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A hand holding up an enchiladas taco.
Enchiladas tacos are the signature item at Not Yo Tacos, a food truck that parks on Crenshaw Boulevard in South L.A.
(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

In L.A., tacos are soul food. Here are 9 spots that prove it

The soul food lexicon is ever-expanding, encompassing and weaving in flavors and influences of the South, Caribbean and from across Africa. Here in Southern California, tacos also emerge as part of our soul food canon, based on recipes that trace back to Black kitchens.

At first glance they might resemble the hard-shelled “gringo” tacos at fast-casual restaurants. But the seasoned ground beef (and, often, turkey) in these tacos is never bland or mushy, the cheese and lettuce are shredded fresh, and the fried tortillas are crisp, never stale. Instead of bottled options, the taco sauce is often made in-house, balancing peppery heat with a tang that recalls good barbecue sauce. They’re the afternoon snack that our moms and friends’ moms made, and for more than 30 years, Black-owned taco stands have specialized in this homey dish.

Opened on South Central Avenue in 1989 by Mack Jones, Original Taco Pete calls itself the “home of the Black taco.” The family recipe was passed down by Jones’ aunts Gladys and Garthea and remains the same all these years later, though the menu has expanded to include burritos, burgers and sandwiches with a range of fillings. Similarly, Sky’s Gourmet Tacos, opened on Pico Boulevard in 1992 by Barbara “Sky” Burrell, started with just five tacos on the menu, including the spicy-sweet shrimp that’s coated in a proprietary sauce and remains a top seller.

For more than three decades, Black chefs in Los Angeles have been making the taco their own, turning it into a staple of California soul cuisine.

Feb. 22, 2024

Local soul food restaurants also have found inspiration in tacos. Stevie’s Creole Cafe hosts a weekly Taco Tuesday where they wrap hot honey shrimp, jerk chicken, oxtails and other specialty meats in street-taco-sized tortillas. At Alta Adams, a vegan taco that blends African, Caribbean and Latin flavors is a newcomer to the California soul menu.

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Tacos are a frequent canvas for invention in L.A., and rising cooks are bringing new takes on Black tacos, including a Parmesan-dotted option with a shell that’s bathed in enchilada sauce. At one of Mid-City’s favorite soul restaurants, a native Angeleno is preparing to relaunch a pandemic-born taco shop that highlights pan-Latin and African flavors.

Whether you grew up eating them or want to sample a new sector of our city’s sprawling taco scene, here are nine places to try Black tacos:

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A styrofoam container of tacos at All Flavor No Grease.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

All Flavor No Grease

Manchester Square Tacos $
Keith Garrett started All Flavor No Grease eight years ago and most days, you’ll find the truck parked on Manchester near Western Avenue in front of a Ralphs grocery store. He greets everyone who approaches with a wide smile and watches eagerly as first-time customers open their takeout containers and begin eating. “How is it?” he’ll ask, a sly grin revealing that he already knows the answer. After receiving confirmation, he’ll ask in a cheering voice, “Is it all flavor no grease?” Indeed, the crispy flour tortillas with chicken, steak, shrimp or a mix of meats, plus onions, cilantro, lettuce and shredded cheese, are full of flavor but surprisingly light. I get three tacos with each meat but find myself wishing I’d ordered one more, or added a quesadilla to my order. You’ll also want to “flavor up,” which adds sour cream, guacamole and house green sauce for $3 per taco or $5 per quesadilla. Garrett sometimes does catering gigs and special events; check Instagram for the truck’s schedule.
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A plate of tacos from Alta Adams
(Courtesy of Alta Adams)

Alta Adams

West Adams Southern $$
Chef and co-owner of Alta Adams, Keith Corbin is passionate about letting his staff develop their talents, inviting his bartenders to create cocktails for special events and his cooks to host coursed dinners. Chef Binta Diallo helped inspire the jerk-spiced sweet plantain taco that’s on the starters menu, featuring a handmade corn tortilla, strips of caramelized plantain, mango-habanero salsa and chopped onion and cilantro. Between this dish, the black-eyed pea fritters, cornbread and charbroiled oysters, one could compose a satisfying meal out of appetizers alone. Add a martini flight and consider your plans for the evening secured.
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Oxtail tacos with roasted tomato, shredded kale and whiskey reduction on a rectangular dish
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

My 2 Cents

Mid-Wilshire Soul Food Californian $$
A taco with juicy, six-hour-braised oxtail has been on chef Alisa Reynolds’ menu since her Pico Boulevard restaurant opened in 2013. During the pandemic, Reynolds pivoted to a takeout-only Tacos Negros menu that became so popular she decided to keep the most-ordered tacos on the permanent menu. In addition to oxtail tacos with roasted tomato, shredded kale and whiskey reduction, there’s fried catfish with house remoulade; sweet plantain and callaloo; agave-jerk shrimp; ground turkey with five cheeses in a folded and pressed tortilla; and fried green tomato tacos with parsley cream. Apart from the ground turkey taco that pays homage to the tacos found in typical Black households, all are gluten-free, including the fried catfish. Reynolds also is preparing to relaunch Tacos Negros as an online-only venture that will introduce her tacos to the Westside.
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Enchiladas tacos at Not Yo Tacos.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Not Yo Tacos

