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L.A. Taco Shines a Light on the People Behind the City’s Best Eats

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Many foodie publications will cover the latest hotspot to earn a Michelin star or the arrival of a buzzy chef from Paris’ elite culinary scene.

Not L.A. Taco.

The independent online news outlet for the Los Angeles metropolitan area is by the people and for the people.

“Our site focuses on food at the heart of the city and the people who make it,” says Memo Torres, Director of Partnerships at L.A. Taco. “Other publications may romanticize the French training and fine ingredients that go into a dish that most people in L.A. will never try. We focus on the people making that dish, the history of that meal, the conditions that led to the many different types of food vendors, and why it’s unique.”

Of course, L.A. Taco takes a deep dive into local food coverage, but it goes far beyond that.

“Our site also prides itself on finding new voices in the community to speak about their neighborhoods,” Torres says. “We strive to cultivate new writers to help tell the real story of Los Angeles through not just food but art, culture, and local news. L.A. Taco is not afraid to hold people of power accountable, and we strive to not just talk about communities but to give them a voice. L.A. Taco is also not scared to have fun through our writing, videos, and events. Our motto is to ‘Celebrate the Taco Lifestyle,’ and we celebrate with our readers and subscribers.”

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Raw Reporting with a Side of Barbacoa Tacos

Independently owned and operated, L.A. Taco is all about authentic, raw reporting and journalism. “We joke around in our newsroom that we’re the news source for the major news networks because, when we write a story, you’ll see the large networks cover it as their own that same night or next day,” Torres says. “But everyone knows L.A. Taco has the finger on the pulse of Los Angeles.”

Where else would you see stories like: “How a DACA Recipient From East L.A. Hustled His Way to Growing and Owning his Own Fruit Stand at the Original Farmers Market,” “More Than Your Favorite Peruvian Dish: Exploring the Dark History of Lomo Saltado’s Cross-Cultural Roots,” or “Photo Essay: The People and Murals of L.A.’s Little Bangladesh.”

Reporting beyond food, L.A. Taco’s coverage touches on immigration, social issues, and other subjects. But the publication sees all those rubrics falling within grub.

“The street vendor selling barbacoa tacos from their hometown in Mexico could be doing it because their immigration status makes finding employment difficult,” Torres explains. “They may not have access to proper healthcare, and police and county officials will criminalize them for just trying to feed their families and the public — that’s a social issue. A restaurant owner of 30 years in Highland Park could lose their livelihood overnight because [of a] council member’s vote. At L.A. Taco, we don’t see these issues as being separate or beyond. Everything is interconnected.”

Related: We Like L.A. — Your Guide on What to Do, Eat, and See in Los Angeles

That’s why L.A. Taco won an Emerging Voice Award from the James Beard Foundation last year for the way their journalism connects food with social justice, representation, and immigration. For Torres and the L.A. Taco editorial team, that was true validation, he says.

“Our tiny newsroom is filled with people who love this city,” Torres explains. “And while our readership always reminded us how proud they are of the vital work, it was nice to be seen by the James Beard Foundation. They understood the uniqueness of what we are doing as a publication. Other publications are finally showing us respect, and it not only validates us but every community and person we cover.”

L.A. Taco has an impressive roster of writers, supporting many journalists and contributors who’ve written for other publications such as VICE, The Los Angeles Times, LAist, LA Weekly, KCRW, and more. Some of the contributors were involved in the Netflix docuseries “Taco Chronicles,” which explores the taco’s historical and cultural significance, taking viewers on culinary adventures all over.

A Full Menu of Community Coverage

So, what makes a story L.A. Taco-worthy for coverage? True to its name, obviously any story with an exciting taco angle.

“For example, one recent viral story was Laker Anthony Davis coming home from winning the NBA championship; the first thing he did was celebrate with his favorite tacos,” Torres says. “We’re also not afraid to tackle complex and sensitive problems in our communities about racial tensions. Our articles have to speak to and for the larger population of Los Angeles and the issues that corporate publications may glance over. When it comes to our food coverage, we also look for a unique story, either rooted in tradition, struggle, or endurance. We also look for levels of creativity and innovation in food.”

