In Los Angeles, Mexican food establishments are as prevalent as palm trees and gas stations. Around every street corner, one can find some sort of taqueria, burrito joint or restaurante where tasty and affordable food is served.
Adding to this plethora is a new taqueria occupying a street corner Downtown, and it promises to provide a culinary experience that embraces the basic principles of cooking practiced in Mexicali, Mexico. Mexicali Taco & Co.’s approach to making a taco is to serve only the tortilla, the meat and nothing else. Then, the customer is expected to use the various salsas and sauces to personalize the taco to their specific tastes. They say their goal is “for you to make your taco custom to the flavors you enjoy.” It is an approach to cooking that has proven to be successful in the past, such as with Dodger Dogs or Korean food restaurants. So, why does this approach fail in this case? Though it sounds like the inspiration behind Mexicali Taco & Co. would provide a nice twist on the common Mexican food found in L.A., the restaurant fails to execute its goals.
Many say that the simplest food is the best food; however, in order for this comment to be true, the basic ingredients used in the dish must be of extremely high quality. The tacos at Mexicali use delightful harina or maiz tortillas, but the meat in them is as bland as white rice. The chicken is overcooked and dry, and the asada is a bit tastier, but still lacking in flavor. The customers have a variety of salsas to spice up their tacos with, but none of them are particularly appetizing. There is one sauce that wants so badly to be guacamole but remains a watery green avocado sludge that hardly has any flavor at all. Furthermore, the restaurant says that customers are supposed to season the tacos themselves, but seasoning a dish is very different from drenching it with limejuice, hot sauce and pickled onions just to make it taste good.
Despite the disappointing tacos, there are other dishes on the menu that are worthwhile. For instance, the nachos are cooked with crispy tortilla chips, a choice of meat, cheese and a mouth-watering salsa raja. It is also important to note that though the taqueria cooks mediocre chicken and asada, they do a great job of providing savory chorizo that can be put in any of the dishes, such as the nachos or the tacos.
One of their best dishes is a quesadilla called the Vampiro. It includes the customer’s choice of meat infused with their special garlic sauce and cheese, creating a tasty twist on a Mexican staple. Another unique dish to try is the serving of gueros, which are Cantonese-Baja style peppers. The peppers are cooked and seasoned with a little bit of salt and pepper, so they are tender and juicy when you bite into them. Without a doubt, the gueros are worth a try, but make sure there is enough horchata around to wash away the inferno that invades the taste buds.
A major plus about Mexicali is that compared to many restaurant establishments in Los Angeles it is extremely affordable. A single customer could order one of every item on the main menu for under $25. They also have some intriguing drink options, including imported authentic medio litro Coca-Cola, also known as Mexican Coke, and freshly made horchata, which both provide something sweet to wash down with the spice.
Furthermore, the atmosphere in the small taqueria is inviting. Young hipsters wearing Dodger flat caps and USC t-shirts sit at bright red picnic tables and chat as a lady calls out their names to report that their food is ready. The interior design is simple, comfortable and casual, which allows Mexicali Taco & Co. to successfully adopt a “Mi casa es su casa” ambiance that maintains a steady flow of customers.
Overall, Mexicali needs to revamp their menu by adding some spices of their own, using fresher ingredients, and cooking the meat properly. The inspiration is there and the restaurant has a great deal of potential, but now they must work more on the execution of their goals.
Mexicali Taco & Co. is located at 702 N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles. For more information, call (213) 613-0416 or visit mexicalitaco.com.