The secret ingredient in these meaty tacos makes Whittier your next taqueria destination (2024)

Peering over the counter at Tacos La Carreta in Whittier, I watch the cook in front of the comal assemble chorreadas — one of the specialties that defines José Manuel Morales Bernal’s quickly growing enterprise of Sinoloa-style taquerias.

He starts by crisping corn tortillas over the heat and sprinkling on cheese. The defining addition is asiento, a rendered paste made from the remnants of frying chicharrones and sometimes carnitas. Its taste crosses the nutty, caramelized purity of homemade ghee with the unmistakable whomp of pork. The cook dribbles asiento over the melting queso, using the end of a tong to swirl them together, and leaves them for a minute or two. I notice the tortillas’ edges seize into a gentle waving pattern and the asiento begin to bubble over top.

Time for sensational Sinoloa-style tacos

To finish them, the cook takes handfuls of chopped carne asada, cooked over mesquite on the grill next to the comal, and smacks them onto each surface so the meat holds fast to the cheese. Then come layers of finely minced cabbage, chopped onion and a ladle of warm, thin tomato-based salsa. At the condiment bar I add a chunkier fresh salsa and a more-than-healthy splotch of silky guacamole.

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The smoky sirloin, the bite of the raw vegetables, the soprano-alto duet of the salsas and the cooling avocado: They would be enough on their own, a fact proven when a customer orders a vampiro, which is nearly the same assemblage minus the asiento. But the paste that makes the chorreada adds its own intrigue and keeps the gustatory cortex on high, happy alert.

They are specific, exquisite, destination tacos.

And it’s not as if they’re a secret, even if plenty of Angelenos have yet to find their way to Morales’ two locations: the truck he’s operated in Long Island since 2020, and the strip-mall taqueria he opened on Washington Boulevard in Whittier at the beginning of the year.

The secret ingredient in these meaty tacos makes Whittier your next taqueria destination (1)

The view of the ordering counter and open kitchen of Tacos La Carreta in Whittier

(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

Bill Esparza wrote about the first iteration of Tacos La Carreta, a cart operated in Compton by Morales’ father, also named José, who learned to craft chorreadas growing up in a town called El Verde not far from coastal Mazatlán in Sinoloa. The son began helping his father when he was 13, often to pitch in with catering events and when his dad sold tacos from the house. In his 20s, Morales was a driver at a linen company, and he also sometimes delivered for a meat company.

“I knew people used to seek my dad out for our Sinoloa-style tacos, and I thought about it too,” he said in an interview this week. “I used to go into restaurant kitchens for deliveries, and I always used to say, man, am I doing what I want? I was scared to leave the job. But that’s when the pandemic came in.”

As a ripple effect to the decimation across the restaurant industry, the linen company laid off Morales in April 2020, and by late summer he had secured a food truck to work for himself. He parked in the northern cusp of Long Beach, not far from Paramount, the city where he lives and which maintains prohibitive ordinances for food trucks.

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In Los Angeles County, tacos with this measure of quality, precision and regionality tend to find a fast audience. Javier Cabral wrote about the truck for L.A. Taco in early 2022, and the following year Morales snared an award at the publication’s annual Taco Madness event. That’s where I first tried his cooking, which led to Taco La Carreta’s truck landing on the current 101 Best Restaurants in Los Angeles guide.

The menu at Whittier largely mirrors what Morales and his team continue to serve in Long Beach.

Order both a chorreada and a vampiro to appreciate the chorus of textures and the contrasts with and without asiento. The Sinaloan pellizcada is a medium-large round of masa, thicker than the average tortilla but thinner than a sope. Its plushness, dressed like a taco and loaded with carne asada — or delicious chewy-soft tripe, or nubbly, chile-stained adobada, or a combination — arguably calls for a knife and fork. Morales drives to Tijuana weekly to pick up pellizcadas made by a vendor in Mazatlán. The number he needs to order, he said, keeps growing and growing.

