Author: Hoku Krueger|Kevin Liu
Nothing speaks to Los Angeles food culture like the taco truck. Mobile restaurants that fully comply with California Health and Safety codes, these street vendors dole out everything from tacos to sopes. The Occidental Weekly visited seven trucks in Eagle Rock and Highland Park to discover what makes each truck unique, unearth their origins and sample their chow.
La Estrella, York Boulevard and Avenue 54. Hours: everyday, 11 a.m. – 12 a.m.
La Estrella boasts a tenancy in Highland Park of about 20 years, making it one of the oldest taco trucks in the area, according to Joanna Ramirez, daughter of Taco La Estrella’s owner Gabriel Ramirez.
Mario Ramirez, Joanna’s uncle, founded the first location of La Estrella in Pasadena. Family members have since expanded the business to Eagle Rock, Highland Park and Duarte.
“There’s more than one La Estrella, but if you’ve noticed, they’re all different,” Joanna said. “There’s Tacos La Estrella, there’s Viva Tacos La Estrella.”
Each family member puts a different spin on the name La Estrella, which translates to “the star,” to mark their ownership of a truck. Gabriel owns both the truck on York Boulevard and the one on Colorado Boulevard.
Those who frequent La Estrella return not only for their tacos and burritos, but for their much-loved hot sauce.
“Sometimes [customers] don’t even buy tacos — they just want the hot sauce,” Joanna said.
La Estrella cashiers once sold hot sauce to anyone who had a cup to take it home in, but pricing inconsistencies forced Gabriel to place some restrictions on the delicacy.
“Every cashier gave a different price, so my dad said, ‘You know what, if they want to buy it, you have to approve it by me first,’” Joanna said.
Kevin & Hoku’s pick: The lengua here is a hit and a great introduction to the some of the more “adventurous” meats. Lengua is particularly juicy and can be chewy if prepared improperly, but La Estrella slow-cooks theirs to ensure high quality. Though their meat is seasoned, it does not overpower the marbled taste of lengua. The salsa rojo is also worth requesting, boasting deep flavors and a good amount of kick.
Price: Tacos $1.40 each, Burritos $5.00.
El Pique, York Boulevard and Avenue 53. Hours: everyday 11 a.m. – 3 a.m.
El Pique’s secret is in the salsa; the complex combination of slowly prepared ingredients is what separates this Highland Park truck from others in the area, according to employee Minerva Pinera.
Juan Jimenez owns the truck, which is now reaching its 16th year of operation.
Alongside asada, pollo and el pastor, El Pique serves lengua, cabeza, buche and tripa. Their best seller, however, is their veggie burrito, which features rice, beans, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, avocado and, of course, hot sauce.
Kevin & Hoku’s pick: The tacos here come loaded, topped with salsa rojo or verde, onions, cilantro and the customer’s choice of marinated meat. The asada is saucier and chewier than that served at other trucks, making for a juicier taco overall. The particularly crunchy tortillas come hot off the grill, and the rojo and verde salsas are both fresh and mild.
Prices: Tacos $1.25 each, Burritos $5.00.
Sonia’s Taco Truck, Eagle Rock Boulevard and Yosemite Drive. Hours: M 7:15 p.m. – 1:30 a.m., T closed, W 7:15 p.m. – 1:30 a.m., Th 7:15 p.m. – 2:30 a.m., F 7:15 p.m. – 3:00 a.m., St 7:15 p.m. – 3:00 a.m., Su 7:00 p.m. – 1:30 a.m.
For the past 12 years, Sonia’s Taco Truck has spent its nights parked between Eagle Rock Boulevard and Yosemite Drive. Head Chef Wilson Francia said his wife’s love for cooking tacos inspired him to open the taco truck.
Although Francia’s stepdaughter Erica Torres started officially working as a cashier at Sonia’s only a couple months ago, she has been around the truck her entire life. She said business has slowed since her childhood.
