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Taquerías rally to help save L.A. food website that put many of them on the map

Fans mobilize and point to the crucial role of L.A. Taco, a popular Los Angeles-based media outlet focused on the city's street food scene that's fighting to survive amid a lack of funding.
workers are assembling bags of orders for pick-up, take-out and delivery
The owners of Sonoratown, a taquería now with two locations, are among those rallying to support the website L.A. Taco, whose early praise for their food helped their initial taquería succeed.halbergman / Getty Images
/ Source: Telemundo

Teodoro Díaz loves the sound of meat sizzling on the grill and the aroma of mesquite wood, smoked with a hint of pepper, that makes his tacos a unique experience.

“The fresh meat absorbs the wood and gives it a strong and very special flavor,” explains Díaz, 36, co-owner of the taquería restaurants Sonoratown, whose attention to detail has made all the difference in his food — and earned the praise of foodie journalists at L.A. Taco, a Los Angeles-based media outlet specializing in the city’s thriving and colorful food scene, especially all things related to its taco culture. Since 2006, L.A. Taco has focused on covering street food culture and has become a reference source for finding the best restaurants in different regions of California.

“What I love about them is that they do reviews and they don’t charge us. They write about what they see and what they eat. They support the businesses and you know if it’s in there, it’s because they liked it, no lies," said Díaz, whose restaurant won Taco Madness, an annual event in which L.A. Taco brings together judges and lovers of street food to crown the best taco in the city.

Díaz, his partner and Sonoratown co-owner Jennifer Feltham and many others in the Los Angeles food community have been mobilizing in the last month to help L.A. Taco, which, like many other local media outlets in the United States, is facing a severe economic crisis that threatens its existence. L.A. Taco was on the verge of shutting down a few weeks ago when it ran out of its biggest advertiser.

In a video on their Sonoratown Instagram account, Feltham said, “I’m here to ask for your help in supporting L.A. Taco, they are low on funds — we can’t let them go under. If you are not a member, become a member...They are an important resource for the people of L.A., for the small businesses of L.A., for the taqueros of L.A. All the journalists who work for them are passionate about what they do. We need to work together,” she said.

Diaz told Noticias Telemundo that there is "no other publication like this ... In Los Angeles, food is the culture, and they focus on that, but the truth is that they have stories about everything that happens to taqueros and Latinos who are being mistreated. These are stories that are not published in other media."

A cry for help — and the community's response

On the brink of closure due to its financial problems, editor-in-chief Javier Cabral issued a cry for help on social media last month, explaining that the entire staff — about five people — would be laid off if the publication failed to reach 5,000 subscribers by the end of April. Although they didn’t reach the target, they already had more than 3,500 members by May 10 and Cabral hopes to reach their intended target by June 15, when this year’s Taco Madness takes place.

Javier Cabral, editor en jefe de L.A. Taco, en Los Ángeles, California, el 25 de abril de 2024.
L.A. Taco editor-in-chief Javier Cabral said he has been touched by the support it has received, some of it from people who have moved away from Los Angeles but have become members to support it.Albinson Linares

“What has affected me the most, what has really touched my heart, is to see how the memberships have increased and that people are supporting us even from far away," Cabral said with visible emotion. "For example, people who used to live here in Los Angeles and moved to another state in the country, or people who live in border areas like Mexicali and Tijuana but still subscribe."

Amara Aguilar, a journalism professor at the University of Southern California, explained the website's appeal.

“They cover a wide range of topics related to Mexican gastronomy, but also very different cultures. And it is a very respected publication in Los Angeles, even winning the James Beard Award for its innovative work,” she said.

Victor Villa, 31, owner of Villa’s Tacos, a restaurant in Los Angeles, said L.A. Taco is really 'de la raza' - using a term that loosely translates to being considered very authentically true to one's Mexican heritage — and a site that truly helps the city's businesses.

