2 L.A. Taquerias Built a Community From the Ground Up

By Aiman Javed | Will Blunt and Erin Lettera

By

Aiman Javed
Will Blunt and Erin Lettera

When event venues shut down, so did the lifeblood of Evil Cooks. The taco concept used to serve at concerts, breweries, and small markets. Out of work for two months, “we were going crazy,” Chef-owner Alex Garcia says. With partner Elvia Huerta, he began sharing their cooking videos on social media and sold mole and jam from home. But the real solution was the makeshift kitchen they built in their driveway.

The duo scattered flyers on the windshields of cars in the El Sereno neighborhood and rolled out the tortillas every Friday and Saturday. The high demand led to the addition of Sundays and an expanded menu including four trompos with pork, beef, vegan, or octopus. The churro, flan, and cheesecake dessert tacos are also crowd-pleasers. With metal music blaring and the staff decked out in all black, the six-person team has a good workflow that focuses on building clientele. And it’s been working out: New customers line up, and the regulars keep returning with a two-hour wait to order becoming the new normal.

Long lines were also Chef Carlos Jaquez’s superpower before COVID-19. Beginning as a side hustle while he cooked full-time at Otium, Birria Pa La Cruda used to be a street-style, Sundays-only cart on Lombardy Boulevard that would sell out within four hours. The local crowd hung around to down $2 tacos while families savored the beef birria consomé on the three tables Jaquez had set up. But the pandemic resulted in a two-month pause before he restarted as a home-based pop-up then a trailer and then a truck. Now, he’s circled back to a taco stand on Alhambra Avenue, where he’s recreating the community-focused vibe.

With a team of three, Jaquez’s week is packed—the stand is open on weekends while Taco Tuesdays have launched at a separate location. As with Evil Cooks, the pandemic encouraged creative expansion, and Jaquez has introduced a complementary menu called Ome, which offers seasonal, vegetable-forward dishes like papas machas with heirloom pee-wee potatoes and almond salsa macha. “It's very traditional, yet we want to be progressive,” he says.

As Birria is cemented in the taco landscape, he reminds himself of how far he’s come in just two years. “It's a blessing,” he says. “I would never complain about it. It's beautiful.”

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