They go by many names: tacos de guisado, tacos de cazuela, tacos mañaneros…
But the one thing that unites them is the fact that the meats or veggies stuffed in the tacos are all stewed in singular cazuelas, pots that are traditionally earthenware but have shifted to metal tins as the growth of food trucks and fast casual restaurants spread. We’re talking birria, chile verde, tinga de pollo…
They harken to the stewy fillings created at large family gatherings, where soupy dollops of meats that have been simmering for hours in clay cazuelas are stacked onto a fresh corn tortilla with minimal toppings. Maybe some onion and cilantro, maybe some salsa, maybe just meat. Eating six is common, eat more is almost unavoidable.
They are rather ubiquitous throughout Mexico—places like Taco Gus in Mexico City and Taco Guadalajara in Guadalajara have made them outright common—and they have spurred food tours in states ranging from Guanajuato to Quintana Roo. Stateside, Los Angeles’ Guisado’s has turned them into a beyond-popular small chain that spans Boyle Heights to West Hollywood.
In Long Beach, there aren’t really any taquerias dedicated to the almighty tacos de guisado, but a hole-in-the-wall space named La Chancla, tucked into a tiny strip mall at the southeast corner of Cherry Avenue and Tenth Street, hopes to be the formal, inaugural introduction of these special tacos.
“It’s that homey feeling I really wanted to re-create,” said owner Ismael Miramontes. “Before I became a citizen, I was born in Guadalajara and there are memories of food etched into my mind that are impossible to erase. I really wanted to create something that mimics what I grew up on.”
The road to recreating that vibe wasn’t easy: Even after thinking he was set to sign a lease in his current space, the owner opted to give the former Chinese fast food space to a relation, leaving Miramontes both empty-hearted and handed. But a month later, the owner returned with the offer and La Chancla—an ode to the almighty sandal used by Mexican mothers to instill both fear and dominance over their disobedient children—was born.
The array of offerings, all of them in metal, steam tray cazuelas, laid out behind a glass counter for your eyes to feast on their vibrant reds, greens, oranges and browns, are created by the matriarch of the family, Rosalía Gutierrez. Still using the same pot she used in Guadalajara, sauces are created to make everything from the birria and chile verde to the pollo con mole and tinga de pollo, each of which have a distinct aroma that come together and waft gently outside the front door.
Upon stepping into the back, Gutierrez was handling a batch of dried Guajillo chiles in preparation for her birria.
“This is entirely my mama’s world right here, it’s her recipes—there she is, in the back,” Miramontes said, pointing through the opening to the kitchen in the back of the small space.
“I know I say this a lot, but it’s really like we’re cooking back at home,” Miramontes said. “We don’t do anything fancy and we don’t intend to. I interviewed some cooks to help out and they have these wild ideas about Mexican food. And it was just an immediate, ‘Nah, that’s not what we’re here to do.'”
Leaving pretense and snobbiness at the door, aromas of meats and spices greet each patron while colorful zarapes, the colorful shawls common throughout Mexico, are used as curtains to paint the space with bits of color. Giant jugs of housemade aguas frescas—right now, horchata, pepino, and piña are the flavors being offered—sit behind the counter and next to a fridge filled with Mexican Coke, Sangria Señorial, Jarritos, and other sugary offerings. Next to that, a simple salsa bar filled with nothing but onions, cilantro, pickled jalapenos, and your choice of salsa verde and salsa rojo.
Of course, the key to any great taco isn’t just its filling, but the tortilla itself. Poleth Pardo is La Chancla’s masterful tortillera, the woman responsible for making every single tortilla to order at a small counter space in the kitchen next to a piping hot comal.
“There’s no way I can ever let Poleth go—ever,” Miramontes said, laughing, though it’s clear he is absolutely serious.
And he says this for good reason: The fluidity with which Pardo creates her rounded bits of yellow corn perfection is as mesmerizing as it is daunting given her incredible pace. And it is her creation that serves as the true base of what makes the tacos at La Chancla so great. Soft, earthy and perfectly cooked, they are the beautiful companion to Gutierrez’s stew-y, meaty concoctions.
“It’s really simple, what we want to achieve,” Miramontes said. “We want to offer something a lotta Mexican kids know, nothing too crazy. Just a nice, small, cozy little place that has great tacos.”
Well, Mr. Miramontes, you have succeeded.
La Chancla is located at at 990 Cherry Ave. #102