Gastronomy 101, a blog about food and Los Angeles restaurants

THING 6: Tito's Old School Tacos

It's true that there are taco stands galore in Los Angeles. It is almost mystifying to think how any one of them could distinguish themselves. Taco stands are basically made to be a place you go because it's close, it's cheap, and the food is of the type that, even if it's not the best example of its kind, it's also really hard to go badly wrong with a basic taco or burrito.

Tito's basically resembles most taco stands. It has the same basic dishes (taco, burrito, enchilada, tostada) and it's cheap. But there's something about these tacos that makes you want them even if you're not nearby. I have driven from Koreatown to West Los Angeles at lunchtime for these tacos and it is a miracle if you can get me to go somewhere that's out of walking distance.

A modern foodie would probably be mystified. There's nothing immediately special about the food at Tito's. It's far from authentic, it's not healthy, nor is it fused with any other international cuisine. It's just Americanized Mexican at cheap prices eaten in an ugly dining room (or preferably outside if it's nice weather) after waiting in a long line to have your order taken by a weather-beaten old woman or a bored teenager. So what is the magic?

My guess is that it is in the super crunchy tacos. The tacos are so crunchy and crisp and greasy that they kind of hurt your teeth when you bite into them. Your teeth recoil from the combination of crunch and fat that they know are not good for them and yet it's a deadly combination. The hard shell combined with the beef slow-cooked until it's soft and tender makes a satisfying texture combination, while the fat provides the flavor since these tacos are anything but spicy. And for me of course, it's also the cheese. Shredded cheddar cheese is mounded on the top to slowly melt from the heat that radiates through the protective layer of lettuce.

There is just something unique about this place that is definitive of the best part of Los Angeles - these places littered about here and there that seem like no other place in the world in some quirky or old-fashioned or just plain bizarre way. Tito's opened in 1959 and I doubt it's changed much since then. Certainly its design aesthetic is a relic of that Mad Men-era and even the mot high tech thing in the room - the video game machines are hilariously obsolete. A round of X-Men vs. Street Fighter, anyone? I'm pretty sure I could take Wolverine with Chun Li's Lightning Kick.

I should probably mention that tacos are only $1.70 without cheese and $2.20 with cheese. Depending on where you're coming from, you might pay more in gas than for your food.

So, Tito's might not be a place I'd show off to a visitor from afar but even so, I would say that a great deal of its charm is that it feels so definitive of Los Angeles, and having places like this - that you know are always going to be there, and will always be the same - that's one of the things that make a place feel like home, and I think that might be the magic, right there.

I can't really end this post without mentioning their amazing theme song. It's possible that THIS is the real magic, and that we're all being brainwashed in some fashion by the theme song, which commands everyone to love Tito's. In fact, I suspect this might be their terrible secret, as I can find no discernible method for turning off the theme song at the Tito's Tacos website.


Creative Commons license The content on Gastronomy 101 may be reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.