Cactus Taqueria #1 ~ 950 Vine St. Hollywood, CA 90038 (213) 464-5865
Stumbling out the door of some dank Hollywood bar, a little too blurry still to fit the key in the ignition on the first try, the blocks surrounding Hollywood and Vine can feel taco-impaired, especially as a ‘new Times Square’-era TGIFriday-fication encroaches on the beloved seedier reaches of the Walk of Fame. Cactus Taco is a reliable destination in such times, a short amble down Vine to a tiny Fanta-hued hut in a parking lot below Santa Monica that stays open into the wee hours.
Cactus has flavored our pages before, named as favorite taco spot by such Hollywood street heroes as REVOK, among others. After some late-night vodka-infused mischief up the street, I made my way to Cactus to soak up the Slavic salve of Stoli with a serious taco bender.
Upon first taste test, Cactus didn’t bowl me over. The opening salvo of carne asada was a disappointment, the meat was too dry and tough, and not saucy enough– a bad combo with this spot’s slightly thick, store-bought tortillas. I assumed the carnitas would be better, but again the meat came dry and understewed, the natural flavors of the pork meat standing out strongly in a bad way, instead of a well-spiced medley of juice, sauce, and flavor. I did appreciate the liberal amount of aguacate I was allowed to buy for my tacos, which smoothed the whole dealie somewhat, making the bad bearable and calling attention to the good salsa bar with marinated veggies and a lava-orange habañero salsa.
I was about ready to make a snap judgment on Cactus when I bit into my camaron taco. Fuck yes, this was beyond delicious. Lightly-seasoned batter forms a tempura-perfect envelope around a big, firm, deliciously succulent piece of shrimp. On top was some salad and a massive squirt of sour cream. Delicious and fresh, with a nice, creamy blend of avocado, this morsel was so good I knew I’d be back to Cactus for its truly phenomenal comforts alone. Fortunately, I soldiered on, ordering a pastor and birria (goat) taco.
The birria was most likely a decision borne of the alkie-hol in my veins, cuz I’m usually not a big goat fan, and ordering it, I joked with my companion how we’ve only gotten sick at fancy restaurants and are yet to feel the alleged pain of goat or buche induced taco truck disease. The pastor was awesome, though maybe a tad dry in combination with those less than stellar tortillas. The pastor was not necessarily the most traditional, though it was slow-cooked on this spit as seen below. Still, the meat has an incredible essence of deeply cooked barbecue that makes it stand on its own as a great and unique taco option.
The goat came next just as some boys in blue (the official kind) rolled up to Cactus to get their tacos on. The birria did in fact blow my mind, it was incredible how enchanted I was by this stuff as a non-goat loving guy. The meat was tender and not the least gamey, shredded almost like ropa vieja and completely saturated in a complex mole or picadillo-like sauce with tastes of raisin and red wine within its many flavors. This stewy gravy is a shocking dark velvet-red lava color, with a taste as intriguing as its appearance. It disappeared in a few bites leaving a spicy, satisfying taste in my palette and stomach. God damn, Cactus, you’re a bad muthafucka for that one!
So there stands Cactus, a soldier on the front-lines on the war of Hollywood cheap eats. Cactus might not have the best standards along the asada, pollo, and carnitas-world, but their more peripheral items are off-the-hook. Order fish and goat, then get the avocado slab, life is short and should be full of savory rewards what with how hard you work. I also hear the chorizo is off-the-hook, but don’t think I saw a nopales taco on the boards. Something to look forward to, I hope, at Cactus.