>> Tacos Culiacáncito | Eat the World Los Angeles

Friday, 18 March 2022

Tacos Culiacáncito

MÉXICO 🇲🇽
(SINALOA)
Florence Avenue facade

COVID-19 UPDATE: The restaurant is fully open. Orders can be made from behind a plastic screen for takeout if desired.

📍 4846 Florence Avenue, Bell, Southeast Los Angeles

If you have ever found yourself craving tacos late at night in the city of Culiacán in Sinaloa, you will have no problem finding them like any other capital city of México. But quite a few of the vendors offering asada tacos on flour or corn tortillas will also have "y papas" in their name and offer some baked or boiled potatoes with plenty of fixins.

While Bell's Tacos Culiacáncito is a restaurant with interior seating and table service, the offerings and specialties bring to mind those late night stands. Besides options for these potatoes, they have antojitos like chorreadas and traditional Sinaloan vampiros, which have morphed and evolved in Los Angeles to become important parts of many vendor's menus whether Sinaloan or not.

Restaurant interior with red vinyl booths

The restaurant opened a couple weeks before March 2020 lockdowns made the industry all the more difficult, but they seem to have come out the other side with a very strong following. Culiacáncito is a reference to a small pueblo just outside Culiacán, maybe most famous for being the birthplace of former Mexican national team striker Jared Borgetti, a long-retired player that still brings tears to the eyes of US fans.

Its home here in Bell is a plaza dominated both by its red and white scheme and its busy car wash. When you park at the restaurant, the competing rhythms blasting from folks vacuuming their cars fill the lot. While the beating heart of Sinaloa in Los Angeles is probably further down the river in Compton and Paramount, this small taquería is happy to bring thinly sliced carne asada estilo Culiacán to a different area.

Full order served at the table

The menu, both above the kitchen and in paper form given at tables is simple and mostly pictures, the few items available here have no listed prices and no meat options. The latter exclusion is of course because this is a carne asada specialist and all the antojitos are available only with that as their meat. Order papas, tacos, vampiros, and chorreadas to your heart's desire, because they all come with good cuts of grilled steak.

A recent visit attempted to eat as many of the offerings as possible (above) and was presented with a couple extra charred tortillas that are used for vampiros, to be used as desired. If the people in the booth next to you are prone to using expressions that are at home in Culiacán, you may hear them exclaim "Que chulada!" as plates like the one above are placed in front of them.

Papa exclusiva

It could be seen as a missed opportunity to come to Tacos Culiacáncito and not try one of two potato options. The papa exclusiva ($12.50, above) is removed from its skin and kept in large hunks before being laid back into foil and smothered with just about everything from the kitchen. Underneath the visible crema, chipotle mayo, bacon crumble and scallions is a hearty serving of the carne asada, making this almost a meal by itself.

While this will probably not displace carne asada fries in Southern California anytime soon, it is a welcome deviation that can still allow you to have that necessary starch. Besides the asada, the streaks of chipotle mayo are the star here and thankfully ladled or squirted on liberally. If you want some kick, the bottle of salsa roja brought to each table is an instant problem solver.

Vampiro de carne asada

You will notice the difference between a tostada and a vampiro ($2.50, above) when taking the first bite, the tortilla of the latter has been grilled over the flame instead of deep fried. Because of this, it retains a texture that is crispy but does not shatter when taking a bite. There is no way to turn it over safely with so many toppings stacked on top, but if you did, you would find the burnt evidence on the bottom.

The area around Culiacán is well-known for its wealth of tomatoes, said to be sweeter than those grown in other parts of México or imported. If you have ever traveled in the state, you will remember well the pale red and orange tomato salsas that are more prevalent, and a slick like that on antojitos here is important, even if it is almost completely obscured by healthy squeezes of avocado salsa.

Chorreada de carne asada

Tijuana and Baja stands around town also offer vampiros, but these are quite different if not also delicious. If you are looking to try a Sinaloan vampiro, the tortilla preparation is crucial. If you have eyes on the grill like possible at many sidewalk stands, make sure you see those tortillas getting charred or just stick to tacos.

While usually the tortilla base of a chorreada ($3.50, above) is thicker and softer, here they are the same as vampiros. This antojito is known for its slick of asiento de puerco, a milk chocolate brown layer of pork lard that does just what you would imagine it to do.

Taco pariente

The asiento is also slathered through the carne asada when ordering a taco pariente ($3.25, above), which is served without other garnishes besides melted cheese. This taco comes in a puffy homemade flour tortilla and can be dressed as desired with their salsas.

If you come in the morning or anytime before the sun sets for the day, you will probably notice your dining companions enjoying plates of machaca, which can be enjoyed with or without eggs and vegetables mixed in them. These are all served with a side of frijoles puercos, a small block of queso fresco, and three thin buttery flour tortillas.

Machaca con huevo y verduras

The machaca con huevo ($15.50, above) plate is a winner, great for breakfast or any meal really. Machaca is shredded beef that has been spiced and dried and hails from a time before refrigeration. While drying meat was a form of preservation, the style remains popular in northern states and the consistency and quality of the meat can be close to the original when the chef is good.

The other plate available daily and a wonderful way to enjoy tradition Sinaloan food is chilorio ($15, below), slow-simmered pork that is fried in lard and cooked for hours in chiles. The deep red finished product is amazing, and also goes well with frijoles puercos. Wrapping up some chilorio in one of their provided tortillas, smearing on some frijoles, crumbling in a little cheese and drenching it all with their nice red salsa is like a dream.

Chilorio con frijoles puercos

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