I’ve gotten a little lazy with my mission of eating a new taco each week, abandoning the more obscure, out of the way places on my list for nearby, last minute fill-ins. That’s exactly how I ended up at Mariela’s Tacos on Monday night, needing to fulfill my weekly taco quota without expending much effort. It’s funny because I’ve driven by Mariela’s hundreds of times without once every feeling the urge to eat there. Yet, there I was staring at the massive menu that boasts more than 30 different items, not including the full range of tacos and burritos also available.
The interior is definitely worn, as I immediately noticed an array of initials and designs carved into the tabletops and splotches of spilled salsa coving the floor. Near the exit rests a lone Tekken arcade game that has certainly seen better days, while hanging on the wall opposite of the register is an odd assortment of floral and still life oil paintings, perhaps an effort to liven things up a bit. All the makings of a neighborhood spot that has patched itself up over the years in order to continuously service the surrounding community.
Tacos are priced at $1.25 individually, or for $5.00 you can get yourself a plate of three tacos that also comes with rice and beans. I went ahead and ordered the plate and was reasonably impressed with the moist rice and beans fresh out of the pot and sprinkled shredded queso. There’s definitely a Central American influence at Mariela’s, and both the arroz y frijoles seemed to be a notch above what you’d find at most Mexican restaurants of similar stature. I waited a good ten minutes for my food, a bit long considering it wasn’t too crowded, but the sound of cleaver on wood signified that meats were being chopped to order. A good sign and worth the wait.
Good ol’ carne asada is always an excellent gauge of a place’s worth as a taco destination, and the version here proved to be acceptable. The meat wasn’t overly marinated or seasoned, instead harnessing a simple, home-cooked appeal to it. With each bite I to got a mix of tender and chewy/end pieces that I enjoyed for their textural balance.
Like the asada, the pastor also seemed to lack any real marinade or seasoning. But while the asada was still enjoyable in its simplicity, the pastor was straight up plain in taste. On the plus side, the pork was well prepared so that it was soft with a slight outer sear, and applying a liberal amount of the smoky salsa roja made up for the lack of flavor.
Chicken is always a tricky proposition when it comes to tacos. Unless it’s being cooked and chopped to order, it’s incredibly easy for it to dry out before reaching your mouth, a major disappointment. Here, the Central American sway came into play as the pollo appeared to have been stewed in a tomato-based broth with peppers and onions. The result was a very moist and flavorful bird, the texture and flavor of which reminded me of what I’d find in a good tamale (also available at Mariela’s).
While the price was most certainly right, the overall quality of the tacos left me feeling unsatisfied. Mariela’s seems to cater to the neighborhood as most of the customers were families or single men foreign to the concept of cooking for themselves. The worn interior and occasional glares from possible vagrants sharing a black-bagged bottle of alcohol in a back booth could be reason enough to turn you off of Mariela’s Tacos before even placing your order, but the truth is you could do a lot worse looking for tacos in this city. I’m willing to bet that, despite the name, it’s the other Central American-Mexican menu items, and not the tacos, that keep regulars coming back.
3662 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90020
Dine date: Mon 12.2.13, 8:00p