Whenever I get asked about where to find the best taco in Long Beach, I genuinely have to think about it. Do I say El Taco Loco because they make their own tortillas and are open 24 hours? Or do I say Taqueria La Mexicana since they are the most accessible, yet with a dollop of guacamole on each, not quite authentic? Or do I say Los Compadres even though they are the most expensive and least likely to afford a taqueria-like experience?
These days, I've taken to telling folks to wait until Tuesday or Friday and going to El Torazo, the shotgun shack of a taco stand permanently parked on the corner of 10th St. and Temple Ave. On those two days only, all of Torazo's five distinct taco types are on extreme sale, costing only $1 each for the little guys and $2 each for the bigger ones.
Making the pitch even easier for taco chasers are the corresponding beer discounts: $1.25 for 12 ounces of draft Coors Light and $4 for 16 oz. of draft Modelo; pitchers of Coors are only $7 if you have some friends.
During lunch on those two days of the week alone, El Torazo's street parking fills up fast with work vehicles, luxury cars and beat up hoopdis as a diverse swath of residents from across Long Beach flock for Torazo's tacos. There are, of course and most importantly, the $1 deal on traditional Mexican tacos: double layered mini corn tortillas, stuffed with juicy trompo meat and topped with onions and cilantro. The al pastor has a reddish tinge and succulent spice quality. The carne asada is various-sized chunks of marinated beef, still dripping with some of its own juices.
Next up for $1 each are the "American-style" tacos, which instead plates shredded meat on a single doughy flour tortilla. The guisado-style chicken or beef, which oozes oily juice at first taco tilt, is topped with shredded orange and white cheese shreds and chopped iceberg lettuce--as whitewashed a taco as I would make at home. Torazo's $1 hard tacos are basically the American tacos (shredded meat and all) dunked in a gurgling vat of frying oil until the tortilla is crunchy and the exposed edges of the meat are browned goodness.
For an extra dollar, Torazo has a few gourmet taco options. Vegetarians can rejoice around their mushroom taco, which--not unlike Cocoreno's version of Mexi mushrooms--come on an even larger corn tortilla with lettuce, tomatoes and chunky guacamole which can overpower the fungi's blackened flavors if you let it. And in the seafood department, Torazo offers grilled or fried shrimp and fish tacos, both of which are served Ensenada style with cabbage, pico de gallo and a sweet mayo.
A recent Tuesday found the living room-sized dining room teeming with a mix of city workers and summer school dropouts. On one end sat a table of out of towners, accompanied by a local who watched with excitement as they brought these manifestations of Taco Tuesday to their lips.
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"I really like Long Beach so far," said one of them, a blonde, college-age girl. "It's totally different than anywhere I've been. Such an interesting mix of people."
I looked down at my own plate--overflowing with different tortillas and various meats, all topped with a range of accoutrements--and realized that never before has an order of tacos so accurately represented the diversity of a city in which they were made.
"How do you like the tacos?" the local asked his visiting friend. "They're the best in town."
El Torazo, 2801 E 10th St., (562) 434-9600