Welcome to L.A. TACO’s new column, Taco Etiquette! A safe place to ask any question related to L.A.’s Taco Life.
From “Dan,” a reader who commented on our recent Best Al Pastor list: “I notice a lot of places will pre-slice their al pastor and then chop it a bit and reheat it. Is there an etiquette to asking them to slice directly off the trompo?”
This is a complicated question with a simple answer: Trust your trompero. A trompero is a specialized taquero title within the taquero professional workforce whose primarily responsible for preparing, slicing, and serving al pastor to customers all night long. If it is a proper al pastor joint, there is usually only one trompero who carefully helms the mighty trompo. Like any other line of work, some are more seasoned than others. If the trompero knows what he is doing, he will know that the time-honored way of making al pastor has always been to slice the flame-kissed sliced meat directly into the tortilla, without having to grill the meat in the flat-top grill that is usually adjacent to the trompo. When a trompero does this, it is a precautionary measure to insure that your al pastor meat is cooked all the way through. It also probably means that the trompo hasn’t been cooked long enough and in order to get your al pastor faster, they speed up the process by finishing on the grill. However, that comes at the cost of al pastor meat that is drier and not as crispy on the edges.
Sometimes, to make lines of hungry customers go by faster, a trompero will slice large amounts of par-cooked al pastor and hand over a pile of it to taquero who handles the grill to finish off and serve up customers a little bit faster, especially if ordering a burrito.
Can you ask your local al pastor master that slices the trompo onto a grill instead place directly on your tortilla? Sure thing, but make sure to ask for it “bien doradito,” which is one of the best phrases you can know in the Taco Life. It means to get the meat “as crispy as possible.” The complete sentence to say would be “Puedes rebanar directo a la tortilla? Pero que la carne este bien doradita!” And yes, definitely make sure that the meat is indeed slightly browned on the edges. However, the trompero may politely still say no out of efficiency, so don’t take it personally.
Personally, when eating al pastor, if they don’t serve directly onto the tortilla, that is a red flag for me, because I’m hardcore like that, because then that is adobada! Which is a whole other story. I usually keep walking to another taco stand with a trompero who looks like he knows what he’s doing. After all, there are so many al pastor specialists in Los Angeles who slice directly onto your tortilla, which many would argue—including myself—is the only al pastor worth eating.