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.
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.
El Taco Loco #3, 1465 Magnolia Ave., Long Beach, (562) 437-6228.