The best local food story this year is the continued rise of Burritos La Palma, a SanTana-based food truck with a brick-and-motor in El Monte that has done the impossible: turned a burrito into Southern California’s best taco.
Lemme explain: Earlier this month, I was the lead judge for Tacolandia, the mega-taco festival curated for LA Weekly by our own Bill Esparza. More than 100 taqueros—from Los Angeles to San Diego, Baja California to Nuevo Leon, London (!) to OC’s own Taco Maria, Anepalco and Slapfish—served up special creations to upward of 8,000 people near Olvera Street. There were tacos of stingray and tacos of carnitas; tacos made from cured jícama slices that bent like a tortilla and the protean taquitos of Cielito Lindo. Taco Maria’s sturgeon taco was a favorite, as was Anepalco’s short rib. But when it came to awarding the Vendy Cup for the best street taco, Burritos La Palma’s birria de res burrito won, just barely edging out the extraordinary al pastor of Tacos Tamix.
The victory started with its regional style: from Jerez, Zacatecas, in central Mexico, the borderlands between Mexico’s flour and corn tortilla regions. Owner Alberto Bañuelos knows that to capture taco lovers, he needs to offer a flour tortilla that doesn’t taste like onion paper, and his are disks of beauty: soft, buttery, pliant. Bañuelos wraps them around birria de res, a spectacular preparation of shredded beef so dense and saucy it’s almost like a curry. Yet even more revelatory at Tacolandia was his burrito de chicharrones—not the crispy pork rinds gabachos know, but a sautéed version so light it was almost as if I were eating savory cotton candy. “I usually don’t like cooked chicharrones,” said fellow Tacolandia judge (and legendary cartoonist) Lalo Alcaraz while our dozen or so fellow judges deliberated. “But Burritos La Palma does it good.”
The biggest miracle Burritos La Palma has accomplished? It’s still mostly a hipster and zacatecano obsession—I’ve seen Mexicans, upon noticing they don’t sell cuts like chicken and carne asada, storm off in disgust. So be better than a Mexican: Eat the greatest taco in the land—a burrito! It’s that good, gentle cabrones.
Follow Burritos La Palma on Twitter: @burritoslapalma.