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King Taco: Critic Jonathan Gold on what it means to LA

by John Rabe | Off-Ramp®

King Taco #1 in Cypress Park, which opened c. 1975 and began the empire of Raul Martinez, Sr., who died Tuesday at 71. John Rabe

King Taco founder Raul Martinez Sr. — who died Tuesday at the age of 71 — didn't invent better tacos — but he did bring them to the masses, according to Pulitzer-winning Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold.

At the first King Taco restaurant on Cypress Avenue in Cypress Park neighborhood, just around the corner from where Martinez lived with his family years ago, Gold had this to say on Thursday:

"King Taco may have been the first place that solidified what we all think of as the modern Los Angles taco sensibility. Sure, there had been tacos al pastor before he did them, but after the popularity of King Taco, everybody had tacos al pastor. People had had carnitas before, but, suddenly, everybody had carnitas. It just seemed to form the template of what the modern Los Angeles taqueria should be."

Best of all, for those of us from the Midwest who spent years crunching through Old El Paso concrete-hard taco product, King Taco helped popularize the soft, sensuous taco. "Suddenly, almost all at the same time, everybody in the city realized that a taco was not this ... crunchy, pre-fried thing," Gold said

Gold was a relative latecomer to King Taco. "I didn't get around to going to King Taco until the gigantic immensely popular East L.A. branch opened, which still had [Ramirez's] original truck under an awning," he said.

You'd show up late at night, and there'd be huge crowds, Gold recalled. "They'd be buying chicken. They'd be buying tacos. They'd be buying meats to go. But the biggest line of all — sometimes hour-long — was in front of the original taco truck. There was something almost magical about it."

Are King Taco's tacos good, I ask?

Gold responds, "They're very good. They're solid B+ tacos."

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