“Before, it used to be a lot of people; there would be a line,” Torres said. “Nowadays, it has calmed down a little bit.”
Torres noted that recent developments in Highland Park have oriented students’ focuses toward York Boulevard rather than Eagle Rock Boulevard.
“Three years ago, there were many Oxy students,” Francis said. “Now they all go to York.”
Regardless, Francis and Torres have not considered changing zip codes.
“We’re welcoming this change,” Torres said. “It doesn’t really matter to us, we’re still making tacos.”
Kevin & Hoku’s pick: The decline in Sonia’s patronage probably has nothing to do with their food — their cabeza and asada tacos are wonderfully prepared. Sonia’s effectively navigated the challenge of cabeza’s unusual consistency, making a delectable cabeza taco. The asada, too, is tender and flavorful. The tacos at Sonia’s come with a touch of guacamole, adding extra flavor to an already well-crafted taco.
Prices: Tacos $1.25 each, Burritos $4.75
Leo’s Tacos, Eagle Rock Boulevard and El Paso Drive Hours: Tu – Th 8 p.m. – 2 a.m., weekends 8 p.m. – 3 a.m., closed M.
Leo’s Tacos is a fixture in the Eagle Rock community and a popular choice among Occidental students. The truck has been serving customers on the corner of Eagle Rock Boulevard and El Paso Drive since 1995, after serving Colorado Boulevard for 15 years.
Leo’s is serious about its food and, as a result, has attracted a wide and loyal customer base. A disclaimer on the Leo’s Tacos website warns customers that they may have to wait a minimum of 30 minutes for their food on weekends.
Owner Leo Torres started out working as a cattle rancher before he moved into the food industry.
“I had one friend, a lady, that worked in a taco truck,” Leo said. “I went inside and said ‘Oh, it’s good.’”
With no prior experience in the food industry, Leo learned all that he knows about food from running his business. Leo’s favorite items on the menu are the pollo tacos and burritos.
Torres said that his truck is “guero” style, meaning that the tacos and burritos include meat, guacamole and cheese. According to Leo’s son, Jairo Torres, the most popular menu item is the all-meat burrito.
Kevin & Hoku’s pick: If one is accustomed to Chipotle burritos, Leo’s burritos may seem small, but they pack in a lot of deliciousness. The all-meat burrito is savory, cheesy and fresh all at once. The meat is on the saltier side, but is balanced well by the guacamole and cilantro.
Prices: Tacos $1.25 each, All-Meat Burrito $6.25.
Rambo’s Tacos, Eagle Rock Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue. Hours: everyday 5 p.m. – 12 a.m.
The ingredients behind its notoriously spicy salsa are not Rambo’s Tacos’ only secrets — the owner also keeps his identity hidden.
“It’s important that you don’t know,” Rambo’s Tacos employee Leo Ramos told The Weekly.
What the Occidental Weekly could confirm, however, is though Rambo’s Tacos shares the block between Lincoln Avenue and El Paso Drive on Eagle Rock Boulevard with Leo’s Tacos, there is no beef between the two neighbors.
“It’s not that there’s competition, it’s that everybody sort of has their own clients,” Ramos said. “Different flavors draw different customers.”
Despite its diplomatic approach, Rambo’s Tacos inevitably draws comparisons to its neighbor. In reality, the two trucks are quite different: Leo’s is “guero” style, while Rambo’s dishes are topped with spicy salsas rather than guacamole. James Wronoski (junior) is a regular at Leo’s but will often head to Rambo’s for something a little less mild.
“Leo’s makes a definitively better burrito, but if you want something spicy with a little more of a kick, go to Rambo’s,” Wronoski said. “People who go to Rambo’s swear by Rambo’s.”
Rambo’s Tacos’ menu features carne asada, al pastor, pollo and carnitas, as well as tripas, lengua and cabeza. Along with tacos and burritos, Rambo’s sells quesadillas and tortas.
