TACO QUEST 2020: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

little llama

In March of 2020, most of Downtown shutdown completely in order to fight the spread of Covid 19. Facing a global pandemic, the Mayor of Los Angeles ordered all non-essential businesses closed until further notice.

During this time DTLA Weekly set out to embark on a perilous adventure to find the one thing that Downtown needed to survive…THIS IS OUR STORY.

1. In Honor of the Mamba at Cilantro Lime

Leo Matias, owner and operator of Fashion District’s Cilantro Lime, had been inviting Downtown Weekly to help create a new menu item for his “For The Gram” menu for over two years. But chefs, we are not.

It was February and we knew we wanted to do something to honor the Mamba! But, we didn’t know what? 

In the kitchen, we stood over bins filled with tons of appetizing ingredients. With our guide Leo and our thoughts of purple and gold, we set out to make “His-story” in a taco. 

First, we tried to build our taco with a purple-ish squash, corn and bright yellow American cheese. And it was good. 

But Leo took one bite and said…  

“Let me teach you a little something about texture. It’s good, but it has to be bomb!”

Taking out the squash and adding sprinkled queso, Leo concocted a burnt cheese quesadilla/taco. 

Piled high on a sturdy burnt cheese tortilla, prepare for the zesty taste of fresh sweet corn with your choice of meat topped with Pico de Gallo, guacamole, spicy aioli, cilantro and lime. 

On that day, a BOMB spontaneous taco – the “Kobe Taco” was born.



We don’t always leave Downtown but when we do it’s to sit and chat with actor turned Taco Maker Danny Trejo at Trejos Tacos in Hollywood California. 

One month Downtown Weekly found a Golden Ticket and were invited to visit Danny Trejo’s Taco Factory for National Taco Day. One lucky winner was granted free tacos for the month.

That wasn’t us. However, we did manage to escape with the lingering taste of Badass Beef Barbacoa tacos filled with pico de gallo, tortilla strips, and sprinkled cotija cheese.

These tacos are as badass  as the Machete-wielding, bullet taking, Anaconda poaching, short-tempered film characters we’ve grown to love over the past 3 decades. 

But wait! Nothing says badass like a Trejo’s Tacos Ugly Christmas Sweater. His ultra-comfortable 100% cotton sweater featuring rows of tacos and smiling images of Danny Trejo, is sure to become a family classic and a lovable way to laugh with your hombres. @trejostacos

3. A Family Affair at Pez Cantina

Led by Husband a wife team Chef Bret Thompson and Lucy Thompson Ramirez, their seafood dominate Mexican-style plates have been welcoming diners to their indoor restaurant with outdoor patio under the stars since 2014. 

Pez Cantina serves their famous Chili Verde Carnitas Tacos, two on a plate, with a side of rice and beans or salad. The juice from the tender shredded pork soaks through the tortilla in no time, but that’s okay. There is no shortage of forks in downtown LA. Pez also serves Beef, chicken and  crispy fish tacos.

Covid closures sparked a new stage for Pez. As the restaurant switched to TakeOut and safe delivery, Chef Bret took to the internet hosting a personality show full of good times, food friends, good causes and good food demonstrations each episode. 

Maybe if we’re lucky he will show us how he prepares his downtown taco favorites.


4. Up in the Cloud with Sky’s Tacos

Even COVID had to take a back seat to Sky’s Gourmet Tacos. Sky Burrell and her team were already ahead of the curve, so to speak, being on all of the prominent food delivery apps, such as Uber Eats, Door Dash, Postmates, etc., when COVID 19 shutdowns were announced last March. Despite not being able to open indoors, Sky’s TakeOut and catering options put up a good defense. 

Still, after 28 years, customers leave with TakeOut Bags full of steak, chicken, fish, sweet potato tacos (among others) and sides of beans and rice; and they never forget to order a slice of her famed caramelized pecan cheesecake. 

Our favorite? Hands down – the shrimp tacos thanks to the shrimp’s special seasoning, made in-house, that make the taste of each crustacean incomparable. 

Sky’s Gourmet Tacos boasts several locations in LA, and recently they opened their newest cloud kitchen location close to Expo/USC now serving Sky’s remarkable mix of “Mexican with a Splash of Soul”. 

Order online www.skystacos.com

5. Warm and Cozy at Little Llama

Little Llama Peruvian Tacos may be new to the Old Bank District, but its creators Chef Jean Valcarcel and Co-Founder Angela Wagner are long-time DTLA culinary enthusiasts who have been wowing us with their one-of-kind dining experiences for almost a decade.

In 2012, inspired by the sophistication of DTLA’s golden age, the pair launched Re Creo Supper Club, a DTLA-based pop-up supper club. It became known for fine dining experiences staged on rooftops and in lofts, warehouses, and art galleries throughout the city. 