"They deserve to be around for many years, and they’re going through tough times right now, but I can’t imagine Los Angeles, a city full of taqueros, without L.A. Taco,” he said.

Of particular note is its app, which uses geolocation to tell a person where to find the best taqueria in most city neighborhoods as judged by the magazine’s experts.

Laughing, Cabral explains that the idea for the app came from a dilemma he faces every day: “Imagine you’re driving through Culver City, West Adams or Echo Park and suddenly you’re hungry. Well, you just open up the app and it’s like a map that tells you the best tacos around,” he said.

Like most good food critics, he gets anxious at the prospect of a bad meal and prefers to drive miles to stuff himself with the dream seafood tostada that has the same freshness and spice as, say, if he were in Sinaloa, Mexico.

Francisco Aguilar, chef and owner of Simón Food, a food truck specializing in “chingones” (a slang for amazing) seafood, described how the site helped his business. 

“When no one believed in us, they came and tried the menu and loved the soft shell crab taco with pineapple pico de gallo and our handmade tortillas. That’s when everything started to change, because they write about food out of passion, they only recommend what they really like. That’s priceless,” he said.

Despite its name, L.A. Taco is not just about the Mexican delicacy of tacos, stuffed with all kinds of proteins on an infinite variety of tortillas. Its ambition is that nothing in street food is foreign: That is why quesadillas, pupusas, baleadas, conchas and Zapotec mole ice cream share space, reviews and criticism with the best ramen, loco moco and wagyu carpaccios and stews, among other dishes that reign on the streets of Southern California.

Beyond culinary cravings, community journalism

But its content goes beyond savory dishes.

L.A. Taco’s stories range from a guide to the scariest houses in the city, the best punk bars in the California scene, the restaurants that have been around for centuries, the discrimination suffered by taqueros and an obituary in English and the Indigenous Zapotec language of Filberto ‘Beto’ Gonzalez, a Mexican who worked as a dishwasher and died of coronavirus in the midst of the Covid pandemic.

“We are the only media outlet in the country that seriously covers not only the best tacos in town, but also the issues that affect our communities. It’s the stories of the immigrants, the taqueros and the restaurants. I mean, that’s the working class of the city, and we’re very, very rare,” Cabral said.

“Los Angeles is a city that very few people understand. It takes the opinions and perspectives of the people who live here to teach the beauty of our city, which is the people who work here, the immigrants and, above all, the taco,” he said with the seriousness of an editor who's been addicted to street food since he was a teenager and who had any food lover's dream job: He was the taco scout for Jonathan Gold, the legendary Los Angeles Times food critic who died in 2018.

“He relied on me a lot. And now I’m trying to keep his spirit alive and deliver authentic food journalism, which means no pay to play at all,” Cabral said, explaining Gold’s huge influence on his editorial work.

The financial hardships that L.A. Taco faces is not an isolated one: local media is rapidly dying out in the U.S. According to the Northwestern University School of Journalism’s annual report, an average of 2.5 local newspapers closed every week in 2023. More than 130 newspapers have closed or merged, a phenomenon that is alarming many experts.

The Northwestern University report shows that in less than 20 years, a quarter of the nation’s newspapers have gone out of business. More than 200 of the nation’s 3,143 counties are considered “news deserts” because they no longer have a single local newspaper.

“Local media are vital to thriving communities. Not only do they provide uplifting stories about the people in our community, but they also report on very important issues such as corruption and serve to scrutinize government officials in our communities,” said the USC's Aguilar. “We need community journalism for society to thrive.”

Gustavo Arellano, a columnist for The Los Angeles Times, is one of the journalists who has survived the successive media crises of recent decades, and in his work he often warns about the importance of media. 

“This year, 2024, we have a very important presidential election in the United States. Local media are needed to cover important issues that the big newspapers won't cover," he said. "If these small and community newspapers disappear, it will be the public's responsibility, and what is happening with L.A. Taco is an example."

A version of this story was first published on Noticias Telemundo.

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