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Pop-up taqueria creates unique recipes inspired by heavy metal, evokes nostalgia

Elvia Huerta, a former assistant cook at Rendezvous, runs a pop-up restaurant where she serves dishes inspired by childhood memories. Throughout the week, she moves her heavy-metal-themed taqueria to various locations across Los Angeles. (Courtesy of Christina House/LA Times)

By Vivian Xu

March 1, 2020 11:09 pm

Creativity, childhood memories and death metal – all packed into one food truck.

Evil Cooks, a pop-up restaurant, is a heavy-metal-themed taqueria co-run by Elvia Huerta, a former assistant cook at Rendezvous, serving dishes inspired by childhood memories. Throughout the week, Huerta and her business partner Alex Garcia travel to various locations in Los Angeles, serving Mexican comfort food with their own creative tweaks on traditional recipes. Huerta has always enjoyed cooking and feeding others – Evil Cooks provides both a way to strengthen her passion and an outlet for culinary experimentation, she said.

“We like to innovate new things. Our menu always changes so we never have the same thing,” Huerta said. “Whenever we pop somewhere, it’s always something different. One day we, could have tacos; the next day, we’ll have tortas or pambazos. We tend to keep people on their toes.”

After working at Rendezvous for 10 years, Huerta said she decided to take a different route to fulfill her culinary dreams by teaming up with Garcia, whom she had met through Instagram. Garcia originally started Evil Cooks as a T-shirt “company for cooks – punk and metal bands’ influences on the brand’s designs caught Huerta’s attention online, she said. The two bonded over a shared love of death metal and cooking, Garcia said, and Huerta eventually began to assist him with various catering gigs while she was still working at Rendezvous.”

[Related: Restaurant review: Tacos 1986 spices up Westwood food scene with vibrant, authentic Mexican flavors]

When the demand for catering increased, Huerta and Garcia began to seriously consider opening a pop-up restaurant, leading to the rebranding of Evil Cooks as a taqueria, he said.

Similar to its origin, many of Evil Cooks’ dishes are spontaneously created, as the restaurant does not have a set menu. Rather, Huerta and Garcia spend their trips to the farmers market examining ingredients and choosing whichever ones they find appealing in the moment. The pair can create a menu in less than an hour, and all the items are inspired by what Huerta and Garcia grew up eating, Garcia said. Their popular taco de fideo originated from Huerta’s memories as a young girl eating sopa de fideo – a brothy tomato soup – as an after-school “snack. By drawing upon these fond memories, Garcia said they hope to evoke a sense of nostalgia in their customers.”

“Most of our items in our menu are childhood memories,” Garcia said. “When (Huerta) proposed to do the fideo taco, that was something that I was raised on in Mexico, eating leftover fideo … everything (on our menu) is something (related) to our childhood. We want to play with a sense of memory.”

Using these childhood memories as a starting point, Huerta and Garcia said they modify them and experiment in the kitchen to add their own twist. A signature dish that Huerta conceived is the restaurant’s flan taco, known as La Bruja, which was a product of her tinkering in the kitchen. Though tacos are traditionally savory, Huerta said both she and Garcia thought that a taco could have any flavor – including sweet. This staple taco is made of a crepe-like tortilla hybrid that Huerta concocted, which is then filled with a piece of flan, sprinkled with coconut and polvorones, then finally garnished with mint and an orange peel.

[Related: A look into the appeal of pop-up restaurants in LA, how they find success]

Evil Cooks’ success can also be attributed to Huerta’s ability to focus on the task at hand and the playful menu, said Jacob Guzman, who occasionally helps out with the pop-up. Their tacos al pastor, which are a staple of Mexican cuisine, feature a black tortilla created through the use of dark spices, matching Evil Cooks’ punk and metal theme, Guzman said. While other taquerias may also serve tacos al pastor or other Mexican staples, he said Evil Cooks’ power to make its menu items unique to its brand is a product of Huerta’s creativity and drive.”

Despite their newfound success, Huerta said she still experiences injustices as a woman in the taqueria business, which is traditionally a male-dominated industry. Garcia and Huerta both run Evil Cooks, but she said many people assume that Garcia is in charge of the restaurant and Huerta is merely an assistant.

“You see a lot of guys running taquerias, but you don’t see a lot of women out there being recognized for their work,” Huerta said. “A lot of people always give (Garcia) acknowledgment, give him credit, when it’s both of us. It doesn’t really bother me, but it is kind of discouraging when they don’t recognize me as a woman, having to run a business.”

But within a year, Huerta said they have come a long way. Evil Cooks was invited to the annual Taco Libre festival in Dallas in April, which she said signifies their expanding reach from within Los Angeles to crossing state lines over 1,000 miles away. Huerta said the pop-up has granted her the opportunity to travel throughout Los Angeles and Mexico and meet new people. However, she said Evil Cooks’ ultimate goal is to open a shop or restaurant in a permanent location rather than continue to hop around the city.

“We hope to have our own brick and mortar,” Huerta said. “We don’t want to rush anything yet because we want to build a foundation first – build a following, make sure people know us. … So, we’re just taking our time. Slowly, but one day.”

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Vivian Xu | Assistant Arts editor
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