Al pastor (foreground) and asada (background)
I haven't eaten a taco in eight years. I'm not kidding. On the plus side, the last taco I ate was actually in Mexico. I was skeptical of that taco--I didn't eat much meat back then, so the idea of eating meat that was roasting out in the open didn't seem very appetizing or very sanitary. And the taco was so covered in onions and cilantro that I don't even remember the meat--I just remember the lingering tang of raw onions on my breath.
Real Mexican tacos are not what I grew up eating--I grew up eating the Old El Paso crunchy shells filled with fried ground meat mixed with so-called taco seasoning and topped with some shredded Kraft cheese and Old El Paso salsa. Every non-Mexican kid in America thinks this is what a taco is, but it just isn't so.
Carnitas and pollo
I keep The Great Taco Hunt's list of taco joints in my glove box. Based on his 4-taco rating (out of 5), I picked El Taco Llama when I was in the Valley one afternoon. By the way, "llama" means "flame," for those of you who aren't Spanish speakers.
Since I had no idea what I would like, I ordered four different kinds of meat--beef (carne asada), pulled pork (carnitas), barbecued pork (al pastor) and chicken (pollo). The staff doesn't really speak English, but you'll get by. They seemed really confused when I was ordering, like no white girl had ever set foot in their restaurant before. Hey, maybe it's true.
All of the tacos were good, but the carnitas was my favorite. I generally don't like pork, but this pork was moist and a pleasure to eat. El Taco Llama's tacos are $1.25 each and only come with onions and cilantro--if you want tomatoes, lettuce, or anything else, you'll have to pay 50 cents per topping. Spicy, deep red salsa is self-serve. The chicken meat was also pleasantly moist and mixed with cooked green peppers. They don't have a huge selection of drinks, but you can get a decent horchata or tamarindo. $2 will get you a huge drink, and refills are only $1.
There are a few tables inside. It's really a hole in the wall and not the kind of place you'll want to linger, but it's great for a quick bite.
I have no basis of comparison for these tacos (yet), so I can't tell you how they stack up against other places. I can tell you that I enjoyed them, but there was nothing so special about them that I'd have to go back.
When you're driving down Van Nuys looking for the restaurant, keep in mind that its sign is a little hard to spot: it's red and yellow, and so is seemingly every other sign on the block. There's free but scarce parking in the cramped parking lot.
El Taco Llama
7344 Van Nuys Blvd
Van Nuys, CA
Van Nuys, CA