Less than a minute away from the Grove, stomping grounds of Mario Lopez fans and tourists getting off from the Starline tour bus, is a sweet, unassuming little taco shop called Escuela Taqueria. Located on the easy-to-miss residential Stanley Avenue, this street-style taco shop is only a few months old, opening its glass door to perpetually Mexican-food-hungry locals in June. But as any average L.A. resident would ask, mysophobia brushed to the side, why pay restaurant prices for tacos if you could have delicious, albeit questionable but-isn’t-that-part-of-the-fun meat enveloped in warm tortilla from food trucks that occupy every other street corner in the city?

One obvious perk of going to a Mexican restaurant is the restaurant itself. Don’t want to eat outside, standing while breathing the less-than-appetizing L.A. breeze? Escuela Taqueria has about eight tables in its warm, inviting interior. Creating an eccentric atmosphere are the varied art covering the walls that range from an Obey poster to Jesus Christ drawings, ninja stars and an almost-obscene nude female sketch. Even the ceiling wasn’t left untouched – it’s furnished with hanging vintage, wooden chairs, giving off a Harry Potter or Alice in Wonderland movie set vibe. And as you marvel at the small, but interesting taqueria, your ears are serenaded by Oasis and the Strokes on speakers – a definite plus considering too many restaurants seem to just settle for elevator music.

If you want a more communal dining experience, however, there are about seven tables pushed side-by-side right outside on the sidewalk, where you can eat with a large group of friends or maybe even converse with other diners. Stanley Avenue is a small street, so you don’t have to worry too much about inhaling smog from vehicular passer-bys with your food.

Escuela Taqueria has eight types of tacos on the menu, all priced from six to eight dollars. Each order gets you two, which are comparatively smaller than what you get everywhere else. The big question is: Do the smaller portion sizes justify the price? The expense is immediately made a little more digestible by the free chips and salsa. The chips are part crispy and part chewy, fresh from the deep fryer. The salsa comes in a small glass container, perfect for holding all that tangy flavor.

Now on to the tacos – the high quality meat of the house marinated carne asada is rich and savory, complemented by creamy avocado and fresh-cut cilantro and onion. The tortillas, considering the amazing freshness of the chips, aren’t as memorable. But lacking the grease of your run-of-the-mill food truck taco and the blandness of many dialed down Mexican restaurant meals, Escuela Taqueria’s prime ingredients and deep flavor in their carne asada taco are indeed impressive.

The chicken, on the other hand, is even better, marinated in Achiote-infused lime juice, giving the taco the zest that complements its crave-worthy smokey charred taste. Just like the carne asada taco, chopped onion and cilantro add some crunch and even more punch. 

Escuela Taqueria’s pescetarian-friendly options (it is Los Angeles, but seafood is appreciated all around) are even more remarkable. The shrimp is refreshing and scrumptious, complemented with the spice of peppery red mojo and the flavorful saltiness of chorizo. However the best, hands down, is the fish taco. A perfectly seasoned chunk of grilled branzino with its crispy skin left on is laid on a bed of cabbage slaw swimming in chipotle creme fraiche. With juicy goodness dripping as you bite into the sea bass taco, it is the messiest to eat out of the four – a definite sign of culinary greatness.

As for drinks, it is BYOB, but they do have some non-alcoholic options. The fresh-fruit-infused agua frescas can’t be anymore perfect with the tacos; they can even stand by themselves to refresh parched throats on a warm, summer night. The cantaloupe kind, which I opted for, is just the right amount of sweet and tart. Escuela Taqueria definitely delivers in taste and freshness of ingredients, and with the unique decor and its warm, inviting ambience, the prices will almost always be justifiable (not on days when you just want an indecent amount of food in you, which you know, happens). Service still has its hits-and-misses, but let’s save that for a disgruntled Yelp! review. Overall, Escuela Taqueria is worth it – on most days.

For more information, call (323) 939-8226.