In 2016, the duo conceived Little Llama as a pop-up concept at the weekly Arts District foodie haven known as “Smorgasburg LA”. When the cold chill of Covid forced the event to close, they turned 100% of their energy to their first brick-and-mortar location.

Now open at 222 S. Main Street, they’re earning rave reviews for their signature Lomo Saltado Taco, a soul-warming combination of Angus steak marinated in garlic and ginger, crispy Yukon gold potatoes, Huacatay aioli, and tomato escabeche. @littlellamatacos

6. Saved by an Angel at Downtown Taco

Downtown Taco! Arts District’s Angel City Brewery stayed closed most of the year only to reopen just last month, to close again just last month, due to the second wave of Covid shutdowns. 

Fortunately, for Downtown Taco, the mobile kitchen regular, attached to the side of the Brewery, was able to provide his selection of delicious tacos inspired by the flavors of Oaxaca Mexico on the move. 

For most of the year, we could find the gourmet food truck parked on Hill and 3rd servicing the Department of Water and Power and BOA plaza inhabitants who managed to keep their jobs at the office. 

Downtown Taco sets themselves apart with their freshly hand-pressed, organic tortillas cooked to order over a very hot grill. Inside the tiny space of the mobile kitchen, the Chef keeps his choices of grilled meats and eclectic toppings within arms reach. 

Our favorite??? The Mesquite filled flavor of the Chorizo Taco with spicy Spanish pork sausage and pineapples and a side of vegan cheese roles. Sure, it’s contradicting. But, it’s the balance between good and evil that just does it for us. 

Follow @downtowntaco for up-to-date locations.

7. Float Your Boat at Rappahannock Oyster Bar

During the first months of shutdown, Rappahannock Oyster Bar would remain one of the last open docks at the Row, a lifestyle mall located far off the mainland in the Warehouse District of the city. 

After switching their seaworthy indoor and outdoor dining experience into a seafood and cocktail TakeOut sea-port, Chef Wilson Santos cast a line with his amazing Oyster Tacos and Downtown took the bait.

RappBar’s Oyster Tacos come three on a plate. They are made simply with house-made coleslaw that completely shelters three delectable fried oysters, placed on each small tortilla. Picking them up for a bite without dropping some coleslaw can be a battle, however, you’ll enjoy the clash of tremendous flavors. So light and crispy, they are very hard to eat slowly. 


8. The Original Taco Pete

After thirty years of serving South Central’s most beloved ground beef tacos, The Original Taco Pete has opened a second location inside of a cloud kitchen, set up especially for delivery.

taco Pete

As Downtown makes space for the iconic taco makers specializing in ground beef, turkey, chicken and shrimp, students and residents are finally getting a chance to enjoy the flavors that helped bring smiles to the west coast for over three generations. Order the 10 pack Variety Taco Special, but don’t stop there! OG Taco Pete also serves spiced-right chicken wings, flips a mean of plate of loaded red and yellow nachos and wraps one humongous burrito. www.originaltacopete.com

9. Reunited at Bad Son Tacos

Downtown Weekly discovered a hidden gem at Bad Son Tacos located in the Little Tokyo Mall.

Before Covid, Bad Son a kept a steady flow of customers thanks to the flavors of handmade tortillas, salsa and traditional South of the Border favorites like Tinga, Mole and Chapulines (grasshopper) tacos, characters you just couldn’t find anywhere else.

Their recipes were all the fuel they needed to catapult Bad Son Taco into greatness. But the COVID shutdown suddenly left the in-store taco kiosk without foot traffic or dine-in options, leading to the family’s terrible sibling’s announcement in May, that Bad Son Tacos would be closing indefinitely.

But never fear Bad Son Tacos rejoined their father’s restaurant, La Morenita. 


10. Pop Up with Pablitos Tacos

It’s the Taco that started it all for Mikazi Nikkei Sushi partner Danny Rodriguez. For a brief stint during his new restaurant’s grand opening in the Historic Core, Rodriguez offered downtown a taste of his highly notarized Pablito’s Taco in Burbank, with a hearty downtown Taco Tuesday pop up.

It was then that we embarked on our first Peruvian Taco adventure. Pablito’s Taco filled our plates with a mix of carne asada, chicken, pastor, veggie, chicharron and Loma Saltado upon fresh hand-pressed tortillas, covered in onions, cilantro, guacamole and Pablito’s Green “Crack” Sauce.  @pablitostacos

Author: Keri Freeman

Military mom and proud parent, artist, writer, musician and film maker. Cocktail connoisseur. Publisher of DTLA Weekly.