A few months ago, I decided to go on a hunt for handmade tortillas in Long Beach, which in a moment of Google-induced stress, I was afraid did not exist. But after asking some hood-dwelling friends and Mexis in-the-knows, I was pleased to find that there are, in fact, two places in town that make their own tortillas.
One of them is El Taco Loco #3, the city's only advertised 24-hour taqueria and coincidentally, a place I had been to multiple times before--albeit at hours of the night when traveling to its harsh neighborhood is best done in large groups and tacos are more whiskey-sponges than culinary artifacts.
I recently decided to try out El Taco Loco's homemade tortillas in a proper fashion and so for the first time ever, I hit up the popular taqueria sober and during daylight hours.
Surprisingly, the place itself is not much different at noon than it is at midnight. Spanish-speakers of all generations and estado origins line up at the register, grab their aguas frescas from the adjoining counter and take a seat in one of two huge dining rooms. The interior is typical Spanish fantasy heritage mixed with rancho nostalgia: walls are covered in detailed murals of pastoral puebla life--a reminder of most diners' homeland--while the menu boasts served-all-week menudo. Telenovelas blare from flat screen TVs that hang from the ceiling.
On each table is another contemporary American amenity--the combination paper towel and Tapatío-bottle holder. The Tapatío fits upright into a small circular cutout on a small slab of light-colored wood; the paper towels go over a vertically placed stick, sometimes enveloping the hot sauce with is loose, end sheets. I like to imagine an old caballero-looking guy whittling more than 20 of these contraptions specifically for El Taco Loco, but that's probably too romantic of a thought.
I must have been staring at the paper-towel-and-Tapatio holder on my table for too long because the cashier kindly brought my food to me--two carne asada tacos and two al pastor tacos.
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Though the fillings were very much of the "con todo, por favor" variety, the taqueria's signature tortillas made the tacos more than an average $1.25 handheld. Because they are handmade, the tortillas are much larger and thicker than mass-produced ones. Plus, they have a great, toasted corn flavor that almost makes them more interesting to nibble on with just some salsa roja.
Even when they're not soaking up Jack 'n' Cokes, El Taco Loco #3's corn tortillas are a Long Beach must-have. I guess you could get them at any of the other regular-hours El Taco Locos scattered throughout the harbor cities, but something always tastes better when the grill is on full time.