The secret ingredient in these meaty tacos makes Whittier your next taqueria destination (2)

Pellizcada, made from a masa base with a consistency between a tortilla and a sope at Tacos La Carreta.

(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

He buys corn tortillas from Diana’s in El Monte and purchases his flour tortillas from La Chapalita Tortilleria in South El Monte; he tried many products from many companies and says these taste most like home to him. Their finest use: for toritos, flour tortillas enfolding a roasted Anaheim chile that’s split to cradle cheese and one of the aforementioned three meats. What’s that porky-buttery-pecan-rich pheromone among the cabbage and salsa? Yes, a little asiento.

One always worries when a chef who’s creating something special rushes to expand, but there is no missing the surge of ambition in Morales’s voice. He mentioned that, though he admittedly finds it easier to work inside the taqueria than in a mobile kitchen, he’s recently secured a second food truck for a third location. He’s stressing about which area of the metro area to settle next, he says. Maybe the San Fernando Valley?

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Morales says we’ll likely find out by late July.

Tacos La Carreta: 11402 Washington Blvd., Whittier, (562) 842-3132, also at 3480 E. 69th St., Long Beach, (562) 377-2819, instagram.com/tacos_lacarreta

An Unflinching Look at the State of Restaurants

This week a story by Stephanie Breijo takes a deep, holistic look at the many costs of running L.A.-area restaurants in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis. She breaks down afflictions for business owners and workers at every tier of the industry. Chefs and restaurant operators detail some of the major challenges: exorbitant price increases in ingredients; shifts in consumer spending; the way lingering malaise in the entertainment industry following last year’s twin strikes have affected business; and a spate of new state and local legislation that often leads to confusion over new requirements.

The increasing minimum wage for fast-food chain workers is also discussed. Among the interviewed was Ada Briceño, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, which represents more than 32,000 restaurant and bar professionals, hotel workers and more.

“L.A. is the center for the working poor,” Briceño said. “Many people in the low-wage industry are one paycheck away from homelessness, or already couch-surfing or already live in their cars.”

It’s a critical, timely read. To expand on the topic, Heather Sperling reveals where every cent of $1 goes at her Silver Lake restaurant Botanica.

Heather Platt writes about the importance of Regarding Her, the nonprofit that provides educational and financial programming to help female chefs, leaders and entrepreneurs.

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In a time when most of us feel the sting of economic realities, Danielle Dorsey has a guide to 15 wonderful and affordable meals in Los Angeles. In the same vein, Kelly Dobkin names 20 of the best happy hour deals in Los Angeles.

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The secret ingredient in these meaty tacos makes Whittier your next taqueria destination (3)
The secret ingredient in these meaty tacos makes Whittier your next taqueria destination (2024)

FAQs

The secret ingredient in these meaty tacos makes Whittier your next taqueria destination? ›

The defining addition is asiento, a rendered paste made from the remnants of frying chicharrones and sometimes carnitas. Its taste crosses the nutty, caramelized purity of homemade ghee with the unmistakable whomp of pork.

What are tacos made out of? ›

A taco is a tortilla (made out of corn or wheat), which is generously filled with seasoned fillings and garnish. Traditionally, tacos are handheld delights that can be savoured as a meal or a quick snack.

Why are tacos important to Mexican culture? ›

Tacos are a symbol of the rich and diverse Hispanic culinary heritage. They represent the fusion of Indigenous traditions with Spanish and other global influences, resulting in a versatile and beloved food loved by people of all backgrounds.

Is LA known for tacos? ›

The taco is one of the world's greatest foods, and there is no better city in the U.S. to enjoy them than Los Angeles. From traditional taquerias to food trucks to globally-inspired variations, read on for the best tacos in LA.

Where did street tacos originate? ›

The Taco was first introduced to the United States in 1905. Mexican migrants were coming in to work on railroads and other jobs and started to bring their delicious food with them. Tacos were essentially a street food at this time since they were highly portable and cheap.

