Rose Ave. Taco Tour

Rose Ave.
Taco Tour

Photos: Josh Reed
Words: Garrett Leight

OK. I’m a Mexican from Venice who eats Mexican food at least four days a week. If you can’t trust me with this piece, then what the fuck, right? Honestly, I’d prefer to make this piece less about how great each of these establishments on Rose are, even less about how ironic it is that nearly all of the good Mexican food on the Westside of Los Angeles is on Rose Avenue in Venice, and more about the history of successful Mexican restaurants and the emphasis that the best ones put on family. But, if we are being honest, I don’t think I can help myself. I’m so passionate about these places; I have no idea what direction I’m about to go in, but, more than likely, I’m about to rant about what to order.

Let me start with some perspective. With all due respect to the non-Mexican entrepreneurs who have taken on the daunting venture of opening a Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles, if they’re not specializing in drinks, they’re not convincing anyone that the food is the reason to come visit their “Mexican” restaurant. I don’t want to sit around with a bunch of yuppies and discuss which Mexican restaurant has the best enchiladas, or tostadas, or burritos. Let's get one thing straight, none of those things are actually from Mexico. Before I digress, let's point out some absolute facts.

First and foremost, La Isla Bonita, the taco truck on Rose and 4th that has parked there for over 25 years (yes you heard me correctly; taco trucks are not a millennial invention. They have existed before they were considered mobile consumer experiences), has the absolute best ceviche in the United States. I understand that I write with extreme opinion that couldn’t possibly be remotely factual with such an outrageous blanket statement, but this is the perfect recipe. The Gonzalez family has been doing it for 25 years with a recipe that their father brought from Mexico, and it’s simply the way it’s supposed to be done. I mean this dude was making ceviche since before crack was popular, so if that isn’t a strong enough argument, I truly have nothing left. And even though the following argument has come with much debate, their carne asada taco is amongst the absolute best in Los Angeles. You must set parameters for a perfect taco because La Isla Bonita’s taco comes with white beans, onions, cilantro, and homemade hot sauce, which puts it in a different discussion from a perfect pastor taco which only includes pastor, a pineapple slice, two small corn tortillas and nothing more. There are few carne asada tacos that compete with La Isla Bonita’s.

Now, to come down a notch, just in my tone, but not in my passion for how special Fiesta Brava is. When you find a Mexican restaurant that you can walk into and literally ask what’s off the menu that I need to have, and they always have definitive answers and deliver something special every time, that’s something to write home about. When I walk into Fiesta and say, “Jasmine, what’s good today?” And she says, “I’d go with the chicken soup.” I don’t question it, not even for a second (if you think chicken soup is a ridiculous order at a Mexican restaurant, your opinion holds no weight with me). Truth be told, it doesn’t even feel like I’m at “Fiesta Brava.” I’m in the Camarena family’s kitchen, and, whether it's Samuel or Jasmine or Nancy or whoever taking my order, I want them to tell me what they are serving today. Now, before I get ahead of myself once again, the hard shell chicken tacos here are greasy as hell and mouth wateringly delicious, and ordering something as simple as a bean and cheese burrito brings complete satisfaction. Just knowing that I prefer to ask the proprietors what to order gives me a warm feeling inside. To know that there’s a public establishment that is really just a family’s kitchen shared with their patrons makes me happy, and that’s enough for me. It should be noted that the gentrification of Venice has lent itself to the sale of the property Fiesta Brava is on, and you might only have two weeks left to ask Jasmine what you’re having for lunch. (Unfortunately, this is the second time we’ve covered a Venice food establishment that has been forced to leave after 30 years of business not two weeks after our article: see Spectacle 1; Glen Crest BBQ).

I’d be lying if I sat here and wrote passionately about La Cabaña or Casablanca. However, that doesn’t mean these places don’t make a fantastic margarita. These are the two restaurants my parents took me to as a kid. It wasn’t until later that I discovered Fiesta and LIB. But, anyone who knows anything about drinking margaritas on the westside of Los Angeles knows about Casablanca and La Cabaña. However, it’s for two slightly different reasons. While both places make an above average margarita, La Cabaña is actually open until 3am, and, if you time a night out perfectly, you're drinking a cheap pitcher with your friends and stuffing your face with Mexican food until the wee hours of the morning, a significantly better option than Del Taco and warm beer. On the contrary, Casablanca does not stay open til 3am, but the “Tequila Time” sign attached to the outside of the building says it all. They’ve got the goods and a Casablanca theme to boot. So whether it’s the classic Cadillac Marg or a Bogart Margarita which features Arette Silver and Cointreau in a “special” glass, your alcoholic needs will be assuaged.

The point is, Venice is Mexican, and I’m a mexican from Venice that grew up with these places and these families. Whether it's the food, the people, the environment, or the all around nostalgia, I am not leading you astray. It has also just dawned upon me, although not featured in these photos, La Oaxaquena taco truck pulls up on Lincoln and Venice at 6pm and stays until 2am. I can’t promise that you won’t get robbed at gunpoint there because I know two people that have. But I can promise that it’s a full menu of proper Mexican dishes. In the spirit of honor able mentions, lets not forget this story is specifically about Rose Avenue in Venice, and in the case that you can’t make it over to Olvera Street for Cielito Lindo’s taquitos or Las Anitas burritos, & enchiladas, then this is as close as you can get to Mexican Narnia.