On the eastern stretch of Olympic Boulevard–where Boyle Heights meets East L.A. amidst run-down industrial buildings–lies Tacos “El Capitan,” a local institution that happens to be in the form of an old-school taco truck parked inside of a dilapidated parking lot.
Tacos El Capitan has been in business for 25 years, according to the manager Manuel. The space “used to be an old Chinese restaurant back in the day” according to one of the pierced, tatted employees who hands me my two tacos for $1. The narrow restaurant building is actually still there with an exposed brick foundation and graffiti’d, boarded up broken windows. Though now, it serves as a bodega to Manuel, a storage space to keep a reserve of tortillas and meat. A peak through the cracks reveals a few hissing appliances: a refrigerator and a freezer that probably acts like a makeshift commissary.
El Capitan’s salsas are notorious among neighboring popular seafood trucks. The owners are from Colima, Mexico. And upon sampling, it was immediately known why. The tomatillo salsa is thick, citrusy and ultra-savory, a rarity in the watered-down salsa realm of most taqueros. When adorning a taco de lengua, it is the best street taco in town.
Their beef tongue is butter-tender, a product of simmering for who-knows how long and in what spices. It happens to be more tender than a lot of fancier short ribs in town. On the other hand, their al pastor is tough and gristly.
On a Sunday afternoon, El Capitan is sprawling, a line of exclusively locals: Intimidating bald dudes wearing Loks brand sunglasses, a cashier on break from the Food-4-Less a block away, a family of four in which the mother orders 40 tacos and three burritos (no rice) and then peruses on over to buy a pirate action DVD a few feet away while her order number is called…
In a world where the cost of food is going up, Tacos El Capitan hasn’t changed their prices. 2×1 tacos, as it is advertised all over the truck.
Yes, the truck is rusty and there are potholes just asking for a tender ankle to step in it, but no one complains. Not even the city, as they proudly boast their “A” grade by the health and safety department by the driver side door.
“Veinte, veintidos, veintitres,” a taco cook shouts out the the order numbers in a streamlined fashion from the small window as the line to order gets bigger.
Javier Cabral is a local food blogger and a native of East LA. You can find his reviews on food, booze and music at The Glutster. Tacos El Capitan is located at 3750 E Olympic Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90023.