Wednesday, October 11, 2006

My Crispy Taco Jones: Henry's Tacos

Henry's Tacos

11401 Moorpark St.
North Hollywood, CA 91602
(818) 769-0343
Google Local Info

It's been so long since I've posted! Been hunkered down, finishing the first draft of my novel. It's done, it's not perfect yet, but the word so far is good. Thanks for asking!

Despite my absence here, I have not stopped eating, nor embarrassing my wife by snapping pictures of food in restaurants and lunch counters around L.A. So I have a lot of research in the can. I hope you'll hear more posts from me in coming days.

For some reason, this fall I've been thinking about almost nothing but crispy ground beef tacos. You know, the kind mom used to make on Taco Night. Chopped tomatoes, shredded iceberg lettuce, grated cheddar, a pound of ground round, Lawry's Taco seasoning, Old El Paso shells. The kind that Del Taco or (less successfully) Taco Bell deals in.

There are many great versions of this humble taco in L.A. The most famous perhaps is Tito's Tacos in Culver City; but for me, Henry's Tacos in Studio City wins the horse race by a nose... because of the sign.

I love that sign. Maybe it's because the restaurant opened the year I was born, but that Jetsons-Meets-Shag aesthetic just makes me all glowy every time I see it.

I own the T-shirt.

Henry's perches on an anonymous corner in the Valley, unchanged since the street was dominated by big-fin American cruisers populated with guys trying to look like James Dean. The tiny menu is the kind I like, lean, mean, and focused on what the joint does well. We got beef. We got beans. We got rice. We got cheese. Chicken? Fuck off. You get your beef and/or beans in three different formats: taco, burrito, tostado (note the retro spelling), and "taco burger."

That's the only oddity here: the ingredients of a taco stuffed into a hamburger bun; a Mexican Sloppy Joe. Ain't that just the ultimate in early sixties muliculturalism?

Some like the taco burger, or the bean or combo burrito. They're fine, but too squishy for my taste. When I come here, I'm after that dialectical interplay between crispy shell and soft, savory beef that makes the hard shell taco so irresistible. Henry's Tacos ($2.40) have that in spades. The beef is mildly seasoned; it profits by addition of the little tubs of "hot sauce" (not salsa, please, remember this is 1961) that come on the side. The shell is perfectly crispy, less greasy than some other excellent hard tacos in town but not as cardboardy as either Mom's Old El Paso or Taco Bell shells. The shredded lettuce is fresh and crunchy, the real cheddar cheese perfectly sharp. The single slice of half tomato gives a tangy semblance of something healthy. If you must have a side dish, the beans, with green chile sauce added, are tasty.

But that's the great thing about a Henry's taco. you don't need a side dish. Just order another taco... and a t-shirt of that fabulous sign.

Be careful not to dribble the hot sauce on your swell new shirt.