The bar in the front of Trejo’s newest cantina in Pasadena was standing room only, as was the large dining room. Theatre patrons were sipping one last drink, before seeing the first show of the Pasadena Playhouse season – Our Town. Located adjacent to the playhouse, the cantina makes sure theatre patrons are finished before the 8 p.m. curtain.
The face of Danny Trejo, the actor and namesake of the new restaurant is featured throughout the dining room. Best known for his roles in movies including “Machete” and “From Dusk till Dawn,” he’s one of the driving forces behind this venture, which continues to expand. Trejo told me once, “I’d rather shoot for the moon and miss, then aim for the gutter and make it.” In my opinion he isn’t missing at all.
The first Trejo’s Tacos on La Brea Ave. opened in 2016 by partners Trejo, Jeff Georgino and film producer Ash Shah. Georgino and Shah met while roommates at the University of Southern California. Shah and Trejo became friends on the set of the movie “Bad Ass.” Together they make quite a team.
Soon after the success of Trejo’s Tacos, they opened Trejo’s Cantina in Hollywood on Cahuenga Ave. Next they started cruising around Los Angeles in Trejo’s Truck with the actor’s face displayed on the black food truck. Making stops throughout the City of Angels, the chefs prepared savory tacos filled with brisket, pork, cauliflower, and grilled chicken that they paired with horchata and refreshing agua frescas.
Next they painted a bright pink Trejo’s Coffee & Donuts logo on Santa Monica Blvd. and started selling creative donuts with flavors that include margarita, Coco Loco, Low Rider and the Maple Pig with bacon. The coffee drinks are all made with Trejo Coffee.
Now they opened another cantina in the historic Pasadena area, offering sit down service, with heartier menu items and a full bar.
At the bar, most of the beers are on draft except two served with a can, the Stone IPA and a Dos XX Lager. Besides cerveza, they also offer a variety of unique margaritas with names that include The Good Stuff made with Grand Marnier, Pink Señorita made with Blanco tequila, strawberry lemonade, triple sec and fresh lime, and The Jalapeño rimmed with Tajin, a seasoning powder made with chile peppers, lime, and salt. It will leave your lips tingling.
Since Danny Trejo stopped drinking years ago, he offers a variety of non alcoholic beverages for his guests. They make date sweetened horchata, a variety of fresh aguas frescas, Mexican Coke and a Cochata made with Trejo Coffee cold brew mixed with horchata.
Manager Thomas Fuchs welcomed us and sat us near the kitchen along the banquette decorated with colorful Mexican blankets hanging on the back wall.
The first thing we noticed, as a basket of chips and salsa were delivered to our table is that they are different here than other Mexican restaurants. The chips stay extra crispy in a chip warmer, before sprinkled with sea salt and decorated with lime zest shavings. The chunky brick red colored salsa is made the night before with roasted tomatoes and tomatillos. The fresh guacamole is made each morning using serrano chiles, chopped pistachios, lemon and chopped onions, offering an appealing crunch.
Looking at the menu, Thomas recommended the Brussels Sprouts, quesadilla and street corn for starters, “They are like no other,” he said. The Brussels Sprouts are dusted in corn starch and flash fried before dazzled with a red chimichurri sauce. When the street corn arrived in a bowl, we noticed perfectly grilled corn kernels cut off the cob and topped with chipotle cream and popcorn.
What makes Trejo’s quesadilla different is that it’s stuffed with crispy deep fried chicken, Mexican slaw and chilies. It’s served with a tangy, hot chipotle crema dipping sauce.
Since the Trejo team is known for their Trejo’s street tacos, we ordered a couple for the table. On the menu there are multiple meat, vegetarian and vegan options. For meat lovers they make slowly cooked carnitas with red onions; brisket; and steak asada tacos. For seafood tacos they make blackened salmon, Baja fish and spicy shrimp. They also make a grilled chicken with achiote, slaw and pico de gallo.
I was curious about the young Jackfruit taco. Where else can you order a Jackfruit taco? It arrived in a soft corn tortilla with Mexican slaw, avocado cream, crunchy tortilla strips and pico de gallo. Jackfruit has become a new superfood in the vegan world. It’s a healthy and sustainable vegan meat replacement that offers sweet and earthy flavors. It tastes a little bit like pineapple, hearts of palm and kimchi, with a texture similar to pulled pork. The vegan Mexi-falafel taco has three fried beans, chilies and spice spheres that are topped with shredded kale, pickled pink onion swirls and dollops of cashew cream.
My husband ordered the chicken fajitas served in a black skillet with a padded chili pepper hot pad on the handle, to prevent servers and guests from burning their hand. The grilled chicken is served with grilled lime wedges, sliced onions, Greenville peppers and an aluminum wrapped package filled with flour tortillas.
Looking at the table next to us, we noticed the burritos are massive here. They make five different types. They steak asada is filled with cheese, beans, rice, Mexican slaw, pepita pesto and pico de gallo. It comes dry, but for a few dollars more you can order it wet and topped with guacamole. They also make a carnitas burrito filled with pineapple, hot sauce, slaw and pico de gallo. Others include a fried chicken burrito, spicy shrimp and Mexi-falafel burrito.
Our server Nikki shared with us that she likes Trejo’s Cantina Mexican food, because it’s organic and non-GMO. “You can eat two or three tacos and not feel uncomfortable, because they are healthier,” she said. “The vegan and vegetarian options are terrific.”
Once the Pasadena Playhouse doors opened for the show, we noticed half of the diners stroll out into the Pasadena Playhouse courtyard. Their tables were cleared quickly and new diners sat down.
Needing a quick dessert before the show, we ordered the cinnamon churros. They arrived hot, fat and crispy around the edges. Dipping them into the chocolate and strawberry sauce, we remarked that these are not the standard churros you find at most restaurants.
Danny Trejo and his team are soaring high with another successful cantina. $$ 1556 N. Cahuenga Blvd. (323)461-8226 and 37 S. El Molino Ave. (626)792-4441. Trejo’s Tacos – 1048 S. La Brea Ave. (323)938-TACO and Trejo’s Coffee & Donuts – 6785 Santa Monica Blvd. (323)462-4600.
This review was also featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News – Oct. 12, 2107 – http://beverlypress.com/2017/10/trejos-cantina-is-muy-bueno/