BEST TACOS (2003)
Eating at La Tolteca is like eating in a Mexican market, because actually we are eating in a Mexican market. This place is part Hispanic grocery store, part kitchen accessory store, part bakery, part butcher shop, part fast-food takeout counter, part sit-down restaurant. The music is loud and boisterous, the servers are cheerful chatterboxes, and, most important, the food is amazing. We stop in for tacos whenever we're in the 'hood (okay, it's not a glamorous 'hood, surrounded by used-car dealerships and discount furniture stores). But these tacos make any neighborhood beautiful. Everything is made fresh each day. The flour shells are light and crispy, like puffy sopaipillas. The corn shells are exquisitely crunchy and full of fresh vegetable flavor. The meats are lovingly roasted to juicy perfection, including chicken breast, carne asada, pastor (spiced rotisserie pork) or carnitas with onion and cilantro. There's seafood -- shrimp and mahi-mahi. And because this is a true Mexican experience, there's exotica like cabeza (head), lengua (tongue) and tripa (tripe). When we're really hungry, we get the monster taco, a flour shelled beast that's so big it takes up an entire dinner plate. It takes a double shell to hold all the shredded chicken or beef, iceberg lettuce, tomato and cheese. A squeeze of fresh lime, some salsa from the homemade salsa bar, and this is heaven.