There are so many good tacos in Los Angeles that picking one as “Taco of the Year” is kind of stupid, but we’re doing it anyway because it’s fun. The Taco of the Year isn’t about the most essential or most delicious taco in town, it’s about representing something and making a unique statement specifically about 2013. This year’s winner is Wes Avila’s Guerrilla Tacos’ sweet potato, Oaxacan cheese, braised leek, almond chile with scallions and corn nuts taco.
This taco represents a few important things that helped shape 2013. First of all, this taco is a triumph of struggle against great odds. When Guerrilla Tacos started popping up in late 2012, it was a man, a woman, and a taco cart against the world. There was no shiny blue truck, no lines of Arts District hipsters, no awards, no Vice Magazine photo shoots– just tacos. We invited Wes to cater our mural party with UGLAR Works in February of 2013 in Lincoln Heights because we knew he was on to something big– chef driven tacos created with indomitable spirit in a zero-compromise operation. Some of our guests were surprised by $5 tacos, but once they tasted them, lightbulbs were going off left and right. People who live on $1 and homemade tacos were going back for seconds and thirds, knowing it was money well spent. This taco convinces people every day, on the spot, that tacos are more than they ever imagined, and it happened because of one chef’s vision and hard work combined with an excellent partner in the form Avila’s wife, Tanya.
This taco is a vegetarian taco, a part of the taco lifestyle which is underrepresented. Al Pastor and other meats taste so damn good, but we all must face the reality of factory farms, e. coli, and the environmental destruction that raising billions of animals for food causes on a global scale. While we’ll never give up our carne asada, it’s good to mix in plant-based foods when possible. This taco holds its own against any fish, pork, or steak taco.
This taco is new, and yet traditional. Most of the ingredients are traditional to various regional Mexican dishes, they just haven’t been put together just like this before. 2013 was a year where traditions were both revered and remixed, where chefs dug deep into family recipes and reinterpreted them for their peers at every level of cuisine from the streets to the most expensive restaurants. This taco represents the experimentation necessary to keep it interesting, and the respect for the culture to keep it real.
Lastly, and most importantly, this taco is delicious. As fun as it may be for a taco journalist to imbue a taco with the spirit of its times, it’s much more satisfying to actually eat one. The sweet potato is justly sweet, the Oaxacan cheese is salty, crusty and slightly charred from the flat top grill, creating this taco’s essential yin-yang. The braised leek adds an earthy rustic vibe, and the almond chile with scallions and corn nuts bring heat, crunch, and bitterness in just the right amounts. Each bite is fun, and everything is perfectly held together by the double corn tortilla which reminds you are standing on a sidewalk in the Arts district and not lingering over a plate at a fine-dining restaurant.
Congratulations to Guerrilla Tacos, and the Taco of the year for 2013!