For those Angelenos who don’t make it south of the 10 Freeway, we have one thing to say: We feel sorry for you. South Los Angeles is a remarkably diverse area with endless options for barbecue, soul food, and African and Jamaican cuisine—not to mention a smorgasbord of Central American and Mexican street food.

“A lot of places aren’t licensed, so it’s kind of like the wild west out there,” says Bill Esparza, the man and mouth behind food blog Street Gourmet LA. “There’s vendors that are hidden behind tarps in parking lots, there’s taquerias set up in tire shops, operations inside people’s houses and in backyards.”

Esparza explains that the street eats of the region remain largely unexplored by outsiders. “I’ll get off the freeway, and I’ll take a street, and just go down it and see what pops up. But there’s always something new coming.”

With all its hidden gems, South L.A. can be a hard place to navigate, so we asked Esparza to highlight the neighborhood’s most mind-blowing street food. From the freshest Nayarit-style mariscos to the real El Pollo Loco, here are 10 South L.A. street eats every Angeleno should know about.

1. Mexico City-style tortas at Super Tortas DF

sandAddress and phone: E 41st St (just off the southwestern corner of E 41st St and S Central Ave), South L.A. (323-351-8379)
Good for: Expertly-layered combo sandwiches prepared by trained torteros 

Esparza says: “These guys are genuine, skilled sandwich makers trained in Mexico City, which makes a world of difference. They’re really conscientious about the bread they’re using—it’s made for them at a local bakery to their specifications. They’re offering all those different, fun combinations that you’d find at a Mexico City-style torta stand: sandwiches named after people from different countries (Suiza, Española), states in Mexico (Poblana, Toluqueña), and sexy girls. But the Cubana is the mother of all tortas; it has everything. For the Cubana, the tortero takes some eggs, scrambles them, throws them out on a huge flat crate, and drops some chorizo in there. Then he starts cutting the omelet and folding it in layers. He takes that super-thin, layered omelet and puts it onto the sandwich, along with hot dogs, milanesa, several different cold cuts, yellow and white cheese, avocado, a thin layer of mayo and refried beans, tomato, lettuce, onion, chiles chipotles, and pickled jalapeños.”

2. Pupusas at Don Lencho’s

pupuAddress and phone: 6119 S Normandie Ave, South L.A. (323-751-7533)
Good for: Char-grilled pupusas, reminiscent of those you’d find on a Salvadorian beach

Esparza says: “The funny thing about Los Angeles is most places call themselves pupuserias, but they’re not; they’re restaurants that also sell pupusas. And then you have the street vendors that set up tables outside the Pentecostal churches. But Don Lencho’s—even though it’s not really a pupuseria—started bringing back that experience of cooking pupusas over fire, which is why I like to go there. Don Lencho’s specialty is whole-grilled fish, which they cook on mesquite just like they do on the beach in El Salvador. They do their pupusas on the coals as well, which makes a huge difference—everybody else in town is doing it on a flattop. They use good masa for their pupusas; they’ve got good flavor and char from the grill. The selection is standard: pupusas stuffed with chiccharrón, revuelta (a combo of everything), loroco (the local flower), and sometimes they have squash, or ayote.”

3. Panades at Ella’s Belizean

panAddress and phone: 3957 S Western Ave, South L.A. (323-737-5050)
Good for: Backyard celebrations, Belize-style

Esparza says: “Ella’s food looks and tastes like the best Belizean cuisine that I had in Belize City. To make panades—which are the ubiquitous Belizean street food—you take masa and put paprika inside it, so you get this gorgeous orange tortilla. Sometimes they put meat in it; sometimes it’s canned tuna; and then they fry them up and serve them with pickled onions and habanero. Every time you have a backyard celebration in the area of South Central that I like to call Little Belize, you always have panades.”

4. Pollos asados at Pollos Asados El Güero

polloAddress and phone: 274 E Slauson Ave, Florence (323-233-2274)
Good for: The El Pollo Loco Auténtico

Esparza says: “Grilled chickens are everywhere in this part of the city, especially on Slauson Ave. Right along the train tracks you find all of these guys grilling chickens over charcoal. You also find it all along the North-South routes from the 10 to the 105. Non-stop chicken-grilling festival. Pollos El Güero started out as a stand, and now they’ve taken over: They have a brick-and-mortar and a truck on the same street, and they grill outside their brick-and-mortar. This is the real El Pollo Loco. You buy the grilled chicken, which is marinated in citrus and spices, you get beans and rice and salsa, you put it in a tortilla, and then you make your tacos. Most people get their chickens to-go, but you can sit down near the grill.”

