Friday, July 5, 2013

Fine Art and Tacos: Day Tripping in East LA

This city is huge. It can take a lifetime of living in Los Angeles to even figure out which communities are where. And then you'd need another lifetime to visit each of these communities to find out what goes on there. Though I would argue that would be a terrible use of a second life. Basically, if you live here you get to know a handful of places really well: where you live, where you work, where your drug dealer lives. No, really, that's a joke. And everyone who lives in LA knows the unique experience of just ending up somewhere random, some place you've only heard about on the news. Maybe you took a wrong turn. Maybe you're buying something from Craigslist. Maybe your pregnant wife drags you to an art opening because she's run the fuck out of things to do. Maybe you're blindly following your car's thermometer looking for the hottest place on earth. Maybe you're hunting down the Best Taco in LA, because again, your pregnant wife has run the fuck out of things to do. Maybe, if your lucky, you can combine several of these activities and make a day of it. Kill a day. (Just look at the place!) Away we go...


But, wait. I first need to point out that the idea of there being such a thing as the Best Taco in LA is ridiculous. You could go and make a great taco in your kitchen right now. You could be whiter than an actor playing a superhero in a movie and still figure out how to marinade some cheap steak in lime and chili and grill it and put it in a tortilla with some avocado and hot sauce. Will it be the Best Taco in LA? I don't know. Did it taste good? Did you eat another one?

Yet, the Best does matter. People care about this stuff, passionately. Even people who are not pregnant. They care more than ever. The Best dim-sum. The Best bagels. The Best pint of Guinness. The Best ketchup. Yes. Think about the dumbest thing you've ever done. Now, realize it was only half as dumb as blogging about ketchup. Or reading a blog about ketchup.

That's why the roads are so packed, why you can never get anywhere. It's not people driving to Vegas, or looking for our NFL team, it's people trying to hunt down the Best orange chicken because none of the sixteen places that serve orange chicken in their own neighborhood is the Best in LA.
As far as tacos go, Guisados is an internet sensation and one of the front-runners for Best Taco in LA. There are over a thousand reviews of this taco shop's two locations on Yelp! Granted, there's a silent majority, eight-million strong, who would probably disagree with any of these reviews and rankings. And the fact that Guisados tacos are tourist-priced keeps them from being the People's favorite. But a thousand reviews! That's a lot of words written about tacos, and the taco experience. And let's be honest, how good can a taco really get? I would argue that tacos plateau at a certain point. You've got good meat, a good tortilla, and some good sauce, and that's as far as it goes. You cannot achieve culinary greatness with a taco. And if you're going to argue this point with me you better be pregnant, or on house arrest. Otherwise go do something else. Go write a blog about how stupid people are for caring about the thing you're writing your blog about.

You might be expecting the ironic twist at this point, right? That I had one bite of the conchinita pibil at Guisados, and guisado-ed in my pants right there, saw fireworks, declared myself for Mexico in the 2014 World Cup. Maybe I did, maybe I didn't. We're not there yet. We're still sitting in traffic on the 105 and my pregnant wife has to pee. Again.

Eventually, we make it downtown. We drive around a bit and determine from the car's thermometer that it's hottest and muggiest and least comfortable out to the east of the city. So we drive east. We cross the LA River. Even in the mythical Land of Giants, there do not exist quotation marks big enough to put around that word river. The LA River is what the Amazon River sees on TV commercials. The sad little trickle, with its graffiti-stained concrete banks, digging around in the landfills of Guatemala City. "For the price of a cup of coffee..." The Amazon River changes the channel, but its day is already ruined. And even though you could jump over the river without a running start, there's a massive spillway on both sides, to divert Noah's Flood into Long Beach. But that's unnecessary now, because anyone living here will tell you it has stopped raining in LA. That's all done. It stopped about four years ago.


Our first planned stop is at 356 S. Mission, a studio/art gallery featuring a bunch of large painting by local art star Laura Owens. The work is excellent, and if I forced myself to say something ironic, sarcastic, or snarky about the show I'd probably point out that the front door made kind of a jarring metal-on-metal noise when it opened and closed and I didn't really appreciate that. Otherwise, it was very nice. (This marks the end of the Fine Art segment of this blog post).

Back to tacos! Onward, to Guisados for lunch. The restaurant was busy, but not packed. The dining crowd was as diverse as the city of Los Angeles, ethnically speaking. Economically speaking, however, this was the land of the high rollers, the $2.50 taco crowd. We ordered six tacos: two steak, one chorizo, one fish, one conchinita pibil, and a ceviche tostada. We also got some drinks, a melon water and an Arnoldo Palmero. The tacos arrived quickly. It was all delicious. The chorizo did kind of smell like dog food and feet, but in a good way. And that was it. Tasty tacos. Shocking. I stood up and bussed my plate. I waited for some portal to open up and carry me to another dimension. It didn't happen. Nothing happened. We walked to the car drove away.

The whole experience was as anticlimactic as I set it up in my mind to be. Stewed meat on a tortilla is never going to change the world. If the best thing you can say about a Mexican meal is that it was good, and you made it home in time to use the bathroom, than I don't know what we're all getting so crazy about. I liked Guisados and will go back in my second life, when I'm poking around Boyle Heights trying to figure out why that guy has an upside-down car in his driveway, and why it's on blocks. Yes Guisados is good. But you know what else is good? Taco Bell. And El Torito. And the fish tacos at the dirty Irish pub near my house. The genius isn't in making a fantastic taco, it's in getting people to drive across town and overpay for it. Or write about it.

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