99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Colonia Taco Lounge

photo by Anne Fishbein

At Colonia Taco Lounge, Ricardo Diaz of Guisados fame brings together two factions that have long been destined to share an intimate relationship: very good tacos and very good beer. Located on a somewhat desolate stretch of Valley Boulevard in La Puente, Colonia is brightly designed and feels almost upscale once you’re inside. Order from the blackboard menu on the wall, then sit and wait for your tacos to arrive. The guisados, or stewed meats, are just as warming and hearty as you might imagine if you’ve ever worshipped at the temple of Diaz’s landmark restaurants, but there are a few completely original surprises here. The cauliflower taco takes the award for best vegetarian taco in town, with fried cauliflower florets that pop like shrimp. Then there’s the actual shrimp taco: Served on an outstanding warm flour tortilla from Mexicali, the shrimp, sautéed in aji, burst with freshness. What sets this taco apart is the base of creamy, coconut rice smeared between the tortilla and the shrimp. The rice is so comforting, so sweet, so full of flavor, it makes for a taco that engages you both emotionally and physically. That alone is worth the drive to La Puente.

-- Besha Rodell