What do authentic tacos have on them? ›

Lime is probably the most essential of authentic Mexican taco toppings. A squeeze of lime adds a dash of acid that brings out the other flavors in a taco beautifully. Onions, cilantro, pico de gallo, sliced radishes or cucumbers, avocado, and chili peppers are also standard toppings for authentic tacos.

What is the meat in tacos? ›

These days, beef barbacoa is the most common taco meat found in restaurants.

Do authentic tacos have lettuce? ›

In Mexico, tacos don't have lettuce on them. Or tomatoes, Or cheese. Authentic tacos are filled with high-quality marinated meats (or vegetables), & are delicious as they are. They don't need extra trimmings that you find on less traditional tacos.

What do Mexicans call tacos? ›

From the corn tortillas they make the crispy tacos, soft tacos and taquitos. With the flour tortillas they make soft tacos, taquitos,burritos and chimichangas (toasted burritos). People out of Mexico have an extra meaning for the word “taco” which will be the heel of the shoes and in Mexico it is called “tacones”.

What is an interesting fact about tacos? ›

#1: Tacos have been around for a very long time

At the time it was used to describe the thin sheets of paper wrapped in gunpowder that was used as an explosive, although the miners did enjoy a more flavorsome alternative as part of their staple diet. For more, check out our post on the history of the taco.

What state has best tacos? ›

The 10 best taco states (and their best taco cities)
  1. 1. California. Located just south of Los Angeles proper, Huntington Park has a prominently Hispanic/Latino population.
  2. Texas. ...
  3. Florida. ...
  4. Illinois. ...
  5. Washington. ...
  6. Colorado. ...
  7. New Jersey. ...
  8. Arizona. ...

What city sells the most tacos? ›

The results of the Real Estate Witch/Clever Real Estate survey claim Austin is the country's number-one taco city. It's puzzling why a real estate company is ranking tacos in the first place, but part of its content strategy is to cover trends in places people want to move to—thus, tacos and Texas.

What is the taco capital of the United States? ›

With dozens of taquerias, restaurants and markets to choose from in one small city, it could be overwhelming to tackle this taco wonderland without a little direction, so here's your quick-start guide on where to begin in Kansas City, Kansas, America's true taco capital.

What is a flat taco called? ›

What Is a Tostada? A tostada has a pretty simple construction: it's like a taco, but flat. It's usually made with a fried corn tortilla, topped with refried beans, shredded cheese, salsa, and other toppings.

Is a hot dog a taco? ›

They also have a wide arrangement of topping such as relish, cheese, or the many kinds of sauces. Some people might argue that hotdogs aren't tacos because tacos are a Mexican dish. That is true, however hotdogs aren't normal tacos.

Are tacos good for you? ›

It's easy to make a healthy meal with tacos! Tacos are an overall balanced dish, pairing carbs with protein and vegetables. To make the healthiest tacos, choose corn tortillas, a high-protein filling, and top with plenty of vegetables.

What are most tacos made of? ›

The most common type of taco in the US is the hard-shell, U-shaped version, first described in a cookbook in 1949. This type of taco is typically served as a crisp-fried corn tortilla filled with seasoned ground beef, cheese, lettuce, and sometimes tomato, onion, salsa, sour cream, and avocado or guacamole.

Are Mexican tacos flour or corn? ›

Corn tortillas go well with Mexican dishes like tacos, enchiladas, and tamales. They are also perfect for use in tostadas, sopes, and quesadillas. Flour tortillas are often used in burritos, fajitas, and chimichangas. They are also great for making quesadillas, sweet dishes like dessert tacos, and breakfast burritos.

What are taco shells made of? ›

Taco Shells: Limed Corn Flour, Palm Oil, Salt. Contains CONTAINS WHEAT INGREDIENTS.

What is a tortilla made of? ›

tortilla, round, thin, flat bread of Mexico made from unleavened cornmeal or, less commonly, wheat flour. Traditionally, the corn (maize) for tortillas was boiled with unslaked lime to soften the kernels and loosen the hulls. (This lime was the principal source of calcium in the Mexican diet.)

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