I don’t have the same tolerance for spicy foods that my father does. When he wants salsa he wants it so hot he is sweating by the time he gets through his meal. And then he wants a little bit more. I don’t like to need a towel to wipe my brow at the end of a meal but I like a little bit of kick and when I ask for something I want it spicy for real, not white-people spicy. Not Cheesecake Factory we-added-some-extra-black-pepper-and-a-touch-of-cayanne-pepper-spicy but something that is going to burn a little bit and will be made worse if you try to wash it away with water.
You can get this at King Taco. You can get the spiciness my dad prefers but if you don’t want the burning depth of hell raging in your mouth you can get a decent kick as well. A good salsa makes all the difference in Mexican food. You could have the sweetest corn cakes, the most savory tamales, or the crispiest chips, but if you don’t have a spicy salsa then you are eating at El Torito or, if they’re still around, Alcapulco’s.
King Taco is on my list of musts every time I get back to Los Angeles, which is a few times per year. My family has been a loyal customer since my childhood. After visiting cousins or extended family, friends, after YMCA youth softball games or sometimes after an early Dodger game, stopping by King Taco — the one on Cypress or maybe the one on Third, depending on where we were coming from — was on the itinerary. Over the years as the brand expanded it got easier and easier to find one, much to my delight. Now they even have a spot in Dodger Stadium and that pretty much rocks.
King Taco got its start back in 1969. Raúl Martínez and his wife, María, lit the barbeque at the park (I’m guessing Leg Lake but that information wasn’t available), a bunch of guys playing soccer nearby finished up and passed by to see what smelled so good. They bought a bunch of tacos and BOOM! A legend was created.
Five years later Raúl and María bought an old ice-cream truck and converted it into a taco truck, an innovation that I think we all take for granted these days. Knowing their audience, Raúl, María, and Raúl father, parked the taco truck outside of a bar one night and had about $70 worth of sales. The next night they doubled that. Six months later the first King Taco restaurant with a permanent address opened at 1118 Cypress Ave. in Los Angeles. The rest is history and with just 21 locations from Commerce to Ontario everyone knows if you want a good taco you go to King Taco.
Part of the appeal is the value. Tacos are just a $1.25 and there is quite a variety to choose from. You can go with the simplicity and ease of carne asada, carnitas, or pollo, but for the real Mexicans, the ones who aren’t just supposed to be Mexican but actually know the Mexican National Anthem (I still have to learn that one), they offer lengua, cabeza, buche, and mollejo. I’d love to just tell those of you who don’t speak Spanish exactly what those are but part of the fun is figuring that out if it’s your first visit. I couldn’t in good conscience, ruin for you but I will say it might seem kind of rowdy if you aren’t terribly familiar with Mexican cuisine.
I may be confusing King Taco with Olvera Street from my youth but I thought they used to feature Fanta and/or Orange Bang (along with Piña and Lemon Ole!) but they don’t seem to be on the menu anymore. They do, however, still serve aguas frescas which sounds very good during these summer months. Other menu items include tamales, sopes, and chicken, but you go for the tacos. Just like even though Lawry’s Prime Rib has lobster, it’s not what you go there for. With King Taco you go for the tacos.
I won’t be making my way to Southern California for at least another couple of months but already my mouth is watering for some of those delicious tacos. So many nights heading back from Hollywood or wherever and taking an exit off the 60 freeway to pull up to the brightly lit sign with shaved heads and Dickies in front of low-riders on one side and LAPD or LA County Sheriffs on the other side. It’s a good mix. Oh, and if you are heading east on the 60, make sure you hit the right exit, because if you can see it from the freeway then you’ve gone too far and you’ll have to back track.