AN INTRODUCTION TO GUERRILLA TACOS
This is not a taco book. It’s a Guerrilla Tacos book.
THE RECIPES YOU FIND HERE WILL GIVE YOU ALL YOU NEED TO MAKE THE FOOD FROM GUERRILL TACOS AT HOME TONIGHT. I DON’T PRETEND THERE’S ANY DEEP DARK SECRET TO WHAT I’M DOING. EVERYTHING ISP RESENTED IN AS STRAIGHTFORWARD A WAY AS POSSIBLE—A MIX OF FLAVORS AND TEXTURES AND COLORS PILED ON TO A FIVE-INCH TORTILLA AND SERVED ON A SMALL PAPER TRAY. WE MAKE PRETTY SIMPLE FOOD. BUT WE DO IT OUR OWN WAY.
What is a taco?
To me it’s a tortilla and whatever you can dream up to put on top. Savory or sweet, stewed or grilled, soft or crispy, corn or flour—you can take it in any direction, as long as you can reasonably eat it with your hands. You can even put schwarma on a tortilla and call that a taco. I haven’t done that, but now that I mention it, it doesn’t sound half bad. Maybe I’ll even try it at the truck next week.
What is Guerrilla Tacos?
It’s all the flavors and food I dream about, usually on a tortilla. It’s also the name of a food truck that parks in front of some of L.A.’s better coffee shops. Soon after this writing, it will become a brick-and-mortar restaurant. My wife, Tanya, came up with the name “guerrilla” because in the beginning, we were always in danger of being shut down by the cops. “You’re like a guerrilla soldier, you do it your way, underground,” she said to me. Sometimes it seems our lives resemble that of soldiers participating in unconventional warfare. With the truck, our locations, and with our tacos, everything is always changing, every single day. We keep it small, dynamic, guerrilla.
This is not “authentic” Mexican food. It’s personal. I couldn’t give a shit about authenticity, especially when it comes to tacos. A taco isn’t just asada, pastor, and carnitas, with chopped onions and cilantro and your choice of salsa. The truth is there is no such thing as an authentic taco. Taco makers have always known this; if you look at the taqueros cooking in Mexico, there is always experimentation and a lot of “inauthentic” food. That’s the tradition I see myself as a part of—the tradition of inauthenticity. Of not being a slave to tradition. Of experimenting. Evolving.
A taco is a blank canvas. How do you want to paint it? Let your imagination run wild. Seared cauliflower with raisins; tuna poke with furikake, uni, and habanero; Armenian beef basturma with a fried farm egg and burnt tomato salsa . . . corn tortillas go with everything. I consider anything an authentic Guerrilla Taco as long as I’m being authentic to myself and my perspective and experiences as a cook.
Who am I? A fat kid from Pico Rivera, turned DJ, turned teamster, turned fine-dining cook, turned DIY food-truck chef. I am sleeved in tattoos and I have a season-pass to Disneyland. I love my wife and my dog and my family. And I love what I cook. The story of Guerrilla Tacos is also my story, told one taco at a time.
It’s the story of my childhood in Pico where the house would fill with the aroma that came when my mother fried ground beef in lard with Lawry’s taco seasoning on the stove top. It’s a trip to Baja with my dad, where I tasted my first lobster, and to his hometown in a rural part of Durango, Mexico, where I sampled the most amazing wild anise. It’s a mind-blowing tapas bar in Spain that serves nothing but wine and different kinds of mushrooms. It’s learning the basics at culinary school, getting my fine-dining chops at L’Auberge Carmel with Walter Manzke, and slanging prime rib and liver and onions at a country club in Pacific Palisades.
I started Guerrilla Tacos on a whim in 2012 with a $300 cart I found in downtown L.A. and a hibachi grill. Only two kinds of tacos were served that day—chicken and steak. I had no idea what the following morning would bring. Since then, everything has changed. But I still can’t tell you what’s going to happen tomorrow.
In the few years since Guerrilla Tacos opened, I’ve gotten shingles from stress, been shut down by the police, and landed near the top of Jonathan Gold’s best restaurants list—and the crazy thing is, we still don’t even have a restaurant. Guerrilla Tacos is still very young. As we write this book, we’re looking to open our first brick-and-mortar restaurant with a real grill and an open fire, things that weren’t available at first as I cooked out of the cart or now out of the kitchen of the food truck. And soon, the truck will go away and Guerrilla Tacos will change into something new.
So this book is a snapshot of my cooking at a moment in time, and it is the story of how I got here, told through my life in food. As I have from day one, I’m going to keep moving from here, keep evolving, keep doing it guerrilla style.