99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Food Trucks

Kogi BBQ Truck

photo by Anne Fishbein

Consider the Korean taco: Who would have thought an idea so seemingly misguided would launch a culinary empire? Yet that’s what it did for Roy Choi, who is currently enjoying the spoils of celebrity chefdom: a bestselling book and book tour, multiple restaurants, the platform to give MAD Symposium talks about the culinary community’s responsibility on issues of hunger. With seven projects sprinkled throughout the city, Kogi BBQ Truck is the place you can still taste that original stroke of foolhardy genius, of a Korean short rib taco, or a hot dog covered in kimchi and shredded romaine and drizzled with Sriracha. It’s a humble food truck that’s turned out to to be the best PR ever for the underpinnings of what make Los Angeles great, foodwise: cultural diversity, lack of establishment rules about what constitutes a restaurant, and the talent and fortitude of our chefs.

-- Besha Rodell

Mariscos Jalisco

photo by Anne Fishbein

Anyone who has made a habit of driving down Olympic to East Los Angeles for the fantastic taco dorado de caramon (fried shrimp taco) at Mariscos Jalisco surely has spent some time channeling their inner Sherlock to figure out what, exactly, makes it so addicting. While there are some potential suspects — the creamy filling studded with fresh, plump shrimp; the way the filling is folded into a tortilla and then fried wholesale in hot, clean oil, pulled out at just the right time to char the edges and give the taco a most satisfying crunch; the salsa and slices of avocado that top everything off — there is likely something far more intangible at work here. There’s owner Raul Ortega greeting every customer, many of whom have been coming to the truck since it opened a little more than a decade ago. There’s the adrenaline vibrating from the bustle of Olympic. And there’s the kinetic energy of everyone in line, waiting for that one perfect taco. Elementary, after all.

-- Tien Nguyen

Ricky’s Fish Tacos

photo by Danny Liao

If you’ve spent any time eating so-called street food in Los Angeles, you know that chef Ricky Piña almost certainly has the best fish tacos in town. You probably also know that his Ricky’s Fish Tacos serves Baja-style fish and shrimp tacos, and not much else — not that you need him to, since one (or two or three) of each on a paper plate in our permanent summer is about all you need in this world. What you almost certainly don’t know: when and where to find Ricky and his tacos, since time and space and permits are variables less exacting than his awesome tacos. Piña has moved from a stand in a parking lot on Virgil to one in Chinatown, then to an actual, eagerly awaited food truck, which he parked back at his original location, just for fun. You’ll need to check his Twitter feed and SigAlert for the rest of it, but wherever and whenever you find them, Piña’s tacos are worth whatever it takes to get them. In a parking lot. Outside a truck. Really, wherever.

-- Amy Scattergood

Tacos Leo

photo by Noah Galuten

Tacos Leo is a sunset-orange truck parked in the lot of a 76 gas station at the corner of Olympic and La Brea, a truck that not too long ago introduced quite a few people to the wonder that is the al pastor taco. Not just any al pastor taco, mind you, but this one in particular: A taquero shaves thin slices of the marinated pork off a tornado-shaped trompo and flicks them on top of hot tortillas — it’s all in the wrist, he might tell you — along with a chunk of pineapple. You’ll order as many tacos al pastor as you have dollars, and when you pick up your order, you might briefly consider the options at the generous salsa bar nearby. Really, though, these tacos are best as is, unadorned, undiluted. Two or three bites of juicy meat sluiced with bits of pineapple later, you’ll finish one taco; a few more minutes, and you’ll finish them all. Then get back in line for more.

-- Tien Nguyen