Kids, No Chaser

In Case of Gunfight: Move away from the Taco Truck

Thursday, June 14, 2007 posted by Henri

So I’m hanging out in the second most dangerous city in California waiting for my tacos when I get the creepy feeling I get every time gunfire is about to erupt and I stop to reflect upon the amazing pearl of wisdom that I have in that instant birthed: In case of gunfire, step away from the taco truck. I’m smiling at how clever I am and hope that I will survive the next 5 minutes in order to pass this urban safety nugget to my kids.

Taco trucks have giant propane tanks. Propane tanks tend to blow up when shot at. Man I am a smart smart guy. So I’m trying to think of the next safest place I can hide behind when, to my amazement, the yelling behind me stops and no one pulls out any firearms and I can live long enough to hear those beautiful words….sesenta y ocho. My order is ready.

Why is the best food in the worst places? Answer: because it has to be. I mean you stick a restaurant in the middle of a minefield; it better had some damn good food. I mean think of the business plan:

1) Open restaurant in the middle of minefield
2) ????
3) Profit!!!!!!

So here’s my homage to great restaurants in crappy places.

1) Tacos Primos, City of Richmond (East Bay)

Yeah City of Richmond. Now Tacos Primos is in the good part of Richmond but I still get a little jumpy whenever I’m hanging out in the 5th most dangerous city in America. The bad parts of Richmond make people from West Oakland and Compton make sour faces and say “Damn!” The Iron Triangle….I don’t know about you but that name sounds less than peppy. So Tacos Primos is a taco truck next to the Mexican grocer that we hit up every week. How I lived without a Mexican grocery nearby for so long is beyond me. If you’re from Los Angeles and you move up to NoCal, the first time you have Mexican food up here your first response is usually “Who put rice in my burrito?” Hahah you just had a NoCal burrito. Locals love it, Angelenos hate it. Hell it’s what you get for ordering a burrito anyways. Beans and rice and meat = wrong! That’s like a dinner plate wrapped up in a tortilla. Burritos down south are meat or bean and cheese. You mix it all together and you’re just making stuff up. Tacos Primos has just ok carne asada. But they do have really good lengua, buche and cabeza. I haven’t tried their sesos yet but when it comes to brains I’d rather go to….

2) Shalimar, Tenderloin San Francisco

You know you’re in a bad place when you think to yourself driving over there…”Hmmm Hope I don’t get pissed on today” Welcome to the Tenderloin. One block you’re fine, the next block your dodging flying piss from Tron9000. Now don’t get me wrong, usually Tron9000 is a cool guy to hang out with, but get a few beers in the man and any moving target becomes fair game. Oh and another urban tip, when you feel like helping out a guy in a wheelchair, NEVER grab the chair by the handles. Always push on the corners where you are less likely to get a strange caustic fluid on your hands right before dinner. And just because you used to see patients at the VA, don’t think you can drive a wheelchair as fast through San Francisco as you did the halls of the VA Hospital. What was I talking about…ahh yes. Shalimar. I am not the biggest fan of Indian food but the regional Pakistani-Indian stuff is really really good. Two words: Brain Curry. If it’s on the specials list order it. This place is so cheap and so good. I love this story from Mr.Coconuts via

“ Absolutely terrifying. When we arrived, the place was packed and we couldn't even get in the door. While we were standing on the sidewalk deciding what to do, a man poked his head out of a side door and asked if we were waiting for Shalimar. We said yes and he motioned us into a sort of side alley. This in turn led to an unused and filthy apartment in a public housing project which the restaurant apparently uses as an overflow room. Still wondering if we were going to be cracked over the head, we sat on a torn sofa, took the menus we were handed, and ordered a few dishes. The waiter left us alone with another bewildered threesome and a TV tuned to an indian station. At this point, a spirited debate ensued about whether we should lock the door. Finally, the waiter returned with the food, which we ate off paper plates. It was plentiful, delicious, and cheap. Then we hightailed it out of there. ”

Damn I never knew there was a VIP room!

3) Gadberry’s, South Central Los Angeles

Man, can’t believe they’re closed. When you grow up far outside of south central Los Angeles, you can’t help but be swayed by the media depiction of this part of town. The fact that USC calls this place home really brings the place down a notch further for us Bruins. As an undergrad the call of Gadberry’s BBQ was distant yet strong….the awesome brick wall with two holes punched into it, one to order and another for pickup. The two slices of wonderbread that came with each plate. The ribs, brisket and links. Now texas style bbq is not my favorite by far…but the memories of this place mixed with the crazy heyday of my undergrad years makes the memories grow larger and warmer with each passing year. Memories like...

