Self-described “travel-obsessed foodie” Courtney O’Dell embarked with her husband on a five-day Southern California road trip in search of the finest tacos between Los Angeles and San Diego. Along the way, says O’Dell, the couple lost track of just how many tacos they ate after the first 30, but did try 16 different places—from a Michelin-starred restaurant in Orange County to a taco truck in L.A.
“My jeans are a little tight-fitting right now and I’m still a little full from all of the food, but it was amazing,” says O’Dell, who writes and photographs the travel and food website Sweet C’s Designs. “It’s such a great way to take in all of the different neighborhoods that Southern California has to offer and try so many different takes on tacos.”
O’Dell shared the couple’s favorites in the latest edition of the California Now Podcast, and here’s what they discovered—and in some cases, rediscovered.
Old School on Olvera Street
O’Dell’s first stop was for the “super crunchy” taquitos with creamy avocado sauce at Cielito Lindo, a spot on Olvera Street she used to visit with her grandmother. The tacos were exactly as O’Dell remembered them and the stop was both a culinary and cultural experience. “You can go and visit the museums there and learn about early life in Los Angeles. And also get these amazing, knockout taquitos,” she says.
As every L.A. foodie knows, the city’s most authentic eats are often found at mini-malls and food trucks. O’Dell headed to Mariscos Jalisco, a food truck the late Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold dubbed a “national treasure.” O’Dell recommends the truck’s “unreal” shrimp and potato taco. As she explains, “If you haven’t had a shrimp and potato taco, it might seem kind of a mismatch. But they’re life-changing.”
Sippin’ Salsa at Tito’s Tacos
“I cannot visit L.A. without stopping at Tito’s Tacos,” declared O’Dell about the Culver City landmark. No offense to Tito’s crispy tacos but for O’Dell, the real highlight is the salsa. “I always buy extra containers of their salsa and drink it because it’s so good,” she says. “You just taste fresh tomatoes and onions. Oh, it’s amazing!”
Cod of the Gods in Costa Mesa
Michelin-starred Taco María in Costa Mesa proved to be a top stop, thanks to what O’Dell calls the “insane” flavors of such variations as a pork belly taco and one with mushroom chorizo. But it was the black cod taco, lauded by her husband as “transcendent,” that truly stood out. Odell rhapsodizes, “It was a simple fried piece of black cod that stayed crispy through the whole taco. It had grapes and cabbage and scallion aioli. It was beautiful.”
Puesto: The Art of the Taco
At Puesto in San Diego, the couple sampled 10 styles of tacos, which didn’t even cover all of the menu choices. She loved Puesto’s tacos for their artistry, originality, and balance. “You always had something crunchy, you always had something crisp, something cooling, something creamy. They just really, really planned with their flavors and textures in a way that made you want to keep eating.” And for an added bonus? Terrific chips and salsa.