Terrific Trejo’s Tacos

IMG_6360Driving along South La Brea just below Wilshire Blvd, I’ve noticed very few changes through the years, until recently when a Taco Bell became vacant. I wondered what would replace it, hoping it would be a unique dining destination, instead of another corporate chain restaurant.

A few months ago, I was thrilled to notice a Spacecraft Design Group sign posted in front of the abandoned building, with construction starting behind the black wood security fence.

FullSizeRender-274Recently, a Trejo’s Tacos sign was installed with a familiar face sporting a long thin mustache. It’s actor Danny Trejo, known for his famous role as Machete. My friend Taylor is a big fan of Trejo, so I invited her to join me for lunch last week.

As we approached the sleek outdoor patio, we were welcomed by one of the partners Jeff Georgino. He is one of the trio in Trejo’s Tacos, with the other two partners being film actor Danny Trejo and film producer Ash Shah. Shah and Georgino were roommates at USC. Georgino started working for Playboy Enterprises and Shah made movies. Trejo was cast as an intimidating and violent character in the Bad Ass films and the two became friends.

FullSizeRender-275Unfortunately Trejo wasn’t at his restaurant the day we dined, because he is one of the busiest film actors in Hollywood. When he isn’t filming, we learned he likes to come in and chat with employees and customers.

By 11:30 a.m. a line was forming with Los Angelenos ordering organic street tacos, crispy tostadas, freshly made agua frescas and Coolhaus ice cream sandwiches.

Vegans were tweeting about the black pepper tofu tacos with serrano chilies, caramelized onions, and cilantro. They also love sipping a glass of vegan horchata made with almond milk that is sweetened with dates and dazzled with a pinch of cinnamon.

Georgino led Executive Chef Ramses Walker out from the small kitchen to meet us, as we sipped two agua frescas. My favorite was the fresh watermelon juice with a touch of mint. Chef Ramese makes this refreshing beverage in 16 quart containers and only adds 1/2 a cup of sugar. It’s the quintessential summer beverage.IMG_6334

He and his team cut fresh pineapples in the morning for another winning beverage. They add a touch of cumin to give it pizzazz.

As Chef Ramses sat with us while his team were making our tacos, we were introduced to Justin the his local organic produce purveyor from Worldwide Produce. Justine brings all the produce and organic tortillas and organic chips.

Ramses told me, “We used to make the tortillas and chips, but couldn’t keep up with the demand.” He believes Justin’s chips are as good as his, because they use canola oil to appeal to our vegetarian and vegan customers. The chef also really likes the tiny radishes Justin brings to him. They are a seasonal item that he adds as a garnish to elevate every taco in appearance and flavor.

Chef Ramses makes all of the salsas, sauces and guacamole inhouse. The chunky red salsa is made the night before, while fresh guacamole is made in the morning with serrano, chopped pistachios, a little lemon and onion. His Trejo’s Hot Sauce is on every table. “It’s a two week process and is never refrigerated,” Ramses said. It’s also available to purchase on the patio, along with a Trejo T-shirt, trucker hats and baseball caps.

FullSizeRender-269The smooth fermented red and green sauces are fresh and don’t need to be refrigerated. “Every week I tweek it up a notch,” said Ramses. Dipping a chip into the sauces, it offers an after effect that is pleasing.

Ramses laughs while telling us that he is in the process of unveiling a XXX hot sauce. “I’m a baby about hot sauce, Hot Cheetos are too hot for me.” His fiery red sauce doesn’t leave your lips or tongue pulsating, yet it does offer a tickle of heat.

This talented chef told us he didn’t dream of being a chef. In fact after three months at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) he quit. When he enrolled in the Art Institute in San Diego, he was known as the class clown, while trying to figure out what he wanted to do in life. Joseph Ejah from Arts Institute was very influential in pushing Chef Ramses to be what he is today. “I really appreciate all of the mentors in my life,” said Ramses.

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Chef Ramses

While working at the Marriott Hotel in the Gas Lamp area of San Diego, Ramses soon mastered every task in the kitchen within one year.

His resume includes working in the kitchen at the Hyatt Century City, before it became the InterContinental, a three year stint as the youngest chef to run the L’ Ermitage restaurant, and leading a team inside the Figueroa Hotel.