Despite often covering heavy subject matter, L.A. Taco is still known as a fun publication. A lot of that has to do with the events that they host.

“Events are at the core of celebrating the taco lifestyle,” Torres says. “It allows a space for our readers to come together as a community and feel like they are a part of not just this huge metropolis, but of L.A. Taco and everything we stand for. It gives us a space to mingle with our followers and, of course, eat tacos with them. Our staff is spread out around the entire city, literally every corner, so events help bring us together as well as the larger community.”

One of their most beloved events is Taco Madness, their biggest one that has been going strong for 12 years. “Think of it as March Madness but with tacos,” Torres says.

They create a bracket, fill it with the city’s 32 most popular taqueros (someone who makes/sells tacos), and week by week, thousands of Angelenos cast votes for their favorite one. Once the competition is down to the final two, L.A. Taco holds a live event filled with music, art, drinks, merchandise, and of course, the city’s best taqueros dishing out everyone’s favorite food. That night, the winner is crowned on stage, and a group of guest celebrity judges awards the best in show.

“We center all our events around bringing the community together in celebration of L.A. with each other,” Torres says. “Through our member tastings, loyal readers meet each other and feel part of our growing community. Building a true community and celebrating around tacos is essentially what our events are all about.”

A Dash of DreamHost

Just as the L.A. community is loyal to L.A. Taco, L.A. Taco is loyal to DreamHost. They’ve been using DreamHost ever since the site launched in 2005.

“One factor was that DreamHost was a local company, and one of our co-founders used to work with someone at the company,” Torres says. “Also, DreamHost was early to the WordPress platform, and that made getting set up back then, in the stone age of the internet, a lot easier than it might have been with a different host.”

The L.A. Taco team’s favorite thing about DreamHost is the support.

“We’ve been through many ups and downs with our own technology, especially as the site has grown, and DreamHost has always had people on the other end who actually care about our business and our company,” Torres says. “We don’t have any full-time technical staff, so having a reliable host that is attentive to our needs is essential.”

Like any digital publication, L.A. Taco relies on technology and products to keep its site running. L.A. Taco was built on WordPress from day one, and it’s been on there ever since. They use several different plugins, their favorite being the Google Maps plugin, which allows them to make custom maps for their readers. They also use Cloudflare, which has been great for speeding up the site through caching.

Related: The Beginner’s Guide to WordPress Plugins

The biggest new launches L.A. Taco will introduce this year are its Android and iOS apps.

“The apps will allow people to view our latest stories and city guides, but the core will be a huge map of all of our favorite taco spots in L.A.,” Torres says. “The apps also allow our members to get discounts and free items at our network of partner restaurants, which should be a game-changer for us! We’re extremely excited to release the apps, which should happen just as L.A. starts to emerge from the pandemic.”

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The Real Flavor of Los Angeles

Technology lets L.A. Taco keep telling important stories and giving a voice to so many who may not have one otherwise. For example, Torres says his favorite story he’s ever worked on was about a person born in East L.A. who was sent back to his grandparents in Mexico after hanging out with the wrong crowd.

“He learned he was a descendant of Yucatan’s first Mayans, learned to make the food of his culture, and brought that back to Los Angeles,” Torres says. “He now makes authentic cochinita pibil out of his home in Montebello with a combination of techniques he learned from his Mayan-speaking grandmother and Miriam Peraza, who was featured in Netflix’s ’Taco Chronicles.’ It allowed me to delve into the history of his dishes, including one which has Dutch influences. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to a real cochinita pibil taco without getting on a plane.”

It’s telling those kinds of stories that keep the L.A. Taco staff ticking.

“The most rewarding aspect of working for L.A. Taco, for me, is the positive effect our publication is having on the city,” Torres says. “The work has brought me closer to the city I love, to the people that make it what it is, and all over a plate of tacos. Getting those messages of gratitude, tears of appreciation, and the comfort we’ve provided to those struggling is very impactful and has given me a sense of purpose and fulfillment in my life I’ve never felt before.”