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L.A.’s Next Big Fine Dining Taquero Is Cooking Out of a West Adams Backyard

Through dishes like crispy pig ear chilaquiles, a grilled fish taco with a koji-enriched guacamole salsa, and duck confit draped with a hauntingly smokey, spicy date mole that creeps up on you, the former Chef de Cuisine at Bestia is finally "finding his own cooking voice” over an open fire on his days off.

Date Mole with duck confit

Date Mole with duck confit. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.

Who is the next tortilla trailblazer in Los Angeles who is not afraid to get crazy with tacos? 

Someone who is not scared of getting technical with the classics while carrying the texolotl along the nixtamal-paved road started by Southern California’s masa stalwarts, Wes Avila of Guerrilla Tacos and Carlos Salgado of Taco Maria? 

After an incredible dinner cooked over an open fire in a dark passageway randomly located behind a popular pasta restaurant in West Adams, I would place my odds on Andrew Ponce

For two years, Ponce and his partner, Anna Kawanishi, have flown low, growing a loyal following for their A Tí Los Angeles dinner series. It’s not a cheap taco pop-up trying to be a street vendor; it’s a sit-down modern Mexican concept that operates once or twice a month around Los Angeles, but recently in West Adams. 

Vibe at A Tí Pop-Up dinner series in West Adams. Photo by Javier Cabral at L.A. TACO.
Vibe at A Tí Pop-Up dinner series in West Adams. Photo by Javier Cabral at L.A. TACO.
Akami (lean bluefin tuna) tostada with salsa macha. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
Akami (lean bluefin tuna) tostada with salsa macha. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
Scallop aguachile.
Scallop aguachile. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.

After working alongside chef Ori Menashe as the chef de cuisine at Bestia, as well as later cooking stints at Taco Maria and Santa Monica’s short-lived Onda, Ponce has finally been “finding his own cooking voice” through A Tí.  Meanwhile, Kawanishi handles everything from front-of-house duties to making the tortillas, menus, and designing each pop-up's makeshift dining area.

“Being a Mexican-American raised in L.A. (specifically in Culver City and Covina), finally cooking Mexican, I know this has been done many times before, so how can I make it a little different?” Ponce tells L.A. TACO. 

His parents are from Michoacán and Zacatecas, respectively. He’s only gone to Mexico a few times, mostly to visit his family in CDMX, and he’s never dined at Pujol or any restaurants like that, which makes his modern Mexican cooking even more of an unadulteratedly Los Ángeles-style. 

Pig ear chilaquiles with a jammy egg.
Pig ear chilaquiles with a jammy egg. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
Taco de al pastor on a handmade Kernel of Truth Organics corn tortilla. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
Taco de al pastor on a handmade Kernel of Truth Organics corn tortilla. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.

In Ponce’s case, his curiosity in answering this question materializes through dishes like crispy pig ear chilaquiles, a grilled fish taco with a koji-enriched guacamole salsa, and duck confit draped with a hauntingly smokey, spicy date mole that creeps up on you, a testament to the painstaking layering of flavors he achieves through the mole’s two-day cooking process. 

Ponce has classical French culinary training and picked up a few habits at Bestia glimpsed in the richness in his sauces and loyalty to cooking over a roaring fire. If Bestia dared to do a Mexican restaurant, Ponce's A Tí is very likely what it would taste and feel like. 

He initially started A Tí while cooking on his precious days off, trying to lure in an investor or partner to one day open a brick-and-mortar here in his hometown, but so far, he’s had no luck.

“Sushi used to be street food, but now it’s one of the most expensive meal experiences you can have,” Ponce says. “I think Mexican food can be the same.” 

“It’s expensive out there, bro,” he tells L.A. TACO over the phone before going on to prep for tonight’s dinner at Cento Pasta Bar, his current day job. 

But he’s hopeful that a door will open for him sooner or later. Like any other chef doing fancy Mexican food in the country, he’s up against at least a hundred years-worth of double standards and expectations that tacos need to be cheap. 

This food writer qualifies Ponce’s tacos as “date night-level” because there is nothing worse than being cheap on date night, right? Remember, there is a taco for every moment in life. They are totally worth their prices when you look at the labor and ingredients, including Kernel of Truth Organics blue corn masa handmade tortillas, Rocker Bros. pork collar, and Baja bass from Four Star Seafood, that go into them.

When asked about the haters who will undoubtedly “talk masa” about his $10-a-pop tacos, Ponce cites the trajectory and massive success of sushi in becoming a luxury food. 

“Sushi used to be street food, but now it’s one of the most expensive meal experiences you can have,” Ponce says. “I think Mexican food can be the same.” 

Duck confit mole.
Duck confit in a date mole. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.

He has ambitions of adopting a model like Taco Maria, where the lunch menu is a la carte, with nothing more than ceviches and tacos on the menu, and it’s meant to be accessible to everyone. 

“The last thing I want to do is make my abuelitas feel like they are not welcome or can’t afford my food, so I would love to keep it casual during the day and use dinner as a creative outlet to push the envelope a bit,” he says. 

Based on the full turnout of this past Tuesday’s dinner, plus the wait time to get in and the 86ing of the menu’s fish taco before service was over, he's on his way there since el sol sale para todos (the sun shines for everybody), as the saying in Spanish goes. 

Follow A Tí Los Angeles on Instagram to see when they are popping up next. Cash or Venmo only. 

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