When the Figueroa Hotel closed for renovations, he received an opportunity to work in a restaurant on the East Coast. He told us he turned it down, because he’s a “Cali guy and needs to surf.”

When the Trejo’s Tacos trio approached Ramses, he thought it would be a lot of fun. This chef gets the partners and staff excited. He comes in early and leaves at 9 p.m. to help prep and clean the kitchen. He is also a perfectionist. When Jared brought out one of each taco on the menu and a shrimp tostada to our table, Chef Ramese inspected each one and told Jared to take one of the tacos back to the kitchen. He pointed to something and said, “They will know exactly what I am talking about.”

IMG_6491Healthy taco options include braised pork with red fermented sauce, red fresh onions and chopped cilantro. Another is a grilled chicken taco marinated in a achiote paste, then topped with pico de gallo and a crunchy cole slaw.

While biting into the beef brisket taco, I enjoyed the pico de gallo, crisp tortilla strips and a sprinkling cotija cheese flavors.

My favorite taco is the fried Jidori chicken pieces served in a cool butter lettuce cup with a spicy slaw made with white and purple cabbage and a tangy chipotle cream.

Chef Ramses and the partners are playing with a fish taco recipe right now, “It might be blackened style,” Ramses said.

Another popular taco is the grilled marinated carne asada taco. It’s an old traditional recipe with a twist, as Chef Ramses adds a pepita (pumpkin seed) pesto with a slaw.

IMG_6665Appetizers include a fresh wild caught grilled Mexican white shrimp tostada sprinkled with Tajin spice. It’s layered with sliced fresh Haas avocado, serrano peppers and blood orange wedges. The citrus wedges are seasonal. Ramses enlightened us that one week you might see blood orange segments, another week might be Cuties or another type pf orange with the shrimp. It’s a delightful balance of smooth and crunchy, citrus and spicy.

On tap they offer Kombucha and Nitro Cold Brew Coffee. The coffee they serve is Trejo Latin America house blend. Chef Ramses and Georgino told us that they are looking to open a donut & coffee shop in LA this summer. They also have plans to open another Trejo Tacos in Hollywood soon. This location will stay open until 2 a.m. and offer a larger bar area. “As we move forward, we may get a little wilder,” said Chef Ramses.

As we got up to leave, we met a family from Murrieta and Fresno, who drove to Trejo’s Tacos for a birthday lunch. It was their son’s 28th birthday and this was where he wanted to celebrate with his parents and friends. I was shocked. Of all the taco places in Los Angeles, he chose Trejo Tacos? Wow, word has spread quickly beyond foodies in Los Angeles.IMG_6351

Since this is an area in Los Angeles that is not known for valet parking, I was surprised to see a valet stand out front. It made sense when I learned that sometimes during the week, the kitchen staff is making upwards of 1,000 tacos in five hours. Soon they will be extending their 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. hours to include dinner, beer and wine.

I commented to Georgino about the professional landscape design in the front of the restaurant. He told me he personally installed the drip line and all of the hand planted drought tolerant plants. This neighborhood enhancement is a welcome sight to the community. “I’ve worked 45 days straight, and finally took a day off last week,” Georgino said. Now with more restaurants to open this year, he probably won’t be taking any vacations soon.

$ Open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 1048 S La Brea (323)938-TACOS.

Parts of this review were also featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea Newspapers on April 21, 2016.

This article is available on the mobile GPSmyCity App – https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/los-angeles-631.html

Pizza Romana: When the Moon Hits Your Eye Like a Big Pizza Pie – That’s Amore!

Proscuitto and argulua top the buffalo mozzarella pizza at Pizza Romano. (photo courtesy of Pizza Romana)
Proscuitto and argulua top the buffalo mozzarella pizza at Pizza Romano. (photo courtesy of Pizza Romana)

When the neighborhood restaurant Cube on La Brea closed for renovations, the street seemed a little quieter. Locals wondered what would become of this popular Italian marketplace and cafe owned by Alex Palermo. Last spring Pizza Romano was born.

After graduating from Pepperdine University with a degree in Economics in the late 1980s, Palermo started his own company, Divine Pasta, based on a college project. His mission was to create hand-crafted pastas and sauces made from the best ingredients to sell to high quality stores and restaurants.

