Tacos and Burritos Reign on the West Coast

Liz Grossman

Grilled fish taco

Jolene Fukushima, Loaf & Fish, San Diego 
($12, recipe)

In San Diego, Baja-style fish tacos are iconic bundles of fried fish wrapped in a flour tortilla with cabbage, tomatoes, a creamy sauce and cilantro. But the most important element is the fish, just-caught by fishermen like Kelly Fukushima of Loaf & Fish. For 20 years, he’s sold his catch at the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market; two years ago, he and his wife, Jolene, began selling their own style of fish tacos. “Ours are different from traditional Baja-style; we don’t deep-fry them, we grill them to enjoy the fish,” Kelly says. “There are few places where the fish comes out of the water and gets eaten on the dock, never touching land.” Jolene works the grilling station (dipping corn tortillas in oil and water before cooking them on a flat-top grill) and makes the marinade and cilantro cream sauce that accompany the fish, along with red and green cabbage, cilantro, tomatoes and avocado. Their sons help with everything from cutting to weighing fish. “It’s nice to carry on family fishing traditions,” Jolene says.

Carnitas burrito

Miguel Jara, La Taqueria, San Francisco ($10.90, recipe)

Eating a burrito in San Francisco’s Mission is a classic move, but that wasn’t always the case. In 1961, Miguel Jara and his family found themselves with “73 cents and a half tank of gas” after arriving in the Bay Area from Mexico. Jara began working on cars but craved the tacos he ate as a kid in Tijuana. The closest thing he could find were the giant burritos stuffed with rice, beans and meat from a Mexican butcher shop near the Mission called La Cumbre. Jara wanted to open his own place that would offer a similarly large burrito but with more meat and no rice. “My dad said I was crazy,” he recalls, but he took a chance, opening La Taqueria with his mom’s help, and the “rice-less” burrito gained an instant fan base. Jara traveled to Tepatitlán to learn a “secret recipe” for the carnitas they still cook twice daily, and he took a nod from his cousin, who made pinto beans in the basement where his family once lived illegally. “He cooked them in oil and lard without smashing them,” says Jara. These whole beans appear in his burritos with hot sauce, salsa, cilantro, avocado and Monterey Jack on a lightly griddled tortilla. “Every place in the Mission still puts rice on their burrito, but we never did,” says Jara. “They started calling our version the Mission burrito.” Jara’s kids run the restaurant today, but he still greets customers. “Working in a taco place and working on cars isn’t work, it’s fun,” says Jara. “So I’m lucky I get to do things in life I enjoy.”

Mole poblano taco, Armando De La Torre Sr. and Armando De La Torre Jr., Guisados, Los Angeles. Photo:

Mole poblano taco

Armando De La Torre Sr. and Armando De La Torre Jr., Guisados, Los Angeles

If you grew up in a Mexican household in Southern California where soul-warming chiles and simmering meat welcomed you home, it would be hard to shake those memories. In fact, they were so strong for Armando De La Torre Jr. that he convinced his father, Armando De La Torre Sr., to leave his career in real estate and open Guisados in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles in 2010. Five locations later, Angelenos are happy the taco shop continues to grow, where queso fresco-topped mole poblano, shredded red achiote-spiced cochinita pibil or braised tinga de pollo, and other slow-cooked stews and braises “like Mom used to make” are spooned atop corn tortillas (the corn is ground fresh at an uncle’s market) and topped with bright and simple accompaniments—from sesame seeds to a pink stack of pickled onions.

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