Restaurant of the Week: Arturo’s Puffy Tacos

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Arturo’s Puffy Tacos, 15693 Leffingwell Road (at Lambert), Whittier; closed Sundays

Only a couple of times before (Covina’s Capri Deli, San Bernardino’s Mitla Cafe) have I written a Restaurant of the Week about a spot outside the Inland Valley. Both were worthy spots, in business for decades, that seemed of potential interest to you.

Arturo’s in Whittier is a similar case. I wanted to go there as I’d had puffy tacos while on vacation in San Antonio, Texas, in November, at Ray’s. Puffy tacos are kind of a San Antonio thing. Except they’re not, exactly, because they may have originated in Southern California in the 1960s at Arturo’s, and Art is said to have exported them to Ray’s. (The official story is here.)

I met up with the New Diner blogger at Arturo’s one night earlier this month to try the SoCal version. Arturo’s was brightly lighted and occupies a vintage if divey building with this quaintly awkward motto emblazoned along the roofline: “For a new taste in Mexican food try California’s only…the original Puffy Taco.”

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It’s a walk-up, where you order through a window, pick up your food inside and dine there. I got two puffy tacos: carne guizado ($2.50) and carnitas ($2.65), plus a horchata ($2.05); the New Diner, who’s gone vegetarian on us, got a bean and cheese burrito and taco.

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There were customers when we arrived and nobody when we left near closing time on a weeknight. The walls have a lot of San Antonio memorabilia.

A puffy taco comes in a flash-fried shell that turns flaky and delicate. Have you had cinnamon crisps, those pseudo-Mexican puffy chips dusted with cinnamon as a dessert? I’m not even sure where I’ve had them, Taco John’s maybe. Well, puffy tacos are kind of like that.

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Jonathan Gold once rhapsodized about Arturo’s in LA Weekly: “I’m not sure how I managed to live in Los Angeles this long without even knowing that these puffy tacos existed.” So has OC Weekly’s Gustavo Arellano, who advised readers: “It’s as if a taco dorado decided to evolve into a sope but quit halfway, and it combines the pleasures of the two: thick yet airy, earthy, crispy, golden, one of America’s great regional treats.”

I don’t think I’ll develop a taste for them, but they’re interesting in the best sense of the term, and the carne guizado filling, a beef stew, was especially good. The tacos seemed identical to the ones in Texas — and, obviously, are far more easily obtained.

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  • DebB

    If the shell is “flaky and delicate”, can you still pick it up to eat it? Or does it crumble in your hand?

    • davidallen909

      You can pick ’em up, but they crumble quickly, so eat fast!

  • Richard_Pietrasz

    I recall eating a similar, but larger version of this as a tostada, with a large (perhaps 15″ dia.) flour tortilla, back in the late 1970s or early 80s. The edges were turned up to form a bowl. In that form, I think it is available at many TexMex restaurants, although far from most.

  • Bob Terry

    What shirt did you wear when you ate there? The “New Diner”?, care to explain who/what that may be?

    • davidallen909

      Not a puffy shirt! There’s a hyperlink with the phrase “New Diner blogger,” which takes you to his blog. The link is also in the Other Sites of Interest lineup on the right-hand side of this page. He’s a food blogger and we’ve met up for restaurant meals a few times (Sal’s in RC, Petrilli’s in Upland and a couple more).