angeles: Addcitive Mexican Food at Tito's Tacos - Food At Your Fingertips

Tito's Tacos
11222 Washington Pl
Culver City, CA 90230
(cross st. Sepulveda)

Cheap, delicious Mexican fast food. Busy almost any time of day or night.

When I first took my wife to meet my family in Los Angeles (her first time in California ever...for the record, everyone I have shown around Los Angeles likes it...) I explained there were certain things I just HAD to do, certain places I HAD to eat. Among them was an early trip to Tito's Tacos. This is a place that is on the way from the airport if you are heading into the bulk of the city, so it was high the list for first stop off the plane. She seemed a bit unclear why a stop at a random taco stand was a MUST for visiting Los Angeles, but she took my word for it.

The second time she visited Los Angeles, I hadn't even mentioned what we should or shouldn't do. Our goal was organizing our wedding and all other considerations were pushed aside in my mind. As we got to our rental car and started the engines, Joy turned to me and said, "Tito's Tacos, right?" It had become HER first MUST do in Los Angeles. All it had taken was that first introduction and she was as hooked as I had been from years of addiction.

You won't find it Zagat's...despite my best efforts. I don't know why since so many fast food places are in there, most far, far lower quality. But if you want cheap, fast Mexican, either go to any of a hundred local anonymous stores in East LA...or go to Tito's Tacos in Culver City. If you want the best and most authentic, go to East LA. But if you want addictive and convenient, go to Tito's tacos. It is, in its unassuming way, world famous. Most people I know who have lived and eaten out in LA know and love Tito's. No one would call it the best. They just call it "Tito's" and gobble it down as fast as they can grab it because it is wonderful in its own way. So far I know no one who can resist the pedestrian, peasant charm of Tito's Tacos.

Neither Joy nor I can define just exactly what is so addictive about Tito's Tacos. They are not the best tacos I have had. I think there are places in San Diego that might have those (perhaps that should be a future diary). But they are the only ones that are so addictive that it becomes necessary to consume them in large quantities AT LEAST once when we visit Los Angeles...and they often are the first stop off the plane...and sometimes also the last stop before reboarding. It has been the most constant event of our many trips to my home town.

We are not alone. In Park Slope, Brooklyn, there is a Mexican restaurant clearly founded by California transplants: La Taqueria (now out of business, unfortunately). It, and it's inferior but still surviving companion in the South Slope (Rachel's) are in fact the ONLY NYC Mexican restaurants I have yet found that are acceptable to my California bred tastes. On one mural in La Taqueria they had, in a tiny corner, a food truck with the name "Tito's Tacos," an obvious reference to the California landmark. Eventually, La Taqueria even introduced a taco plate called "Tito's Tacos." This tribute to the original is not the same. It is, if anything, more flavorful and complex, but not quite as addictive. It is not a copy. It is a tribute in tortilla and meat to a California tradition. If I had both in front of me, I might even opt for La Taqueria's tribute, at least at first. But ultimately I could probably come back over and over to the original. It is THAT addictive.

I have visited Tito's Tacos at midnight and still had to stand in a long line. The place is never empty. There is always a crowd. I don't know how any place nearby exists except as overflow from Tito's. If the line is WAY too long, SOME people go to neighboring places. I don't. I wait it out even though I HATE standing in line.

What to buy when you get there? Well, they have good tamales and burritos. The tamales lack quite enough flavor for my taste. The beef burritos are too salty and the bean burritos too bland...but combine them and the beef and been burrito is just right. But, what you REALLY want to get are the...well, TACOS. Get the damned tacos. Forget the guacamole. It's mediocre. The salsa is adequate and goes well with the chips they include in your order. Order them with cheese, even though they charge extra for it and I HATE that. I consider cheese so basic on a taco that it offends me if I have to pay more for it. But if that's how they play at Tito's I just go along and say "with cheese please" and enjoy what I get.

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