Cacao: No Longer a Safe Word

By Lauren Doyle

Cacao Mexicatessen
Los Angeles, California

Has Taco Bell ruined your faith in the glorious culinary tradition of Mexican food? Have you given up hope in the realization that you may never have a decent taco without driving hours to the border to get it? To you, hopeless Mexican food wanderer, if you did not understand my Portlandia-inspired title, I say, look no further than the traditional Baja-style restaurant, Cacao Mexicatessen.

Burrowed between a Trader Joe’s and a decaying strip mall in the evolving neighborhood of Eagle Rock in Los Angeles, you will find the modest, but colorful front of this neighborhood favorite.

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Immediately as I entered the restaurant, the smell of tortillas cooking on a griddle and meat simmering in mouthwatering juices flowed over me. A line weaved in and out of the compact tables and I waited impatiently as I prepared to recite my order.

While I read over the chalk-written menu, an abuela stood behind the counter and with grizzled, arthritic hands she rolled out circular corn tortilla delights. I walked up to the register and confidently ordered my gargantuan meal of six tacos and drinks.

Everything at Cacao is made to order, so I recommend sampling their list of different kinds of micheladas. A michelada is similar to a Bloody Mary, but unlike the boozy brunch favorite, it is actually good. Substitute the vodka for beer, the tomato juice for Clamato (a thinner, spicier tomato juice) and line the rim with some Tajin, and grasped between your feverish hands you’ve got yourself the sweetest nectar usually reserved for the most revered celestial beings.

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As I waited for my meal, I was greeted by servers who offered me carafes of water with a sprig of rosemary nestled between the ice cubes and thin, salty tortilla chips with salsa. I had just taken the last sip of my michelada when the first round of tacos appeared.

The Conchinita Pibil and Fish Taco de Ensenada were the first samplings I tried. Thinly sliced radishes, pickled onion, and a sliver of avocado rested on a bed of shredded pork and crunchy, battered fish.  I gently pinched the top of the tortilla and let the simmering juices run down my chin and onto the metallic plate on the bar.

The Conchinita Pibil was relatively mild and any spice was neutralized with the tart, pickled onion. The fish taco was crispy and was made even better by the lime aioli that drenched it.

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My favorite taco, however, was not the Conchinita or the fish. It was the Carnitas de Pato AKA the duck confit taco. This fascinating taco can only be described as life changing. That’s right; I went in a normal twenty three-year-old and after biting into the mass of perfectly seasoned shredded duck dripping with chile oil, I left as a more sophisticated version of myself.

It is safe to say that I will certainly be returning to Cacao Mexicatessen in the future, even if it means having to endure the horrendous LA traffic and the unfeasible act of street parking.

Post by Lauren Doyle. Photos from Yelp.