One of the dirty secrets of eating in Long Beach is that good, quick Mexican food is really hard to find. And when it comes to authentic tacos, you can count the places on one hand.
This all might seem odd since the city is now over 40 percent Latino, but with a health department that has fostered a not-so-friendly attitude toward street food, the city isn’t exactly begging for the sort of illicit planchas on which L.A.’s taco culture thrives.
There are no trompos spinning dripping, reddish al pastor, no wooden chopping blocks where a machete-wielding abuela hacks away at juicy cooked meat and definitely no Mexican food trucks roving the city ready to make burritos, sopes and tacos at will (okay, there’s one but we’re not going to bust it yet). Only two places in the whole city currently make their own tortillas for chrissake – three if you count Playa Amor’s new modern Mexican version and four if you are generous enough to not call Padre’s heavy flour ones pita bread.
All this is to say that under these harsh conditions, Long Beach’s only outpost of L.A.’s King Taco chain is a paradise.
Billed as the inventor of the taco truck as we now know it, King Taco started slanging tacos out of a converted ice cream truck in the 1970s. A restaurant near downtown L.A. opened soon after and, 30 locations later – from Bell to Fontana – the company is now ingrained in the massive Mexican-food culture (and stomachs) of the region.
Almost all of us, gabacho or otherwise, have at one point undoubtedly inhaled its tacos after a late-night binge or seared off our taste buds with the sweet, then fiery, salsa roja during a lunch-time judgement lapse. Maybe you’ve even pumped a few quarters into the jukebox, a twinkling CD-filled machine always perched in the corner at every location, just to see what this Vincente Fernandez character sounds like.
King Taco first opened a location in Long Beach nearly 10 years ago, but the setup wasn’t ideal, the asada was too dry and the service was slow. In 2007, they moved up the street to a brand new location (that from the outside looks more like an In-N-Out) and, thank the taco gods, now provides one of the best King Taco experiences in the whole chain.
It’s even okay that they don’t make their own tortillas, and that the meat sits in a steam tray for a while before it gets to you, because they remain the only place in town where you can order a rainbow of reliable tacos and be on your way in 10 minutes or less. Think: juicy, marinated lengua, soft, slow-cooked buche, smooth, fatty suadero, and carnitas dripping with all the right grease. Basics like al pastor, pollo and carne asada are there too – all on a couple of tiny corn discs con todo, just how you dreamed about it.
If tacos aren’t your thing (you heathen), King Taco’s burritos come pura carne, sopes are topped with a satisfying amount of cotija cheese and the pollo rostizado (hard to come by in Long Beach ever since chains like El Gallo Giro and Pollo Campero pulled out of the city) is a cheap meal for multiples, perfect to take back to the office. Don’t forget to put a few quarters in the jukebox on your way out.
King Taco, 1841 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach; (562) 218-9118; kingtaco.com