He secured a space on La Brea and opened a store in the front and pasta factory in the back. Cube Cafe and Marketplace was born, creating artisan crafted food. He made a rotating pasta selection, and other Italian dishes using imported Italian tomatoes, fresh herbs, extra virgin olive oil and fresh cage free eggs.

His products were purchased and used by some of America’s best restaurants, and sold in gourmet retailers nationwide. Gelson’s Market was one of his first customers in 1992, and now he sells to over 15,000 retail locations worldwide.

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Owner Alex Palermo and Sommelier Emanuele Rizzo pair excellent Italian wine with authentic Italian cuisine at Pizza Romana. (photo by Jill Weinlein)

I met Palermo at Pizza Romano on a Friday night while dining there with my father. When I asked him why he closed Cube, he explained he accomplished what he intended with the restaurant.

“I achieved what I wanted to achieve, so I closed it to create a different dining concept that is more family friendly,” Palermo said.

It is a casual restaurant where servers behind the counter take your order. The menu offers a variety of pizzas, pastas, salads and paninis. Enjoy the casual atmosphere while waiting for your dishes to be brought to you, as soon as they are cooked to order. “Having my own children, I wanted to create a multi-generational restaurant, that appeals to all ages at a more affordable price,” Palermo said.

The restaurant has an extensive wine list, many from Italy, including much of the inventory from Cube. The cozy, private room in the back is lined floor to ceiling with wine bottles. It’s an ideal spot for parties and wine tasting dinners.

The list is curated by Palermo’s cousin and Sommelier Emanuele Rizzo. Born in Wisconsin, Rizzo’s family moved to Rome when he was 10 years old. He enjoyed coming to America to visit his family and friends. A few years ago, Rizzo obtained his sommelier designation in Rome. With his expertise, he pairs great wines with heavenly pizzas.

FullSizeRender-239The black truffle pizza with a softly fried egg on top is a winner. I remarked that finally someone else, other than a very popular nearby pizzeria, is creating a pizza pie that is interesting in textures and flavors.

I asked Rizzo what makes the crust so good. “It’s a labor of love made with ingredients all from Italy,” he said. Rizzo said the secret ingredient is the water. “Our pizza dough is made in Rome and shipped here. It’s made with Italian flour, Italian salt and Italian water.” He said the water in Los Angeles will not produce the same pizza dough. Now I understand how the restaurant got its name.

All of the dough is fermented for 24 hours in the traditional Roman style. They hand stretch the dough and bake the pizzas in an authentic wood-fired Italian pizza oven. The pizza comes out with the top bubbled and slightly charred from the intense heat. The rest of the crust is golden with a slight crunch.

Rizzo paired my pizza with a glass of Etna Rosso Nanticchia 2007 with a 92 point score that offered a big red color with the essence of sweet and spicy. The grapes are picked from 100- year-old vines growing at the foot of an active volcano – Mount Etna. The wine offered pleasing flavors with a hint of cola, pink peppercorns and crushed berries. “It also has an essence of saltiness, because the grapes are produced near the sea,” Rizzo said.

Besides the truffle pizza, we enjoyed a wedge salad with crispy bacon, red onion, heirloom tomatoes, gorgonzola cheese and Palmero’s housemade Ranch dressing.

A dish of bite size meatballs arrived bathed in a tomato sauce with Parmigiano Reggiano shavings on top. Baked pizza dough slices accompanied the meatballs, perfect for dipping into the sauce.

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For a vegetable, we ordered the roasted Brussels sprouts with chopped bacon and cippolini onions. The crispness and flavors were heightened with every bite. My father enjoyed them too, and he isn’t a big Brussels sprouts fan.

Our last dish ordered was the Mom’s lasagna made with bolognese and béchamel sauces, and melted mozzarella throughout. It was pure homey, comfort food. Nothing fancy, just delicious.

Palermo touted his reverse regional wine hour which is becoming popular. It begins nightly from 9 p.m. to closing, with Roman-inspired late night specials that include $6 rotating glasses of red, white and sparkling wine. Pair the wine with a bianca and salumi pizza or a baked pasta al forno for $6.

Pizza Romana offers an authentic buon appetito dining experience. $$ Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. 615 N. La Brea Ave. (323)939-1148.

This article was published in the March 17, 2016 Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News. This review is featured in GPSmyCity –  https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/los-angeles-631.html

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