Leimert Park Tacos $
Before Terrence Hudson launched his Not Yo Tacos food truck, he and his wife started out selling Black tacos in their driveway. Encouraged by a mentor to make a trademark item, Hudson created his Parmesan-crusted enchilada tacos. Somehow, the crunchy, crimson-shelled pockets filled with ground turkey, chicken or steak and topped with melted cheese, black olives, green onions, cilantro and sour cream work, especially when paired with tart Jolly Rancher Kool-Aid that acts as a convincing substitute for the usual agua fresca. Hudson also offers tacos in Doritos Locos shells, a taco burger and a burrito. When he’s not busy with catering gigs, find the truck parked on Crenshaw near Obama Boulevard. Check Instagram for the latest schedule.
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Two plates of tacos from Stevie's Creole Cafe.
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Stevie's Creole Cafe

Mid-Wilshire Southern Creole $$
The Creole cafe that serves what The Times’ longtime restaurant critic Jonathan Gold called “the best gumbo west of the Mississippi” also celebrates Taco Tuesday, offering a wide range of fillings drawing from soul food and Caribbean flavors such as jerk chicken, oxtail, chicken liver, fried oyster, hot honey shrimp and, of course, ground beef and turkey. There’s even a chitlin taco. Make a meal out of the street-sized tacos that are topped with chopped tomatoes and strips of romaine lettuce, but make sure you order the signature gumbo to go.
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A trio of tacos in a metal stand
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Sky's Gourmet Tacos

Mid-Wilshire American Tacos $
Barbara “Sky” Burrell opened her Pico Boulevard restaurant as a takeout taco stand in 1992, and her signature shrimp, coated in her sweet-tangy “Sassy” sauce and wrapped in a tortilla bathed in the same sauce and lightly fried, quickly became the top-selling item. Even as the menu expanded to include tortas, burritos, nachos and fillings like lobster, filet mignon and yams with wild rice, the shrimp taco remains the crowd favorite. My go-to order also includes the ground beef and potato and cheese tacos, paired with a sorrel lemonade. In 2018, Sky’s moved to a larger location on Pico Boulevard that better accommodates its catering business and also includes a covered patio for enjoying your selections on-site.
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A plate of tacos at Taco Mell.
(Taco Mell)

Taco Mell

Leimert Park Tacos $
Compton native Jermelle “Mell” Henderson started out with a taco cart and would rent out parking lots or sublease spaces, using social media to share his location and spread the word. After three years of bouncing around, he secured his current location on Crenshaw Boulevard next to the newly opened Leimert Park Metro station. Taco Mell offers tacos similar to the ones prepared in Black homes across Southern California, with well-seasoned chicken, steak, shrimp or a mix of all three meats on tortillas that can be fried to your preferred crispness, plus rice and beans as a vegetarian option. There are also burritos, burrito bowls, quesadillas and Henderson’s trademark nachos that pile Doritos chips with melted cheese, jalape?os, guacamole and your preferred meat. As is standard at Black taco shops, you’ll find Kool-Aid on the drink menu.
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A hand flips tacos on a flat-top grill
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Taco Pete

Hyde Park Tacos $
Dubbed the “home of the Black taco,” Original Taco Pete has been serving the South L.A. community for more than 50 years. The restaurant that was passed down from Mack Jones to his sons Aaron and Charles Jones still features the same recipe in “OG” tacos with ground Angus beef, cheese, lettuce, onion, tomato and house taco sauce in a fried tortilla shell. The menu has expanded with burritos, burgers, enchiladas, quesadillas and sandwiches that burst with chicken, ground turkey, Angus steak and pastrami, but my order remains the same. I always get the OG combo that comes with three tacos, French fries and a soda. You can choose between a hard shell that’s premade or freshly fried tortillas; I recommend the latter.
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Worldwide Tacos offers unusual fillings, such as this raspberry shrimp taco, made fresh by owner Fredrick Sennie.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Worldwide Tacos

Leimert Park Tacos $
As legendary as it is, Worldwide Tacos requires a disclaimer. The humble taco window on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard isn’t available on any takeout or delivery apps and you’ll have to go in person to order. The hours listed online have shifted since the pandemic, but the shop usually opens around 3 p.m. — if it hasn’t been booked for an event or catering gig. The family-owned business isn’t active on social media and answers the phone only sporadically, so you’ll have to take a chance and visit in person to see if it’s open. If it is, you’ll likely be met with at least a 45-minute wait and up to three hours.

If you can pass all of these tests, you’ll be rewarded with tacos that absolutely live up to the hype. Even the ground beef tacos stand out, featuring a shatter-crisp shell, house taco sauce that seeps into juicy crumbles of meat, melted shredded cheese and a layer of shredded lettuce on top. The potato taco is another favorite, with fried potatoes coated in a masala spice blend, but more than 300 combinations exist, such as jerk duck, raspberry chipotle lamb and glazed lemon pepper shrimp, with options like BBQ jackfruit and grilled mushrooms for the plant-based crowd. Kill time by exploring the surrounding Leimert Park neighborhood and consider getting a snack so you don’t have to wait around hungry.
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