Dueling Dishes: Long Beach Taco Showdown

Categories: Dueling Dishes
Just a few blocks east of Long Beach's hip, vintage store-driven Retro Row, Taquería la Mexicana sits on the corner of 4th Street and Coronado, a small window for orders, a covered outdoor seating area--all strangely tacked on to one of the small Craftsman bungalows that are scattered throughout the neighborhood. The blocky add-on does some brisk business, with parking at a premium during lunch hours, serving up tacos, burritos and a variety of other taco stand standards that have garnered praise from the editor of our sister blog--LA Weekly's Squid Ink--Amy Scattergood, and nearly 200 reviewers on Yelp, who give it an average of 4.5 stars. But is it the best in the LBC?

Willy Blackmore
For this episode of dueling dishes, we're matching up Taquería la Mexicana with the El Taco Loco #3, another highly regarded Long Beach Mexican place, for a battle of tacos. With both spots offering an impressive array of pig and cow parts--from cabeza and seso to tripas and buche--standards were in order to make for a fair duel, so the somewhat pedestrian if not consistent crowd pleasers carne asada and carnitas were chosen as the bellwether tacos. But we may have sampled a few others--only for purely scientific, research-related purposes.

The double corn tortilla-wrapped tacos at Taquería la Mexicana con todo came doused with a pleasantly fiery tomatillo-based salsa, along with the requisite diced white onion and a casual scattering of cilantro. The asada had a good bit of char on it, giving the cubed beef nearly burnt edges, resulting in a deep and satisfying steak flavor, even if the extra bit of time on the flattop rendered the bits of meat slightly dry. Carnitas were of the shredded variety, more braise-like in texture than the tender/crunchy contrast found in the most expertly prepared versions. But the pork flavor ran deep through the pulled strands, the salsa running through to add some needed moisture to the somewhat dry filling.

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Willy Blackmore
Taquería la Mexicana
Taquería's best showing came in the form of one of their more unique menu items: a chile verde taco filled with small, tender chunks of pork swimming in their tomatillo-based braising liquid, its flavor similar to that of their salsa verde, but more subdued thanks to a long simmering and an infusion of pork flavor. With a hit of the more assertive salsa and a squeeze of lime, these exceedingly wet tacos are a must-try.

Open 24-hours a day and boasting a sprawling menu that runs from fresh squeezed fruit and vegetable jugos to breakfast to seafood to tacos, El Taco Loco #3 could keep you eating for months if not years if you were driven to try everything on the menu. But know that you won't be short changed on your dining experience if you just stick to tacos: quite simply, they are fantastic.

Even if the carne asada is more uniformly gray rather than well-browned, but with freshly made tortillas wrapped around it, small missteps are easily forgiven. Each tortilla starts as a ball of raw masa pinched off of a giant mass, deftly pressed flat and fried up on a comal, small black blisters of char crisping bits of each side. Compared to the commercially produced disks found at Taquería la Mexicana, these thicker, more pliable, more flavorful tortillas are promising foundations for any filling they might have stuffed into them.

Willy Blackmore
Each taco--the aforementioned grey asada, the crisp-edged carnitas--comes wrapped in a square of deli paper, the small tubes stacked into pyramids on paper plates, quartered radishes and a tangle of pickled onions and jalapenos tossed on the side. Bottles of Tapatio--and a paper towel dispenser--can be found at every table, which additional onion, limes and an orange-red salsa whose heat (see all of those chili seeds?) is balanced by a unique nutty flavor. Your tacos want this salsa on them, so please do comply.

Willy Blackmore
El Taco Loco #3
Willy Blackmore
El Taco Loco #3
The winner is clear in this round of dueling dishes and we feel its safe to say, with conviction, that El Taco Loco #3 makes the best tacos in Long Beach. Beg to differ? Offer up a challenger in the comments.

Taqueria la Mexicana: 3270 E. 4th St., Long Beach; (562) 433-6389

El Taco Loco #3: 1465 Magnolia Ave, Long Beach; (562) 437-6228

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