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This Hole-in-the-Wall Life

Paradise in a Taco Truck: Tacos el Charito

Whenever people ask me to describe the best meal of my life, I rave not about the high-end restaurants of South County, one-dollar Vietnamese subs, or even my mother's cooking. I tell them about an East Los Angeles taco truck that sold two tacos for a buck and offered free horchata. I visited just once—I was 13, and my cousins and I had ducked out of a boring quinceañera—but the memory remains vivid. I still remember the soft tacos, the sweet horchata, the ridiculous bargain, the line that wrapped around the truck at three in the morning: foodie heaven. Between the moonlight glancing off the taco truck and the powerful halogen lights, everything really was illuminated.

That magical taco truck is no longer there, and I've vainly searched for a similar deal. A couple of weeks ago, one of my regular tipsters mentioned a taco truck in Huntington Beach that featured two tacos for a buck and free drinks. And so I drove to the Slater Slums, Surf City's longtime barrio, where Tacos el Charito parks daily in a street bisecting factories and apartments. It was around lunchtime, and people stood against a brick wall, sat in their cars or perched on the street curb. Everyone was happily chewing tacos.

I waited in the long line and read the menu. Tacos el Charito offers other simple Mexican meals—carne asada hamburgers, tortas and burritos of meats ranging from ham to intestine to delicate beef cheeks.

But painted on every side of the truck was "2x1 tacos"—the deal I'd sought for 15 years.

A man with a walrus mustache poked his head out of the truck's window.

"What do you want, compa?" he asked.

Two carne asada tacos, two al pastor tacos.

"¡Dos de al pastor, y dos de carne asada!"he yelled to an unseen cook.

I asked if drinks were free.

"Only pineapple juice," he replied, as he ladled the juice into a plastic cup.

About a minute later, the tacos came, each small enough to eat in three bites. Not a problem: the carne asada was juicy, the al pastor spicy and each meat topped with a thick, gorgeous salsa. Crispy radishes and pickled carrots came on the side, along with a massive pickled jalapeño. Thank God, then, for the comforting pineapple juice.

The East LA taco truck will always be parked in a corner of my heart, but Tacos El Charito is my new paradise in a taco truck.

TACOS EL CHARITO, ON MORGAN STREET BETWEEN SLATER AND SPEER AVENUES, HUNTINGTON BEACH. NO PHONE NUMBER.

 
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