While Olvera Street in Los Angeles seemed to have changed massively since my visit in the late 80s or early 90s, causing me some disappointment, I can say this: Cielito Lindo, which has scented the air in this iconic downtown walking area since the 1930s, did not disappoint.
Not in the least. If you haven’t heard about it on any other review sites, from Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown or even just read about it in the L.A. Times at one point or another, I’m here to give the “why” behind a visit to this place.
The backstory: I wanted to show my significant other this kitschy and cool historic district, known for Mexican souvenirs, from ukuleles to knitted ponchos (of course I bought one), and we were drawn into this restaurant immediately. The smell greets you before you recognize where it’s coming from. Then there is a walk-up counter to order from and you can see (and smell!) their food cooking. It’s actually a masterful display of talent. If you look to your left after ordering you see that you can step inside. Just a few small tables, but the ambience is there and it’s a convenient set-up although what your ordering is clearly street food.
This place has been rolling their famous taquitos with guacamole sauce since 1934. In fact, I’ve heard it to be the “birthplace” of L.A. taquitos. Truth or fiction, for under four dollars you get two beef taquitos in their extremely creamy, delectable sauce. I can’t explain it. I’ve honestly not had anything like it, but although my family has been in the Los Angeles area for years, I have stayed back in the Midwest other than to visit. Maybe this avocado sauce is a “thing,” but I think not.
Historically significant (in my foodie opinion) taquitos aside, there are other things on the menu. And they may be fantastic. But if your time on Olvera Street is limited, get these taquitos, which are beef, no matter what else you order. If you do want pork or chicken, you can get them here in a burrito.
Take time to wander Olvera Street, which is basically a pedestrian marketplace, no cars allowed. Set aside an hour and you should be good depending on how long you linger to eat. We both tend to be history geeks on the road and one hidden gem to pop into while there is the oldest still-standing residence in the city, built in 1818. It’s a great little glimpse of the past. The whole area is part of the Los Angeles Plaza Historic District and is designated a California State Historic Park.
Parking is limited and can be frustrating. We parked about a 10-15 minute walk away using a meter on a side street. To be honest, the surface parking lots we found seemed sketchy and the cars were packed in tight. One guy manning a booth at a lot told us he’d need our keys. All this to say we stepped back from that idea. I was committed to getting to Olvera Street and legit, authentic eats so we continued our quest until we finally figured out a spot to leave the rental car. And I’m so glad we did.
Bonus: you can buy the taquitos to take home and cook! And… you can get the avocado sauce to go. Up to 32 ounces! In short, if you live in the area, and didn’t realize this hidden gem to pick up take-home food or you are doing the Air BNB thing and have a kitchen, it’s an outstanding option to have.
Even bigger bonus for those of us not anywhere near Los Angeles: they have their avocado sauce recipe online along with how to assemble the perfect taquito! These guys took it a step further. They share a vegetarian version. I will admit I haven’t tried to make it yet but creating this avocado sauce in my kitchen is on my short list. Here is the link: http://www.cielitolindo.org/recipes/