In Spanish, taquito means little taco, but it has become synonymous with the rolled variety. These fried treats can be found everywhere, including the frozen section of your local supermarket.
This widespread availability has put them in the same category as pizza: accessible but too often forgettable. A tortilla is to a taco what bread is to a sandwich. If the bread sucks, so will the sandwich. Using a substandard tortilla for a rolled taco will produce a chewy, thick disappointment that also affects the ratio of shell to filling. No amount of guacamole, sour cream or cheese will fix that. Even though terrible taquitos happen all too often, they didn’t start that way.
Rolled taquitos are a Mexican American invention. The origin of which, while in dispute, shares a similar time frame, the early 1930s during the Second World War.
If you’re an Angelino, then Aurora Guerrero invented rolled tacos at Cielito Lindo on Olivera Street in Los Angeles.
If you’re a San Diegan, Ralph Pesqueria Sr. rolled the first taquitos right here in our backyard at El Indio.
The only ones that care who did it first are the families in question. Both locations earned a spot in history as they added to the culinary canon. They helped spread the good word about rolled tacos. Now just about every Mexican menu in America serves a version of these fried treats. Lucky for us, these iconic innovators are still in business today, these restaurants warrant a visit.
While I like a well made rolled taco, they are getting harder to find. Most are mediocre at best. They are often an afterthought, a way to use day-old tortillas and leftover fillings.
A new place in town has flipped that script, using fresh ingredients and making everything from scratch; they take their rolled tacos seriously.
El Tianguis sits across the street from the large water tower in North Park in a little unassuming strip mall next to a Popeyes Chicken. Don’t let the location fool you; this place is charming and well-maintained.
This shop specializes in rolled taquitos, making their tortillas from scratch and they roll their tacos daily. The thin tortillas they make give their fried tacos an addictive crunch that reminds me of Filipino lumpia.
Fried to order, they make their chips with the same house-made tortillas. If you have never had chips right out of the frier with quality salsas and guacamole you are in for a real treat.
The taquitos come in a variety of flavors, chicken in tomatillo sauce, shredded beef in a Mexican sauce, mashed golden potato, and California, a combo of shredded beef, potato, and cheese. They even have a vegan option of lentils and quinoa.
The regular toppings consist of Mexican sour cream, cheese, shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, guacamole, and salsa. They offer a choice of three house-made salsas: mild red, spicy red, and tomatillo. If you order your taquitos “supreme,” you can add carne asada, chicken, birria, or carnitas as an additional topping.
The potato taquitos are a favorite of mine as I love the creamy texture of mashed potatoes in contrast to the crunchy fried tortilla. The addition of carnitas to the potato tacos elevated the experience for me. You can have it all, creamy, buttery mashed potatoes and tasty carnitas with crunchy burnt ends.
The toppings at most places simply mask a mediocre taquito but not here. I found myself using a fork to scoop up every last bite.
In addition to rolled tacos, El Tianguis serves rice bowls, loaded French fries, and nachos. You can wash it all down with a decent lineup of Mexican beers and sodas in glass bottles.
It may seem like a big ask for you to drive over the bridge for taquitos, no matter how good they are. So don’t just make it about rolled tacos…
This is a fun area of North Park with a lot of fantastic businesses. I have written about Collins and Coupe, and the Wise Ox is located a block away, and if you are thirsty, Fall Brewing, Pure Project, Seek Beer Company, The Poor House , El Cid Brewing Company and Belching Beaver can all wet your whistle with some local craft beers. These are tasting rooms without kitchens, so they all welcome outside food. These are all close by, so why not pick up some food at El Tianguis, do some shopping, and have a drink? That makes it worth the trip; see you in North Park.