4749 Coldwater Canyon Ave
Studio City, California 91423
Quite literally a stone’s throw offthefreeway, Hugo’s Tacos is that rare offshoot that is actually better than it’s namesake (which is right across the street).
Well, allow me to back up for a minute. . .I was first introduced to the proper Hugo’s by a friend/college roommate who was a server, promising me fresh food in a unique, date-friendly environment with great ingredients. While all of those things are true, the overall experience at Hugo’s left me wanting more – it wasn’t quite a ‘nice’ restaurant, but wasn’t casual/chill, either. The food was neither great nor memorable, and the price was neither expensive nor cheap – in short, not a sensational experience; more of the “sure, we’re close, it’s decent and healthy. . .why not” kind of place.
Thus, despite living rather close,, I opted not to try these meat-filled tortillas for a year, despite driving past the misty water-shooting facade that was somehow always laden with a long queue of people awaiting their juicy vittles, even in the Valley heat.
Located in a VERY difficult-to-navigate intersection with negligible parking didn’t help, either – I could just walk there, I suppose. . .but this is L.A., after all. Thus, I finally left it up to The Wife to try the food and report back. Now she is definitely not one to overstate, but she came back salivating, asking when we could go again – and keep in mind that The Wife is not a repeater either; that is, neither of us like to go back to restaurants multiple times when there are so many new, exciting places to discover.
Never being one to turn down a new taco experience, I shoved aside my Hugo’s Haterism and decided to imbibe. We were able to find parking pretty easily after all (just go west on Riverside off of Coldwater, make a left at the first street and park behind the Goodwill Donation Center – I’m serious), and the line moved with the rapidity of the Soup Nazi. The line was so fast, in fact, that by the time we reached the (very nice) server/order taker, I hadn’t quite made up my mind between their seven filling choices (including the wonderful soy chorizo/potato/zucchini, which is in addition to old standards as al pastor, carne asada, chicken and fish) OR six salsa options (you know me, I lean toward habanero, but they feature a range of spiciness – from inoffensive to super hot).
I ended up doing what I do – ordering as much variety as possible without needing to hit an ATM. I settled on three separate fillings with three distinct salsas. One chicken, one steak, one carnitas to accompany my one habanero, one chile de arbol and one pico de gallo salsas. The Wife had a carnitas burrito (yes, they do that too) with the salsa negra. In short, we hit a homerun as I was able to try the majority of the (concise but well-rounded) menu in under $20. And that was with drinks.
First glance provides first love with these bad boys – they don’t lie when they say “fillings” because they fill these tortillas to the brim. The juicy (but not greasy) meat is (literally) bursting out of the sides, and covered with diced onion, cilantro and your salsa. I am a huge eater, but I almost couldn’t finish three tacos – I challenge you to find another high-quality eatery that provides that much value for your money. But it’s not just about the quantity here at Hugo’s – the quality was magnifico. Every bite was bursting with sabor and just enough heat to keep my attention, without burning my tongue. The only complaint is that the habanero salsa isn’t quite habanero-y enough, but then again most commercial eateries are intelligent enough to not want to warrant lawsuits due to permanently burnt tastebuds. Otherwise, it was phenomenal – and we even found a seat (there are only six bench/plastic seat tables), upon which we could enjoy the typically Valley view of cars going up and down Coldwater, getting on the freeway and across the street, coming directly at us – offthefreeway.
thank you to greattacohunt, self and L.A. Times for photos