Shrimp Tacos at Tacos Chapalita in Lincoln Heights, Los Angeles

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All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012

This is a teensy little taco stand on the east side of downtown Los Angeles.  They are cheap (for example: three tacos & a Coke $4 – or 4 shrimp tacos for $5) and the tacos are wonderful.  These shrimp ones were spicy & light & with nothing “fishy” about the seafood.  Really delicious.  They offer regular canned Coke & the FAR better-for-you (in the world of sodas) Mexican bottled Cokes.  Seating is in an alley corridor between the taco stand & its companion next door – a meat market.  Stop into the market – if you ever go to Chapalito.  It feels like something south of the border in there.

While you sit in the warped plastic seating (tipped, in some cases, at a 45 degree angle – nearly impossible to perch upon) and enjoy your tacos (and you will) – check out the murals in the alley.  One depicts some kind of farm life scenario – but the artist – it seems – was too intimidated to paint hooves.  All the animals (save the chickens & the dog) have their feet sort of obscured or are standing in strategically placed tufts of grass.  One poor sheep in chest deep in a rough.  I’ve heard human hands are hard to paint – but HOOVES?


FAR more amusing still is the Chapalita logo & mascot depiction.  I speak so little Spanish (shameful – after 28 years in LA) that one can really say I know NONE – so I tried to research the word Chapalita.  I know enough that the “ita” means “little” – and the feminine version – no less.   I could find no translation of Chapalita so I broke it down to three choices:

Chapala – ita – which returned a definition of “Little “Chapala.”  Chapala is the city close to Guadalajara, in Jalisco – so this seems a decent choice.

Chapa – lita – Chapa meaning sheet metalso Chapalito is “little sheet metal?”  I think not.  Nothing girly about sheet metal.

Chapo-lita – Chapo – meaning dwarf – so Chapalito is “little dwarf.”  I’m liking this version best (even if it is wrong) & I will explain why now.

Look at this mural –


Here’s what we have – an orange sun setting behind some oxblood mountains with some scattered storm clouds.  Two islands in the ocean each with two testicularly-enhanced palm trees.  In the foreground, we have what seems to be two rock formations bookending a pale, sandy beach.  None of that raises an eyebrow, I suppose, but it is what is under the name CHAPALITA that is cryptic and around which many conspiracy theories must abound.  It appears that we have a flaming raft of some sort floating in the ocean.  Chest deep in lapping flames – we find an un-phased chicken.  Is he impervious to the fires of the rotisserie?   Upon closer inspection – he expression looks sly, wry perhaps – not angry or defiant – like he knows something we do not.  Is that a goatee he sports?  While he has a spiked, feather hair-do, his body seems plucked clean – or he is wearing a Nike dri-fit workout top in canary yellow.  Who can be sure?  What we can be sure of is that he is wearing a wilting sombrero and is pretty built – with his Popeye forearms dwarfing his shoulders.  And we know why, too.  He works out.  In fact – he is hefting a huge barbell over his head this very moment.  No CHAPALITA – “Little Dwarf” – this chicken – though he was likely given that humiliating moniker by the bigger, mean roosters he went to junior high with – roosters mocking him with a feminine insult.  He took Charles Atlas’ advice & body built his way into immunity from bullies & the death by fire that awaits so many chickens of his ilk.   This chicken is a bad-ass.   So bad-ass that he will proudly lift his waits on a flame-engulfed raft under a banner screaming the term that once made him run away in tears – CHAPALITA!  He owns it!  “Fuck all you haters,” he seems to be saying.  “I turned my weakness into my strength and with any luck – somebody has turned you into a taco.”  Maybe those palm trees and their nuts are emblematic of more than tropical fruits?

But – whatever these murals say to you – you will leave Chapalita saying, “Damn!  Those were some tasty tacos!”

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