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Tacos: Legendary LA chain Guisados opens in Long Beach

You may think you know tacos, but Guisados’ thick, warm tortillas and spicy meat take them to a different level.

Tacos: Legendary LA chain Guisados opens in Long Beach
A couple walks into the new Guisados restaurant on Redondo Avenue just south of Anaheim Street Tuesday, June 4, 2024. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

It’s shortly before noon on Wednesday and there are at least a dozen people in line, stretching from the register to the middle of the parking lot. This was expected; while there are taquerias all over Long Beach — great taquerias, to be sure — Guisados is a whole other ball game.

First opened in Boyle Heights in 2010, the taqueria has expanded into a full-on chain, with Long Beach providing its ninth location at the end of May (within the old Long Beach Fish Company restaurant in Zaferia). Seriously though, what can you say about Guisados that wasn’t already said by Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold?

“[T]he basic units of consumption here are tacos de guisados, thick, warm tortillas folded around a big spoonful or two of the stews resting in the steam table behind the counter,” Gold wrote in this 2011 LA Weekly review of the first Guisados, in Boyle Heights (Gold’s reviews are helpfully tacked up on the wall next to the front door of the new Long Beach spot). “You don't get carne asada here; you get floppy scraps of fried pigskin simmered in a chile sauce, or griddled steak in chile-enriched tomato sauce, or a spicy Poblano-style chicken mole given texture with nuts and grains and seeds.”

Anthony Pignataro is an unpaid editor at Long Beach Watchdog. Thank him for his work.

The stews, chiles and tortillas that make up the tacos at Guisados are an order of magnitude more complex and delightful than tacos (even really tasty tacos) you find elsewhere. While you’re waiting for your food (and since this isn’t fast food, you will wait a bit, even when there isn’t a line into the parking lot), you can watch the cooks in the kitchen spread handfuls of massa onto the grill to make their tortillas — thick, wondrous tortillas that hug all the smokey, spicy meats and chiles.

Though Guisados sells a few breakfast items and tamales, few leave the restaurant without trying a taco or two (which range in price from $4.25 to $4.95). These are savory tacos thick with layers of spice and flavor, made with the kind of heart that’s usually found only in homes. The only problem is that they’re small, and can easily be devoured in three to four bites.

Tinga de Pollo (shredded chicken breast braised with tomatoes, cabbage, chorizo, chipotle chile, and avocado), Mole Poblano (shredded chicken breast in a nutty poblano-style mole with sour cream, queso fresco, red onion, and dried chile) and Nopales (grilled cactus with onions and tomatoes and served with chile arbol and black beans) are just a few of the offerings here. All are devourable.

Vegan Peppers, Calabacitas, Quesadilla, melon agua fresca. Photo by Angie Thompson

They even have a quesadilla, which is just a slab of queso panela, grilled and served with a mild chipotle sour cream, to which you can add chorizo (my girlfriend Angie eschewed the meat but sprinkled on a side of pickled onions, which she said added the perfect amount of acid to the meal).

Guisados also offers a couple of vegan tacos. One, a medley of veggies including squash, mushrooms, tomatoes and corn, and another with green and red bell peppers grilled in salsa Huichol and served with pico de gallo and avocado. Both are outstanding, even if you do enjoy meat now and then.

One warning though: Guisados is famous for its Chiles Toreados — habanero, serrano, jalapeno, and Thai chiles all blistered together and served atop black beans. The menu itself calls this an “extremely spicy” taco, and though it’s reportedly delicious, I’ll leave it to others to try it.

All the items are spicy, savory, smokey — usually all balanced at the same time, which means a cup of one of their agua frescas — the limon for those wanting something tart, the melon for anyone wanting something sweeter — are all but mandatory.

Guisados, 1201 Redondo Ave., 562-494-5292, is open seven days, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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