4) 7-11, Crenshaw Blvd during the Rodney King Riots

Man we were so hungry that night. The whole city was screwed up because of the curfew. So we jump in a car and just drive around until we find a place to eat that’s open. Finally after cruising around for hours we spot a 7-11. It’s open! Man those were some good hot dogs. Buns were all toasty from the burning embers of Los Angeles. Bunch of Asian kids sitting on the curb eating Hotdogs on Crenshaw…that was the night we learned about the importance of helmets.

5) Any Tommy's on the wrong night.

Nothings more dangerous than kids in suburbia. You grow up away from real dangerous places and you start making stuff up. Little suburban gangbangers are rich enough to have guns and coddled enough to be dangerous. So Tommy's deserves it's own post, and it will be a post that never comes because I'm not worthy of writing a tribute to Tommy's Hamburgers because it is just that damn important to me. Damn I miss Tommy's. So Tommy's is 24 hours and scattered throughout Los Angeles and everything comes with Chili on it so don't be the tourist that asks for a chili-anything. The original is on Beverly and Rampart near Downtown and my friends, it is a wonderful happy place. The further away from Downtown you get the wackier the kids in Tommy's can be until you hit the suburbs and Tommy's is one of the few places open late and being much edgier than Denny's or the CircleK, tends to draw little kids who just defy understanding. If you grow up in the suburbs you have no street cred. So stop shooting at me (you might hit my cheeseburger).

So it's safe to say some of the best things in life lie in the dark bits. And as a parent...yeah that's scary. There's a fine line between protecting your kids and sheltering them. If anything bad ever happens, you'll always blame your actions or inaction...but that's life. Happy crazy dark wonderful scary life. If Dad gets all blowsed up buying tacos...some would call him a stupid man. Others might say it was just fate. Some would say meh...he was gonna die one day anyway. No one gets a pass. Sometimes you have to smile through the propane flames as you soar fifty feet into the air taking your first bite out of some really good buche tacos and say despite it all I'm still grateful, and this world is as beautiful up here as I had imagined.

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Blogger daddy in a strange land said...

Dude, you forgot to mention that you have to make sure it's "The Original TomMY'S"-- NOT TomIES or TomMIES or TomYS or Big Tommy's or Fat Tommy's or whatever. Just T-O-M-M-Y-apostrophe-S. Mmmmm... Double-chili-cheeseburger... :)

How 'bout the original Zankou in East Hollywood? Or anyplace in Thai Town? (Sanamluang?)

On the fancier side, you ever had sushi at R23, stuck in the middle of those sketchy warehouses east of J-Town?

I'm hungry now.

8:53 AM

Blogger Henri said...

Yeah Tommy's is like the Ray's of the West. Except you can always tell the original Tommy's by the cups.

Zankou Chicken might just have to be my last meal meal. I always think of Eagle Rock as the original because that was the first one I ever wandered into.

Hmmm or maybe Tommy''s hard to pick between the two which would be my last meal.

10:26 AM

Blogger Unknown said...

Cool stuff, it all 'sounds' delicous, and quite the adventure to get to great food and survival is not guaranteed.

Interesting very interesting. Has FoodTv been out there yet?

BTW:I posted a link on my blog

8:56 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's so funny but my friends that are not from California just don't get the mere importance of a taco truck....and they should!

4:26 PM

Blogger thisislarry said...

Tommys. yes.

In collidge, there was the 'near Tommys' in Eagle Rock, and 'far Tommys', which meant going downtown.

The only dish at Tommys is the chili fries. the burgers and tamales and such are just to distract the weak-willed.

ah, Tommys

9:18 AM

Blogger Brandon said...

I haven't been to Tommy's yet, I almost went the other night in Long Beach but it looked sketchy and I didn't have any cash. Sometime soon, I'm sure.

By the way, just surfed in through MyBlogLog. I'll definitely be back.

1:00 AM

Blogger honglien123 said...

Dude, just come to the most dangerous city in Cali already. 23rd and E. 14th (the street so bad they had to rename it International Blvd to get rid of all the violence and prostitution). Taco Sinaloa. Best damn tacos in the East Bay. (Although they make NCAL burritos, sorry.)

12:18 AM

Blogger Henri said...

Best mexican food in Fruitvale: Cuatro Caminos

3800 San Leandro St
(between 38th Ave & 39th Ave)
Oakland, CA 94601

8:17 AM

Blogger KING357 said...

Denny's in Emeryville on a Friday or Saturday night after the bars close.
The armed security guard seats you as wanna be pimps and gangsters leave lousy tips and throw up in the parking lot. We saw a gnarly gunfight one night...hum?

12:09 AM


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