How good does a taco have to be, considering both taste and experience, to justify a price nearly four times the “street” value? This was the question I asked myself after my most recent taco mission lead me to Tinga, a “new-wave taqueria,” as Jonathan Gold referred to it when it first opened. Three years later and the restaurant is still going strong despite never really reaching the same level of popularity of other taco destinations in the surrounding areas. I should point out that Tinga’s kitchen serves up quite an array of Mexican-inspired dishes, but considering this is Taco Tuesday’s I’m going to keep my comments specific to the tacos.
Tinga offers seven different tacos with prices ranging from $6.75 (papas bravas) to $10.25 (braised short rib and flat iron steak), which includes two tacos and house made chips and salsa. If you’re just looking to sample a few different kinds then any one taco will run you $4.75, quite a bit more than most people are accustomed to spending. However, these aren’t your typical carne asada or al pastor, but instead ingredient-driven and labor-intensive tacos that combine Mexican influences with American sensibility. That, along with the chic La Brea location, begin to account for the steep pricing, but again the bottom line here is whether or not they’re good.
Flat Iron Steak Taco | grilled prime flat iron steak, guacamole, dog snout salsa, shredded lettuce, roasted peppers and queso fresco
At first bite I was really digging the tender, juicy steak and piquant roasted peppers, a seemingly winning combination. However, the guacamole listed in the description was nonexistent, but perhaps more off-putting was the strong taste of boiled hot dog that intensified with each bite. I don’t know if it was the marinade or some other component, but the unsettling taste of an Oscar Meyer ruined this one for me.
Grilled Cumin & Garlic Rubbed Pork Loin | roasted and grilled in poblanos with oaxaca and pepper jack cheese and ahogada salsa
Cubes of garlicky pork loin, crunchy green peppers, and not-quite-gooey cheese were a match made in taco heaven. The pork was well-seasoned and retained some of its natural juices, playing well off of the sharp cheeses. Much like the guacamole in the steak taco, the ahogada salsa wasn’t all that noticeable, especially considering that the word translates to “drowning”, giving the impression that this one should’ve been swimming in sauce. Still, I found this to be the best taco out of the trio.
Cochinita Pibil | achiote rubbed, butter and sweet orange marinated, banana leaf wrapped, long braised pork, shredded, plancha grilled, with HOT, Hot, HOT habanero salsa
This classic preparation of pork via slow-cooking and a citrusy marinade was surprisingly good. It’s not touching the rich, oily version found at Yuca’s in Los Feliz, but I could tell that someone went to great lengths to ensure that this Yucatan speciality was as authentic as possible. The pickled onions were on point, and along with the kernels of roasted corn added a pleasant textural crunch to the soft shredded pork. Fortunately, I asked for the habanero salsa on the side because it was most definitely as hot as advertised.
The three tacos (plus chips and a simple, but good salsa) were certainly filling and for the most part had really good individual flavors and textures going on. The tortillas, made in-house, were warm with a slight chew and able to contain all of the ingredients without splitting, an impressive feat considering the tacos were filled to capacity. However, at over $15 including tax and tip, are they worth it? I would say if you’re looking for a sit-down meal with a waiter taking your order, beers on draft, and a menu featuring plenty of tasty-sounding non-taco choices, then yes $5 a taco isn’t all that outrageous. On the other hand, if a quick taco fix is all that you’re after, then a truck like El Chato or Leo’s Tacos is much more suitable, where $15 can literally feed a family. It’s a tough task trying to elevate an otherwise inexpensive, on-the-go item, but Tinga is certainly up to the challenge.
142 S La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Dine date: Mon 11.18.13, 7:30p