The best tacos I ate in 2013 were from Wes Avila’s Guerrilla Tacos – one featuring crispy pork belly with pluot and pistachio relish, the other a vegetarian delight of fava beans and sauteed kale topped with a fried egg – that changed my view on the culinary potential of the typically cheap and to-the-point street treats. A return visit was certainly in order for the new year, but it happened sooner rather than later when Avila teased a crab and sea urchin special on his Instagram. As fate would have it, I was nearby GT’s friday morning hangout at Handsome Coffee Roasters in downtown, and quickly made my way over to see how the Santa Barbara crustacean and uni would be paired. Alas, they would become part of a vibrant tostada, but unfortunately it wasn’t available until 11:00am. I shook off my disappointment and turned my attention to what was available; three tacos and a burrito, all of which more than made up for not getting the tostada I had my heart set on ordering.
Fried Mushroom taco with queso fresco, red peppers escabeche, chile de arbol, & chives [$5]
Most of the time when I think tacos I think some type of meat, but Chef Wes has shown a knack turning out substantial and delicious vegetarian options. Here we had springy mushrooms that were deep fried and topped with marinated red peppers and a salsa of arbol chiles that was moderated by the cooling queso fresco. The coating on the ‘shrooms was a little loose, a misstep that was easy to overlook given the overall outstanding taste.
Calamari on the plancha, garlic butter, habanero, herbs, lime [$4]
Even though I wouldn’t be getting my hands on the crab and urchin concoction, this grilled calamari taco was an acceptable consolation. The squid was scored, sliced, and grilled to perfection, resulting in rings that were incredibly tender while still keeping a touch of chewiness. The garlic butter was strong and fragrant with the acidity of the lime providing some balance. The habanero didn’t deliver the degree of spiciness I anticipated, really allowing for the flavor of the cephalopod to present itself in full force.
Bacon, Broccolini & cheddar with fried egg, almond chile, scallions, tomatillo chile [$5]
Aside from the fact that the cheddar mentioned in the description seemed to be non-existent, this was one bad ass breakfast taco. The classic combo of crisped, meaty bacon with the runny yolk of a fried egg is hard to beat, especially when there’s also stalks of blistered broccolini tucked in there. The red salsa poured over the top brightened everything up and was especially good once combined with the oozing yolk.
Braised lamb shank burrito with scrambled egg, avocado, burnt tomatillo chile, pickled chard, & cilantro [$10]
There was no attempt to mask the lamb’s strong taste, but instead the tender chunks of meat were partnered with soft scrambled eggs and creamy slices of avocado. The burnt chile cut through some of the lamb’s gaminess, all while the warm, slightly chewy tortilla held everything in place. I saved half for lunch and it seemed to taste even better after cooling down in the fridge for a bit.
We’re barely a month into the new year and already I’m prepared to proclaim this recent batch of tacos from Chef Wes Avila as tops for 2014, even with a couple of hiccups (coating on the mushrooms and lack of cheddar on the bacon and broccolini, though in all fairness I was the morning’s first order). Sure, they’re more expensive and “gourmet” than what you’d find on your neighborhood corner, but the depth of flavors and use of ingredients not commonly associated with tacos is what puts Guerrilla Tacos ahead of the pack. 2014 is poised to be a big year for Avila and GT, with an actual brick and mortar location looking like the next move to expand operations. Regardless if we see a physical storefront or the continuation of the truck this year, rest assured that the tacos will continue to be among the best out, beyond worthy of making the drive downtown (or Culver City on Wednesdays) to treat your tastebuds.
582 Mateo St
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Dine date: Fri 1.24.14, 9:15am