To hear Bill Esparza of Street Gourmet LA tell it, the northern San Fernando Valley may be the final frontier when it comes to Mexican food in L.A. It turns out that the stretch of auto body shops and low-rent motels that surround Whiteman Airport are punctuated by cafes, food trucks and stands that celebrate regional Mexican cuisine. Esparza recently shared his initial find, and Mariscos El Tetos may go down as one of his best.
An Ensenada native sets up shop along an industrial strip of Lankershim Boulevard, just north of the 5 freeway. His hospitable staff unfolds collapsible tables and chairs in front of the truck, offering shade from the sun, which has been known to scorch north Valley denizens in warmer months. Mariscos El Tetos might not be as stylish as some of L.A.’s trendier trucks, but it still has some flair, including nautical steering wheels that frame iconic Baja images like La Bufadora (“the blowhole”) and an off-road vehicle that makes reference to the Baja 500. This is one of the most inventive seafood trucks in the city, but the owner’s motto demonstrates humility. “No somos los mejores del Mundo Pero si los mejores del Rumbo” roughly translates as “We’re not the best in the world, but we’re the best on the way.”
Tetos delivers Mariscos Estilo Ensenada, the kind of items you’d find in the owner’s hometown, or in Tijuana. Esparza led multiple trips to Baja last year, and while Mariscos El Tetos isn’t quite on par with an ocean-fueled juggernaut like Mariscos Ruben, it’s markedly better than any truck I’ve encountered in the area that cooks Mexican seafood. Tetos officially offers 53 different dishes on the menu, but #19-53 are duplicates. Tacos, Quesadillas, Mulitas, Burritos or Tortas are all available filled with pescado, camaron, mariscos, chuleta, azada, pollo or barbacoa. There’s also overlap with the Clamatos, Cocktails and Conchas Preparadas, which each contain camaron, caracol, pulpo or mixtos. The owner also has Cahuamanta, a traditional soup made with manta ray substituted for the endangered turtle. Still, the menu doesn’t tell the entire story, since the owner brings fresh finds from Ensenada, including marlin, sea snail, crab and Pismo clam.
Tetos’ corn tortillas are a real strength, grilled to order, thick, sturdy and steaming.
If anything, the taco was overdressed. If Tetos dials down the toppings by 50%, the fish would shine more. What wasn’t in question was the hand made corn tortilla, which was a revelation considering most L.A. fish taco peddlers pull their tortillas from a bag.
The fish tacos were both solid, but it was the second half of the meal that made me believe in Mariscos El Tetos.
Bill forewarned me that they typically use Kraft Singles, and he doesn’t mind that fact, but I do, so I opted for Monterey Jack. The crunchy pepper, sweet shrimp, molten cheese played very well off of the crispy, smoky bacon. The outrageous pepper appeared with a refreshing salad of shaved radishes, tomato, cilantro and cabbage, all dressed in crema.
If you want to dress your food, Teto has a silver salsa caddy loaded with ice-supported bins of habanero salsa, roasted jalapeños, lemon wedges, crema, nopales salad and more. Really though, each item was well conceived and didn’t much boost.
I’m not sure what each item cost individually, but the whole meal cost only $19. That’s a bargain considering the quality, and that the Concha Preparada de Caracol and Toritos are so hard to come by outside of Baja.