The Race for the Best Tacos at LA Weekly’s Tacolandia

It’s true. It’s all true about tacos. For those of us living in Southern California, the one food item that brings a diverse group of people together is the taco. Whether it is good, bad, mediocre, edgy, gourmet, Asian-fused, kosher, Hipster, or made from a makeshift hot plate on an old shopping cart, the revered taco is an all-time favorite food of everyone and LA Weekly’s Tacolandia food event in downtown Los Angeles was THE place to race for the best. 

My journey started early, about an hour and half early, to be one of the first in line to beat the crowds to the 60+ restaurant vendors. I had starved myself all morning and even skipped the morning coffee ritual to make room for tacos; a small feat that one must do to thoroughly enjoy a food festival.

When the gates finally opened, it really became marathon race to find tacos. What was of no help was the LA Weekly Tacolandia pocket-guide with map inside. The fine print made it difficult to read the map. However, if you followed Instagram feeds of your favorite restaurant, you’d already know that they were at Tacolandia.

Everyone had their favorite places to eat. Two Hipster dudes standing behind me talked feverishly about their favorite, Guerrilla Tacos; a Los Angeles based gourmet food truck helmed by Chef Westley Avila.  The couple standing in front of me were bold by not having any agenda other than the “see and eat” plan. I, on the other hand, decided to follow my plan from last year, which is to drop by each of the taco stands and restaurants from the Baja California, Mexico area. If you don’t already know, the past seven years or so has been a steady climb in the culinary revolution in Mexico and this sort of thing fascinates me. The following is just a snippet of what I ate at Tacolandia

The first stop, La Guerrerense, a popular Ensenada, Mexico-based tostada stand and salsa purveyor. I found out about Senora Sabina Bandera (standing on the left of the photo) and her fresh seafood Ceviche Tostadas through friends who had visited her street food stand years earlier on a Taco Tour throughout the Baja California area of Mexico.  Senora Sabina Bandera is well-known for making the best ceviche in Ensenada particularly the well-loved Clam and Sea Urchin Ceviche Tostada. 

She is legend among locals, food bloggers, food publications, and admired by TV personality Anthony Bourdain who featured her on his No Reservation Travel Channel show featuring cuisine in Baja California, Mexico. 

At Tacolandia,  La Guerrerense served a crunchy tostada layered with a bed of a mixed seafood ceviche and topped with a scallop ceviche. More layers of flavors were added with some chile sauce, lime, and the spiciest signature salsa that didn’t scare me. Oh, it was delicious! 

The next stop was Corazon De Tierra, a restaurant also in Ensenada, Mexico. This restaurant was named among the 2014 Top 50 Best Restaurants in Latin America. It’s also featured in the Baja Penninsula Travel Guide of Travel & Leisure Magazine. Chef/Owner Diego Hernandez is one of many chefs setting the standards for the culinary revolution in Baja California area.

Manzanilla is another restaurant contributing to the upward gastronomical scene in Baja California. Mexican Chefs Benito Molina and Solange Munis relinquished a culinary career in the United States to settle in Ensenada, Mexico where they opened Manzanilla focusing on a fusion of Mexican and Mediterranean cooking from a wood fired oven.

This restaurant is also among the 2014 Best 50 Restaurants in Latin America.

Tacos Kokopelli from Tijuana, Mexico was the most intriguing of all the Baja Mexico food vendors at Tacolandia. I have this thing for renegades, outliers, and mavericks in the food world; and Tacos Kokopelli is a Mexican taco stand and a restaurant that fits the bill. They are a mystery, but they made some magical tacos.

From what I read on the internet in Spanish, Tacos Kokopelli is made up of friends one of which is culinary trained. They started as a taco stand and eventually opened a restaurant Tijuana. Their tacos as considered “hipster-like” in Tijuana among the locals due to the use of Culinary techniques that goes against the traditions that make up a street taco stand in Mexico. But this what to expect from a younger generation. This group of friends that make up Tacos Kokopelli are like the mavericks of the younger generation with different ideals and a strong desire to upscale Mexican cuisine. For instance, the Kraken; a char-grilled marinaded octopus taco. You just don’t see a work of art like this taco from a taco stand or a restaurant here in Los Angeles.  

Don’t laugh, but after three hours of eating my way through LA Weekly’s Tacolandia, I lost my appetite to eat another taco. I would have loved to have a taco from the LA favorites that I frequent i.e. Kogi’s BBQ, Mariscos Jaliscos, and Ricky’s Fish Tacos. Even a nice, cold alcoholic drink could not tempt me after eating a ton of tacos and baring the long lines to get them. 

LA Weekly’s Tacolandia is a Taco Festival that is worth checking out and racing for the best tacos under one roof. Next year’s festival will probably be sold out quickly, so when tickets are announced; don’t walk, but run fast to order them online.