Thursday, July 23, 2009
The Taco Spot in Eagle Rock
You know the tired old joke about how an “ethnic” place (read Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Indian, etc.) can’t really be all that good if it gets anything higher than a B rating from the L.A. County Health Department? I admit to having made this joke myself. (It’s notable that the joke doesn’t apply to Italian, French, or Japanese [the honorary European cuisine].) It’s as if some level of squalor or grime is the required badge of authenticity for truly “ethnic” foods.
The Taco Spot, where just last night I enjoyed a wonderful vegetable soup (tomato base with large, perfectly softened chunks of carrots, celery, and potato) and the Ahi Pueblo special (Ahi tuna chunks in an excellent spicy brown sauce full of onions, served with tortillas, rice, and beans) flips the old joke on its head. At The Taco Spot, which is probably my favorite restaurant in Eagle Rock, the immaculate surroundings – everything is spotless, attractively simple and minimalist – reinforce the simple, clean, non-ostentatious presentation of the food. Neither soulless corporate chain with margarita specials in gigantic colored plastic glasses and sombreros on the wall nor grimy hole in the wall, The Taco Spot carries the authority and legitimacy of the taco truck or the roadside taco shack to a fully and unapologetically bourgeois level. This is the kind of taco spot where they play Massive Attack and The Doors. It’s an interesting maneuver at a time when many new companies are so eagerly attempting to appropriate the perceived authenticity of the food truck, or, more specifically, in L.A., the fabled taco truck.
I am sure that some will complain that The Taco Spot is just Mexican food for yuppies, by yuppies, that it lacks “authenticity,” etc. I don’t agree. The food is excellent, and thoughtfully prepared and presented, without being watered down into typical chain-like suburban ersatz-Mexican goop. The reasonably priced (but not cheap) menu features a wide range of vegetarian options, a full array of breakfast choices (served all day – the soyrizo burrito is a favorite of mine) and a number of healthy options (tofu tacos, grilled vegetable burrito, etc.) that are less cheese- and cream-heavy than usual Mexican restaurant fare.
The Taco Spot, unlike, say, the fabled "secret" taco truck, or the "hidden" restaurant in Boyle Heights, or on Broadway downtown, is not the kind of place you will brag to your friends about “discovering.” Instead, The Taco Spot comes directly to you, a proud participant in the yuppification of Eagle Rock. You could say, in fact, that the Taco Spot has “discovered” you.
Service is sometimes spotty. For a while, the registers were manned single-handedly by a young Latino guy, who I think is the owner. These days, it’s goofballs with silly blonde goatees wearing trucker hats singing along to Bon Jovi. (I believe these trucker-hat guys sometimes commandeer the stereo. And how can you have two goofy guys in trucker hats manning the registers?) The Taco Spot is undeniably a hit now: it was packed on a Wednesday night with families, people coming in after work. It seems like the trucker-hat guys and the kitchen are still adjusting to the place's relatively newfound popularity: it can take a while to get your order during the dinner rush.
I would be wildly excited if a group of young South Asians opened up a place like The Taco Spot: fresh, young, fun, relatively "authentic," and, yes, spotless. It would be the product of the children of immigrants, a first- (or second-, or third-) generation place, run by kids who were neither here nor there, with something to prove.