Mexicali Taco & Co.
702 N. Figueroa St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 2/7/12
I first heard about Mexicali in the early part of last year, when LA Taco was hosting a popular vote for best taco in Los Angeles. They ended up winning that competition, and I made my first visit to the taco stand (located in a parking lot at 1st & Beaudry downtown) shortly thereafter. I immediately became a convert and cursed myself for not hearing about them earlier, given I lived just a couple of blocks away.
My weekly trips (sometimes more, sometimes less) became part of a routine until, all of the sudden, the operator of the parking lot decided to end their partnership. It was a most inopportune time given their burgeoning popularity, but just a few months later it has led to this: the brick & mortar location of Mexicali Taco is set to open, a couple blocks from their original setup. What’s in store? Regular hours (lunch service!), less smoke, and the same grub many in the city have been craving during their hiatus.
The grand opening is set for Feb. 15th, but I stopped by during a soft opening for friends & family. The new restaurant is clearly a stark contrast from the old parking lot with bright lighting and ample seating. An open kitchen allows generous views of the action to anyone walking by.
The menu is pretty similar to before with a few additions. Prices are nominally higher, no doubt to help cover the cost of rent and overhead.
Like the old parking lot setup, a variety of salsas and other toppings are on-hand to allow customization of the tacos.
A few drink offerings were available too, including a pretty nice horchata (and a barley version).
In our group, cachetadas were a popular choice. The tortillas were grilled until very crisp, having the texture of a large nacho. They were then topped with a choice of meat, cheese and a chipotle aioli.
Chorizo and chicken cachetadas
Carne asada cachetada
A new option is to top any item with a fried egg, ranchero style. What a nice touch. The texture of the tortilla was the difference-maker, being extremely crispy, while the meat, cheese and spicy aioli made for some tasty bites.
A couple of new items were the Cantonese-Baja style peppers and nachos. I shied away from the potentially spicy pepper but did go for nachos, topped with a choice of meat, cheese and a salsa with peppers. Probably the easiest dish for sharing and pretty well done.
Cantonese-Baja style peppers
Perhaps the simplest of items and also one of the ones that put Mexicali on the map – the carne asada taco features a choice of corn or flour tortilla (the flour tortilla is brought in from Mexico) topped with chopped up steak. That’s it. The salsa/topping bar offers a host of options to customize the taco to individual liking.
Carne asada taco
My favorite item happens to be the vampiro, a chicken vampiro to be specific. It looks like a quesadilla on the outside; when opened up it reveals melted cheese, garlic sauce, and a wonderfully smoke-imbued chicken. So delicious.
For dessert, there was a special appearance by The Churro Borough – I hadn’t seen these guys since Baja Night 3.0.
Five flavors of ice cream/custard were available, sandwiched between two warm, flat churros.
These babies were as good as they looked. Delicious. The textural contrast was something else, with the rich creaminess countered by the light, flaky dough. Great balance of flavors too, with the cinnamon-sugar of the churro being a good accompaniment; not overly sweet at all. Why haven’t I seen this elsewhere? So good.
Congratulations to the whole Mexicali team. The food was exactly what I remembered; comforting, full of flavor and ultimately very satisfying. The Churro Borough is not a permanent fixture here, but I hear it will pop up on occasion. If so, it can’t be missed.
Mexicali Taco is a great addition to the downtown area, and I’m hoping to make it part of my lunchtime rotation too. I expect the place to quickly be a popular destination downtown, particularly for the late-night fix (open until midnight Fri-Sat). Selfishly, I just hope it’s not too popular – I hate waiting for my chicken vampiro.
The Mexicali partners: Esdras, Javier and Paul.
Note: All food and drink were hosted.