Mexicali Taco & Co.
Setting out to find a go-to taco shop in this city is like setting out to find a best friend: the options are endless, and most everyone looks pretty nice, but the important things like integrity, individuality, and reliability, aren’t as easy to find. But, there’s Mexicali Taco & Co., a Baja-style taqueria on the edge of Chinatown that has some of the truest tacos in the city. The shop, owned and operated by Mexicali native Esdras Ochoa, might trick you into thinking you’ve met before, but then will surprise you with something entirely new.
When Ochoa first opened Mexicali (as a small stand in a parking lot on 1st and Beaudry) the idea was to make simple, good food that was representative of his home, the Northern Baja region of Mexico, a cuisine that’s oddly underrepresented in the vast sea of Mexican food in Los Angeles. “Everybody loves tacos, and if we give them a version of a thing they already love, it’ll be a home run,” Ochoa says.
The menu items are playful and distinctive. The Vampiro is a garlicky, extra cheesy quesadilla that might make you rethink quesadillas all together. The Catchetada (translation: slap in the face) is their take on a tostada: a crispy corn tortilla topped with meat or grilled veggies, cheese, and chipotle sauce. It’s a little spicy (hence the slap) though the chipotle is more loving than aggressive. “Everyone has a different palate,” Ochoa says, “so everything is a blank canvas.” Though maybe referring to the menu items as a blank canvas is a little misleading: each dish is wildly flavorful without any toppings at all, but you’ll still want to try some. The menu is flexible that way — it stands alone and still can be customized. Plus, anything can be made vegetarian with no missing out.
Like all good things, the dishes at Mexicali start on a good foundation. The tortillas, made in-house after a local recipe, are a near-miracle. They’re a big departure from that of the average taco in the city, which comes on a pair of tiny, mealy rounds that fall apart almost instantly. Mexicali’s flour tortillas are soft and chewy, the corn tortillas are crispy, and each holds its texture in the face of otherwise fatal events: a long car ride, some guacamole, the very thought of salsa. These are tortillas that have character.
It’s all in the handiwork. “We pride ourselves on not cutting any corners,” Ochoa says. “We don’t want people to just eat their food, we want them to have a whole experience.”
Written by Rayna Jensen
Photographed by Oriana Koren