Jonathan Gold recommends: 13 great tacos in Southern California

Tacos - can we ever have enough tacos in our lives? I didn't think so. Because when the taco is right, the birds start to sing and the stars shine more brightly and you have the impression that everything is right with the world, which is a lot of happiness for a buck and a quarter, a buck-fifty tops. A perfect taco is a gift to the universe.

Apache’s Carne al Carbon

What Apache's serves reflects neither Mexico City street food nor the revered carne asada traditions of northern Mexico, but 10,000 barbecues in Eastside parks and backyards, the ones where the meat is always carne, the drinks are always cold, and somebody's Uncle Rudy is always manning the grill. If you peer over the counter at Apache's, what you see are steaks sizzling on the grill, probably flap meat (although I've never asked), without much in the way of marinade. When you get your tacos, each is wrapped in a slip of white paper, and the tortillas are filled to bursting with chopped bits of that same steak, charred and bubbling, more than slightly chewy and leaner than you might expect.

1843 E. 1st St., Los Angeles, (323) 262-9787.

Barbacoa taco at My Taco

There are few pleasures more reliable in Los Angeles than the lamb barbacoa at My Taco in Highland Park: a delicate, spicy tangle of long-cooked meat crisped on hot metal, blackened at the edges, caramelized to a sweet, subtle gaminess. This barbacoa is customarily ordered by the plate or by the really big plate – you tear off pieces with a tortilla and moisten them with the hot goat consomme that comes in a foam cup on the side. But sometimes, a half-pound of lamb isn't in your plans. At such times, there is the taco de barbacoa: an ounce or two of meat, a couple of fresh tortillas, period. If you want to add chopped onion and cilantro, maybe a few drops of mild yahualica salsa, it's up to you.

6300 York Blvd., Highland Park, (323) 256-2698.

Carnitas tacos at Sergio's Tacos

Sergio’s is unambitious but really good, which is to say that you will find the full component of organ meats, drowned burritos if you’re not into the taco thing, carne asada that is not the specialist kind and menudo even when it doesn’t happen to be Sunday. So you get a few tacos de carnitas – just regular carnitas – and a lot of smoky red salsa, and you buzzsaw through them within a few seconds of them hitting the table, and then you lean back. The horchata is sweet and cold. You are happy.

308 S. Vail Ave., Montebello, (323) 888-9159.

Chasu tacos at Spirit House

Johnny Lee cooks kurobuta pork shoulder sous-vide to get the firm yet melting texture that he likes, and he pats his tortillas to order. They’re pretty good, those chashu tacos. You’ll like them. And nobody’s saying you can’t get the tako fries too, even though they are kind of a pain to make. Another reason: The specialty of the house seems to be Japanese beer.

123 Lincoln Ave., Monterey Park, (626) 872-0353

Chorizo taco at Arturo's

Although the truck is probably best known for its juicy lengua, stewed beef tongue, tonight is special: Get the chorizo, loosely packed griddle-crisped sausage. Crunchy-skinned, a little spicy, spiked with those unidentifiable chewy bits that are really best left unexamined, Arturo's chorizo tacos are what you want to be eating halfway through the night.

400 S. Fair Oaks, Pasadena.

Tacos at J&S

You glance over at the taco section of the menu board, and note that your choice is: Taco. J&S is not where you end up when you’re in the mood for buche, trompas, cueritos or other advanced entries in the taco lexicon. So you order a couple, and they’re kind of good in their way – shredded lettuce, shredded cheese and diced tomatoes that were probably not the ripest ones in the supermarket, but also a ladleful of creamy taqueria guacamole and a thin, crisp shell that clearly came straight out of the fryer. Is there meat? Yes, in the form of a few chewy strands that slow you down a little as you chomp, and you probably wouldn’t notice if cost-cutting chefs decided to leave it out altogether.

887 N. Garfield Ave., Montebello, (323) 728-3853.

Tacos de birria at El Pariente