I love Mexican food.
Growing up in Southern California, you’d be surprised at how hard it can be to find good authentic Mexican — not because great Mexican restaurants don’t exist, but because it’s hard to spot ’em in a landscape of whitewashed wannabes.
But, as I got older, I learned how to spot the really auténtico places.
5 RULES FOR SPOTTING A GOOD MEXICAN RESTAURANT FOR NON-MEXICANS
Rule #1: It should be staffed entirely by Mexican dudes. A friend of mine once got in trouble for saying that he bets that the reason those taco trucks are so good is because they “make it with their dirty hands.” We all laughed at him because it was such a racist thing to say, but you know what? I think he’s right. If they’re speaking anything but Spanish to each other, I turn around and walk right out.
Rule #2: The clientele should be mostly Hispanic. This actually holds true for all “ethnic” food. If everyone dining in a supposedly Korean joint is white, then get out. Get out while you still can. Likewise, if I walk into a Mexican place and no one can understand me because I’m speaking perfect English, then I know I’ve got the right place.
Rule #3: If you’re there after dark, you should feel a little uncomfortable. If there’s a TV in the place, it should be tuned to Telemundo or a soccer game or, best of all, a soccer game on Telemundo. People should be looking at you funny. If they don’t, then that means that they’re used to seeing non-locals hanging about. You want a place that caters to the locals, not to the visitors.
Rule #4: There shouldn’t be cheese on anything that’s not supposed to have cheese on it*. Americanized Mexican food is covered in cheese. Now, I have nothing against cheese — I think it’s delicious, and it certainly has its place, even in Mexican cuisine. But no self-respecting taco joint will send you a plate buried in melted cheese.
*I will make an exception for carne asada nachos because they are so darned tasty, even if they’re not authentic.
Rule #5: The basics should BLOW. YOUR. MIND. Whenever I try I new Mexican place, I always start with what I call “The Taste Trifecta Test”. That’s three tacos: carne asada, carnitas, and al pastor. If they can get those three right, then they’re probably legit.
So, with that said, let’s take a look at El Antojito, shall we?
Rule #1: Check. The guy had to ask me twice what I wanted because my Mexican accent is awful (that’s right, Mexican. Spanish is the language, but there is an accent specific to Mexico).
Rule #2: Check. It was raining, so there weren’t many people, but I was definitely the only Asian in the place.
Rule #3: Dark parking lot? Bad neighborhood? Nothing but beat-up old pick-up trucks, vans, and Cadillacs in the parking lot? Check, check, and CHECK.
Rule #4: Check. Not a single shred of cheese in sight.
Rule #5: OH, MY GOD, CHECK!!! I ordered my Taste Trifecta, and HOLY FRIJOLES, it was amazing. I know I’ve raved about lots of other Mexican joints, and my reviews of King Taco, El Taurino, Taco Sinaloa, and Tacos San Pedro still stand, but they must now all bow to the KING OF AL PASTOR: El Antojito. Man ALIVE, that is some quality meat!! The carne asada and carnitas tacos were also excellent, but the al pastor was what really blew my whistle.
And the clincher: tacos are only a dollar each. You just can’t beat that price.
So, if you’re up for some comida auténtica, I would highly recommend that you take a trip under the 110 overpass, head on over to the wrong side of the tracks, and hit up El Antojito.
Corner of 168th & Figueroa
Gardena, CA 90247