Kevin & Hoku’s pick: The carne asada at Rambo’s was leaner than the asada at Leo’s, making for a slightly drier taco without condiments. However, Rambo’s rojo salsa is quite spicy, so caution is advised in ordering salsas at this truck.
Prices: Tacos $1.35 each, Burritos $5.50.
Charlie’s Tacos, York Boulevard and Avenue 50. Hours: Tu – Su 5 p.m. – 2 a.m., closed M.
Charlie’s Tacos may only be a year and three months old, but its youth has not hurt business, according to owner Charlie Cardenas.
Cardenas is no newcomer to the taquero scene. The Highland Park native sold tacos in his driveway on the weekends during his time off from his job as a truck driver. He chose where to park his truck, just outside of York Boulevard’s developing business strip, based on where he lives.
“I live just half a block from here,” Cardenas said. “Not even half a block, maybe 500 feet from here.”
Charlie’s Tacos puts a modern spin on the classic taco truck, featuring a flashing L.E.D. sign and a built-in toppings and condiments bar. Cardenas himself embraces the trends of the new millennium, maintaining a vibrant Instagram account under the username @charliestacos01.
“You’ve got to be updated to be popular,” Cardenas said. “It used to be about Yelp or Facebook. Now it’s about Instagram.”
Aside from the standard fare of tacos and burritos, Charlie’s Tacos offers tortas, quesadillas, nachos mulitas, a carne asada plate and the “Beggie Burrito” for those looking for a vegetarian treat.
Kevin & Hoku’s pick: Charlie’s has a particularly wide variety, making it hard to hone in on this truck’s speciality. The cheese used on the nachos is addictively savory, and the horchata is a good balance of sweet and cinnamon.
Prices: Tacos $1.50 each, Burritos $6.00.
Eagles Tacos, Eagle Rock Boulevard & Glen Iris Avenue in the Arco Iris Mufflers Lot. Hours: M & Tu 4 p.m. – 11 a.m., W & Th 4 p.m. – 12 a.m., F 4 p.m. – 1 a.m., Sa 4 p.m. – 2 a.m., Su closed.
Eagle Rock native Chuy Carillo found his way into the food industry cleaning bathrooms at a local burger joint. Twenty-five years later, he runs his own business, Eagles Tacos, with his two brothers.
Entering its fourth year of business, Eagles Tacos specializes in sopes, mulitas and nachos.
“We don’t buy the chips for the nachos, we deep fry them,” Carrillo said. “We make it fresh, it’s not like the other trucks where they get the chips from the bag and put it in the plate.”
One might call Carrillo a Renaissance man: an owner, cook and hospitable host of the truck. His two sons provide customers with napkins and plates while Carrillo works the kitchen.
“Tacos and burritos you can get from any other places, but those three things [sopes, mulitas, nachos] are exclusively from us,” Carrillo said.
Kevin & Hoku’s pick: The sopes are generous portions of lettuce, cheese, meat, beans and a thick fried tortilla — patrons can expect to start feeling full after eating their first one. The mulitas are cheesy, meaty, fried tortilla sandwiches that allow the full flavor of the meat to dominate the palette. And the nachos are mountains of crumbled cheese, sour cream, onions, cilantro and meat or avocado. The portions are large, but tasty enough to call for seconds. Luckily, patrons do not have to stress over their fork- and knife-sized portions, as Eagles Tacos provides a seating area.
Prices: Tacos $1.25 each, Burritos $4.50, Sopes $3.00, Mulitas $2.00, Nachos $5.75.
From York Boulevard and Avenue 52 to Colorado Boulevard, the taco truck industry thrives. Their iconic metallic exterior, blue-tinted windows and Jarritos bathed in crushed ice are a staple of the Los Angeles food scene.
Each taco truck has its own story, and each story is reflected in the face behind the window, the choices on the menu and most importantly, the fresh food piled on every plate.
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