Food & Drink

This Dish Changed My Life

LA’s Backyard Barbacoa

By Hadley Tomicki ·
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Los Angeles holds secrets. Switchbacks haunted by the spirits of superstar acid-murder cults. Wild coyotes stalking the edge of the 10 Freeway at dawn. Ancient empires of Aztec lizard warriors beneath Downtown. I also hear the Magic Castle can be kind of cool. And veiled off from its main arteries behind picket fences and suburban facades, there’s Mexican food so vital, it must be cooked, consequences be damned.

I can’t tell you where to find backyard barbacoa in LA. Because it’s not technically supposed to be there. Pinpointing verboten street food locations brings Angelenos a seven-year curse of bad craft services and uninspired kombucha. So I can only say that it exists, and that you want it.

I’m talking about lamb wrapped in maguey leaves, then pit-smoked for hours somewhere off-site. So basically the opposite of what one would find in a Chipotle burrito bowl.

The meat is tender, juicy and smoky. The high point is a foam cup of consommé served by its side. Potent with the concentrated, sweet, spiced funk of lamb, the thick reddish broth goes down like a hot, oily, soul-restorative tonic.

This is faithful, historic cooking worth booking trips and searching the world for. Finding it in our figurative (and literal) backyards is a confirmation that paying half one’s income not to live in Idaho might be a rational decision after all. It’s a reminder to keep looking behind closed doors. Encouragement to embrace the vastness and explore every nook. Los Angeles rewards the intrepid. Divulges gifts to the curious. Scratch the surface and up oozes oil, prehistoric relics, treasure or, even better, life-changing tacos.

Hadley Tomicki lives in Los Angeles. He is probably going nowhere on the 10 Freeway this very second.

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