Men wipe down gleaming bodies of metal and the faint skunk of petrol hangs in the air, as the intersection of Crescent and Walker rumbles in the background. The best vegetarian tacos in La Palma may be here, but you’ll have to find it first.
Sharing a building with a car wash where you can watch your Toyota go through the ringer from behind a wall of glass, Str8 Up Tacos serves up pork, chicken and steak, as well as big bowls of coconut ceviche, puffs of fried cauliflower and shredded jackfruit enveloped in corn tortillas. You might miss it on your first visit, but if you ask one of the men with a towel slung over his shoulders, he’ll grin and nod you in the right direction.
The taco stand overlooks neat rows of the attached Mobil station’s fuel pumps and a lot filled with freshly cleaned cars. Spilling onto the gravel, a line builds in front of a small takeout window, from which someone pokes a head out to take your order. An adjacent wall is emblazoned with a spray-painted Str8 Up logo. The kitchen is tight and impeccably clean, with cooks laboring behind a wall of smoke and heat.
Seating is sparse—just a small ledge with three metal stools beside the window—so most people take their food around the building to where there are tables and benches set up under faded umbrellas in front of a makeshift convenience store offering lotto tickets, frozen strawberry Slush Puppies for those feeling nostalgic and additional seating.
You can get your tacos in street tortillas from a package or, for an extra 50 cents, in fresh, handmade corn tortillas. Each taco is $3, and depending on how hungry you are when you arrive, two to three will fill you up. The chickpea elote taco comes with a slice of charred avocado atop a bed of fried chickpeas and roasted corn that’s been tossed with tangy cilantro sauce, chunks of tender squash, crisp radish and burnt salsa—it’s a sweet-and-smoky lovechild cradled by a blue-corn tortilla. Cauliflower gets sent into the fryer to bloom into golden filets that are tucked into tortillas, releasing just the right amount of grease when you bite into the crunchy flesh.
The hibiscus tacos are pungent and tangy; you might find yourself wanting more bits of almond to break through it all. The jackfruit tacos find a similar fate, as the young, shredded fruit is better when served under thick layers of black beans and rice as part of a giant burrito. For something especially satisfying, the crispy potato puts the soft, starchy veggie inside a hard-yet-delicate shell with salty cotija cheese and pickled red onions.
Don’t skip the coconut ceviche; it’s cured until the coconut meat is almost creamy in a sharp citrus marinade spiked with jalapeños, then served with a tray of thin chips. As with many ceviches, however, it could do with less marinade and more of that delicious meat.
Str8 Up Tacos, 8471 Walker St., La Palma, (562) 386-3731; str8uptacos.com.
Charisma can usually be found eating cake with a cup of hot coffee for breakfast or walking around the OC with Toto, her awesome corgi-chihuahua.