Ellen Bennett knows tacos.
The founder and CEO of Hedley and Bennett, Bennett spends most of her time running her Los Angeles-based apron company.
But when she's not overseeing apron production, promoting her brand or managing her growing staff, Bennett makes time to enjoy one of L.A.'s most delicious assets: tacos.
Bennett -- who was born and raised in Los Angeles, spent childhood summers in her mother's hometown of Tampico, Mexico, attended culinary school in Mexico City and has spent time visiting her father in Texas -- knows a thing or two about tacos.
"You have to get the queso because it's really fantastic," Bennett says of her favorite Texas-style soft taco spot, HomeState.
"I always get the queso with the Frito bag," she says, referring to HomeState's Frito Pie in a Bag, a decadent combination of chili con carne, cheddar, lettuce, sour cream, tomato, pickled jalapeño and pickled red onions in a bag of Fritos.
The "loaded" queso comes topped with guacamole, sour cream, chile con carne and pico de gallo. "I always get their bean and cheese taco and it's not really a taco. It's basically a really skinny burrito," says Bennett, pointing out how perfect flour tortillas should taste exactly like the ones at HomeState: slightly stretchy and not too dense.
"The fact that the founder of HomeState [Briana Valdez] started with this idea and she was able to scale it and now she's going to have all three locations is really awesome and a little bit of a testament to L.A. and how you can take an idea and take it really far if you have the hustle and work ethic to back it up," says Bennett.
After years of long lines out the door at HomeState's original location in Los Feliz, an equally busy second location opened last year in the hip Northeast L.A. neighborhood of Highland Park. A third is set to open in Playa Vista next fall.
"She wasn't even a restaurateur," says Bennett of Valdez. "She became one. She earned her seat at the table and a lot of people were like 'Good luck!' I personally understand the feeling of people telling you "Good luck with your cute little idea!" and then to make something out of it."
HomeState, 4624 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90027, +1 (323) 906-1122
"A corporation couldn't come in and be like, 'I'm Salazar!' They're just too real and that's a beautiful thing," says Bennett of Salazar, the mostly outdoor taqueria that turned L.A.'s Frogtown neighborhood into a fully fledged restaurant destination zone.
"It's kind of an awesome nod to L.A. How many spots could open a restaurant that's 99% outdoors and actually survive?" she asks.
It's true that upon entering the sprawling patio, guests can't help but ponder what happens should it rain.
"They have incredible cocktails that are super legit, really proper Mexican." She points out that they offer Mexican sodas, a touch she appreciates. "It's kind of like a nice blend of high-low. You know, high level of ingredients but just basic delicious style execution," she says, noting that she orders their guacamole every time.
"They put pepitas and queso fresco on top and they clearly know to put the right amount of key lime juice in it because it's so properly tart, where your taste buds sort of explode in your mouth."
She also recommends the aguachile made with fresh seafood and raw tomatillo. "It's very bright and then it has red onion and chile serrano it's got all the little broth at the bottom so you're just dipping your chips in the broth. It's super cold. It's just perfect. You're going to walk out of Salazar having eaten an amazing Mexican meal without having the gut bomb attached to that."
Salazar, 2490 Fletcher Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90039, no phone
Mariscos El Hermano
"There's not an odor of seafood-y smell in a one-mile radius of that truck," says Bennett of her favorite L.A. food truck Mariscos El Hermano.
This is fortunate for her as the Vernon headquarters of her company is only two blocks from where the seafood taco truck parks.
"It's just as fresh as it can be. I feel a little bit lucky to say that because so many seafood food trucks you're just like, 'Oh god. I hope I don't get sick or please don't give me food poisoning!' Right? You're not exactly running to a food truck for seafood."
But most days Bennett runs to Mariscos El Hermano for her favorite fried shrimp tacos and Styrofoam cups of pescado ceviche. She recommends topping them with salsa Valentina along with their red house salsa, lots of avocado and key lime juice.
"I always ask for extra avocado. They're so generous with their avocado. They'll give you a whole avocado and then you just scoop spoonfuls of it on the top."
The truck is both critically acclaimed and loved by locals. Bennett says she first found out about it from former Los Angeles Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold.
"It's a community spot. They always park in the same place," she says referring to its location in Vernon, the industrial neighborhood adjacent to downtown L.A. "I would drive across the city to Venice if it was in Venice for these tacos. But fortunately it's right around the corner. So I'm extra lucky."
Mariscos El Hermano, 4461 S Santa Fe Ave Vernon, CA 90058, +1 (323) 697-0366
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