5. Goat birria tacos at Tacos de Birria El Güero

046Address and phone: NE corner of E Slauson Ave. and Holmes Ave, Huntington Park (weekend mornings until the birria runs out)
Good for: Honoring the goat in all its glory

Esparza says: “You can find birria from all over parts of Mexico. This one is from Michoacan and it’s really an outstanding spot. What makes foods regional in any part of the world is the really subtle things. At some places, the original style of cooking would be to roast it underground in a pit. But even in Jalisco today, nobody really does that. People cook it either in an oven where they catch the drippings and make the sauce, or they cook it in a pot and catch the drippings there like big Dutch ovens. The name of the dish, birria, refers to the sauce, not the roasted meat. You can have a birria anything. All the birreria you are going to find in South L.A. is goat. You can get the meat and then make tacos, and also get a serving of the consommé on the side.”

6. Nayarit-style seafood at Coni’Seafood

scrimpAddress and phone: 3544 West Imperial Highway, Inglewood (310-672 2339)
Good for: Fresh, citrus-bathed shrimp

Esparza says:Mariscos is everywhere in South L.A., but the best stuff comes from Sinaloa and Nayarit. Ceviche encompasses the range of the categories of the raw foods. You have different types of ceviches and then you have cocktails. But the one great dish you can get in all these places is the aguachile, specifically the aguachile verde. You basically just have the raw shrimp in a fiery bath of seasoned lime and chile, green chile, jalapeño, and serranos. They add purple onions, sometimes tomatoes, and sliced cucumber. This dish doesn’t really exist in my mind unless you have really high-quality shrimp. It’s the minimalist Mexican ceviche, and it’s supposed to feature your finest products. For me, the only place to go is Coni’seafood, which brings in Mexican shrimp from the Pacific coast.”

7. Al pastor tacos at Tacos Los Güichos

guiAddress and phone: Slauson Ave and Olive St, Florence, for carnitas and al pastor; Slauson and Avalon Blvd for carnitas on weekends
Good for: Pork fanatics who appreciate legit carving skills

Esparza says: “Los Guichos was known for Mexico City-style carnitas, but then they started putting up al pastor. And they are bringing in ringers—heavy-hitter taqueros from Mexico City. Anybody who has had al pastor in Mexico and seen professional, experienced taqueros working the trompo knows that this is one of the best places in L.A. for it.”

8. Tacos de Fritanga at Tacos La Güera

meatAddress and phone: Corner of Santa Fe Ave and Center St, Walnut Park
Good for: Real-deal brisket cooked in a comal

Esparza says: “Any kind of cooking surface in Mexico is called a comal. In Mexico, the technical term for this stainless steel-disk comal is tacos de frintanga, but the street vendors don’t advertise themselves as such; they just advertise the cuts. When you walk up they’ve got all these fried meats mingling together sharing their flavors and essences, pluse whole white onions floating inside there, and chiles that suck up the meat juice. They have cuts like suadero, which is Mexican brisket. They have a steam table, usually, and alongside of that they would have a flattop covered in plastic or garbage bags with steaming tongue and brains and maybe lips underneath. What they do in that comal is that they pull the meats from that frying well to the center and sear it before they put it on the taco and chop it up. Brisket is something everybody advertises all over L.A., but pretty much when people say brisket, what they’re really doing is cheap ranchera meat from the market. Ranchera is that pre-marinated flat steak, which doesn’t exist in Mexico. So it’s basically carne asada that they’re throwing in there and calling suadero, or brisket. What I like about this place is they’re actually using the brisket cut. And I don’t know about you, but don’t lie to me and say that you have brisket when you’re just serving me cheap carne asada. I’m not going to eat steak parading as brisket. No!”

9. Carnitas tacos at Carnitas El Momo

Carnitas_momoAddress and phone: E 61 St/S Avalon Blvd, South Park (323-488-0642); Saturdays and Sundays, 9am–1:30pm
Good for: Porcine gold—prepared by the Godfather of Carnitas

Esparza says: “When I want to have carnitas, that’s the only place I go to. Carnitas El Momo has a 53-year artisan, and nobody cooks carnitas quite like him. Everybody does a good job on the easy parts like the skin. But it’s the muscle proteins that sets him apart from everybody else. And the flavor. That guy is a master. When he tends to the carnitas, he really sits there the whole time for hours and hours, watches it, turns the meat, takes pieces out that are cooking too fast. He just takes extra care to make sure that you have perfect carnitas every time. I don’t see the point to have it anywhere else.”

10. Tortas ahogadas at Tortas Ahogadas Guadalajara

torta_ahogada2Address and phone: 6042 Santa Fe Ave, Huntington Park (323-587-3115)
Good for: A French Dip-style sandwich bathed in chile de arbol salsa

Esparza says: “Tortas Ahogadas Guadalajara is a regional Jalisco-style restaurant, but their main thing is the sandwich. People compare it to the French dip. It’s made with a special bread called pan salado. It’s a hard roll that’s split and filled with carnitas and a little bit of pickled vegetables. Then the whole thing is drenched in a chile de arbol salsa that’s pretty much pure chile. You can ask for whatever level of heat you want, but just crank up the heat. They also source their bread from somebody who’s making it for them, so they have a really good roll. The idea is that you’re supposed to have a roll to hold the wetness; and you get extra salsa on the side, and throw some more on, and you just keep dipping that thing. I mean, it’s a beautiful thing.”