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Mariscos Jalisco by Raul Ortega is The Times’ 2024 Gold Award winner

He popularized shrimp tacos in Los Angeles and has been the bridge between classic food trucks and a new generation of street food vendors.

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Raul Ortega holds a taco dorado de camaron outside his Mariscos Jaliscos food truck
Raul Ortega holds a plate with his famous “taco dorado de camaron” outside his original Mariscos Jalisco food truck location in Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

It’s noontime on a hot Sunday afternoon and all along the Boyle Heights stretch of Olympic Boulevard, taco hunters are out in force. Virtually every truck and stand on this prime taco corridor attracts a line, often with eaters setting their sights on multiple spots, food-crawl style.

At the fire-engine red Tacos y Birria La Unica truck, the call is goat birria quesatacos dipped in meaty consommé. Seafood cocktails and fish tacos are abundant at Mariscos 4 Vientos and Mariscos La Colima. At Carnitas Los Chingones, on the western edge of the Lou Costello Jr. Recreation Center, three copper kettles are fired up on the sidewalk for carnitas and carnitas-fat-fried tortilla chips that make radically good chilaquiles. (Chicharrón goes in the kettle too on weekends.) Down the road, Los Originales Tacos ?rabes de Puebla is getting ready to open. Come nightfall, more trucks and taco stands will appear.

But of all these places, none commands more respect than Raul Ortega’s Mariscos Jalisco, one of the pioneering taco trucks of Olympic Boulevard.

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Los Angeles, CA - June 09: Raul Ortega holds a miniature food truck patterned after his real-life Mariscos Jalisco, truck.
Raul Ortega holds a miniature Mariscos Jalisco food truck.
(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

Famed for tacos dorados de camarones — golden tacos filled with shrimp that emerge tender at the center and crisped on the edges after a dip in the fryer — the truck has been a part of every “101 Best Restaurants in Los Angeles” guide since 2013 under Times critics Bill Addison, Patricia Escárcega and the late Jonathan Gold.

Addison has written that his serious eating for the annual 101 list always begins with a plate of Mariscos Jalisco’s tacos dorados de camarones.

“The meal is a ritual,” Addison said in 2022. “Juicy salsa and sliced avocados douse the first blazing bites like liquid metal cooling a nuclear reactor.”

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Mariscos Jalisco'sshrimp taco.

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LOS ANGELES, CA- October 15, 2019: The Poseidon from Mariscos Jalisco on Tuesday, October 15, 2019. (

1. Mariscos Jalisco’sshrimp taco. 2. Mariscos Jalisco’s take on the Poseidon tostada. (Photos by Mariah Tauge r/ Los Angeles Times)

“It still might be the most amazing seafood taco you’ve ever had,” he wrote in our most recent 101 guide published in 2023, “and a fast-track entry into the city’s culinary culture.”

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Like Justin Pichetrungsi’s Thai Taco Tuesdays in the alleyway at Anajak Thai or a Saturday afternoon inside Mercado La Paloma eating kampachi and uni tostadas at Gilberto Cetina’s Holbox — both Restaurant of the Year picks by Addison in 2022 and 2023, respectively — eating shrimp tacos at Mariscos Jalisco is the kind of L.A. experience you want to share with close friends and out-of-town visitors.

“In some circles,” Gold wrote in 2012, “admitting that you live in Los Angeles but haven’t visited Mariscos Jalisco is like confessing that you’ve never been to Dodger Stadium, or driven through the four-level freeway interchange, or eaten a corn dog on Muscle Beach — inexcusable, really.”

These expressions of admiration for Mariscos Jalisco, and Ortega’s influence in shaping a part of Los Angeles’ culinary landscape with a single beloved taco, sync beautifully with the parameters set out by Gold when he gave Wolfgang Puck the first Gold Award during The Times’ second Food Bowl festival in 2017. The key phrase: “honoring culinary excellence and expanding the notion of what Southern California cooking might be.”

It only makes sense that Mariscos Jalisco’s Ortega is this year’s Gold Award honoree.

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July 9, 2024

Ortega, who started Mariscos Jalisco as a lonchera, or stationary food truck, on Olympic Boulevard in 2002, has expanded his enterprise to two other L.A. locations and Pomona as well. He also added a simple indoor dining space (with bathrooms) steps from the original truck to make it easier to eat your tacos, aguachile plates and Poseidon tostadas stacked high with shrimp ceviche, octopus and red aguachile. (Many, however, still prefer to sit on the low wall outside the truck and balance their plates and bottles of Jarritos soda.)

LOS ANGELES-CA-OCTOBER 16, 2020: The Mariscos Jalisco truck in Los Angeles on Friday, October 16, 2020. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
Two sides of the Mariscos Jalisco taco truck in Boyle Heights.

Two sides of the Mariscos Jalisco taco truck in Boyle Heights. (Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Even with the stresses of a growing business as well as the challenges of the COVID pandemic and shifting city regulations plus rising food and labor prices, Ortega has maintained the high standards he set for the truck when he introduced the shrimp taco inspired by the ceviche style he and a taquero friend knew from their days in San Juan de los Lagos, Jalisco.

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A few years after his business was established on Olympic, a new wave of food trucks rose up, with Roy Choi’s Kogi truck the most visible of the new style in 2008. Think of Mariscos Jalisco as a bridge between the classic taco trucks that roamed the city for decades and the trucks that emerged in the 2010s.

Since that time, a new generation of trucks and stands run by young Mexican and Mexican American taqueros, many dispensing hyper-regional styles of cooking, has come to dominate the streets. Even Choi has introduced a back-to-basics “backyard barbecue” style with his latest Tacos Por Vida stand.

It all brings the circle back to Ortega’s Mariscos Jalisco and the shrimp taco that still endures.

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Mariscos Jalisco owner Raul Ortega at his truck.

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Tacos de camarones at Mariscos Jalisco.

1. Mariscos Jalisco owner Raul Ortega at his truck. (Carter Hiyama / For The Times) 2. Tacos de camarones at Mariscos Jalisco. (Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

The 2024 Gold Award will be presented to Mariscos Jalisco’s Raul Ortega during this year’s Food Bowl festival at Paramount Studios on Sept. 20. Early-bird tickets go on sale this week at lafoodbowl.com.

Past Gold Award winners

Jenee Kim’s Koreatown restaurant Park’s BBQ is an essential part of the flavors of Los Angeles — showing a generation of diners that Korean food is a thriving, evolving cuisine.

June 13, 2023

How chef Genet Agonafer helped make Ethiopian cuisine one of the central pieces in the mosaic of Los Angeles culinary culture

July 22, 2022

At Guelaguetza, the flavors of Oaxaca are essential elements of Los Angeles cuisine.

May 16, 2021

At full strength, Post & Beam is an essential Southern California experience, a special night out where people dress up yet feel at ease and, as they walk out the door: happy.

July 30, 2020

As part of Food Bowl, May’s monthlong festival of food, dining and sustainability, the Los Angeles Times is presenting the third annual Gold Award to Bryant Ng and Kim Luu-Ng of Cassia.

May 1, 2019

As part of Food Bowl, May’s monthlong festival of food, dining and sustainability, the Los Angeles Times is presenting the second annual Gold Award to chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken.

April 7, 2018

As part of Food Bowl, this May’s monthlong food festival, The Los Angeles Times is presenting the first Gold Award to chef Wolfgang Puck.

April 4, 2017

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