Long Beach may be lacking in the 24-hour taqueria department (you win this time, Taqueria De Anda!), but it more than makes up for it with a slew of daytime-dwelling taco stands that cook up some of the best quick-n-dirty asada, pollo and pastor around.
Taqueria La Mexicana is LBC's hometown taqueria chain, with five locations scattered throughout various area neighborhoods and a sixth one on the way in nearby Hawaiian Gardens. Though all of them provide typical Mexican items with the standard ordering-window-with-outdoor-seating setup, only Taqueria La Mexicana #5 simultaneously serves tacos, burritos and sopes along with an entirely separate menu of burgers and teriyaki dishes.
Not sure why “Numero Cinco” (as locals call it) on the corner of Carson and Cherry was chosen as the sole location for the Mexican-owned company's experiment in menu hybridity, but in the land of no Flame Broilers that is Long Beach, it was tempting enough to eschew my local La Mexicana (“Numero Dos”) to make the drive north for some tacos and teriyaki, that formerly Japanese-American dish now wholly claimed by Mexis.
After scanning the supplementary menu on the other side of the ordering window–which includes various Yoshinoya-style plates and a burger with fries inside of it called “The Chubby”–I ordered a chicken teriyaki bowl with veggies, a few carne asada tacos and a Styrofoam bucket of jamaica.
The teriyaki bowls are definitely Mexican-style, with an emphasis on the mound of well-seasoned not-taco meat that is placed atop a foundation of helpless carbs. Somewhere in the mix of bite-sized chicken cuts were broccoli florets, zucchini, carrots and cabbage, but the generous meat portions (and student-friendly prices!) seemed to flip the Flame Broiler's cost-efficiency proportions on its head.
Helping the bowl's flavors were the sides of homemade teriyaki and “Sriracha” sauces (“Kinda like our salsa roja, but more like the ones in the Chinese restaurants,” the girl at the register said), which were quickly slathered over all of the bowl's contents.
I also did something that no other teriyaki-serving establishment has ever allowed me to do before–I ate my favorite tacos. I ate all the little crispy pieces of spiced carne asada. I ate the chewier cuts mixed with all the con todo I could handle. I loaded those tacos up with so much salsa roja that by the time I finished the self-inflicted teriyaki combo meal, I forgot that half of the spice in my mouth was leftover from the ramekin of faux Sriracha I had just inhaled.
And as I made the drive back down Cherry–eagerly waiting for that moment crossing over the 405 where the offshore breeze drops the temperature 10 degrees–I felt the onslaught of a cross-cultural food coma and thought: good thing I didn't order my favorite burrito, too.
Taqueria La Mexicana #5, 1901 E. Carson St., Long Beach, (562) 989-9210.
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.