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Alitas El Diablito: Dreaming Big in Compton With Wings Flavored In Mole, Aguachile, A La Diabla Sauces

12:21 PM PDT on September 4, 2018

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]ucked away under a broken blue canopy is a big silver cazo with a large logo of a mischievous cartoon devil, and standing over it with a spider skimmer is Gabriel Gutierrez, the chef and owner of Alitas el Diablito, or “the devil’s wings.”

It’s a humid August night in West Compton, and Gutierrez is wearing an apron, a Corona hat that's always off-kilter, and a devilish grin. The sauces of Alitas El Diablito is what makes them stand out and tonight Gutierrez is making some of his biggest hits.

There is the rich and powerful Mole Wing, dipped in a velvety sweet sauce made from mole poblano. There’s the scorching hot Aguachile Wing. It’s a slightly green wet drum with aguachile sauce, made of serrano chiles and lime traditionally served with shrimp. And then there’s the devil himself, an A la Diabla wing. This is a dark red wing slathered in a secret chipotle sauce recipe passed down from his Jaliscense mother, and his biggest hit.

But tonight is not El Diablito’s lucky night.

Alitas de a Diabla/Photos by Cesar Hernandez.

Gutierrez does his best to avoid city officials who pose the biggest threat to many street vendors, announcing his location last-minute via Instagram and being fortunate to have a network of supporters who tip him off when they see trouble heading his way.

Tonight, as L.A. Taco watches, two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies are shutting down the whole thing.

“I don’t like to do this to raza,” one of the cops, a Latino, says to Gutierrez.

“Then don’t,” Gutierrez responds.

[dropcap size=big]B[/dropcap]ut it’s no use. Tonight Compton loses a welcome smell of fried wings in unusual Mexican sauces. But only for one night.

In recent years, South L.A.’s underground food scene has seen the rise of the likes of All Flavor No Grease and Taco Mell. Both of which were known for adding their own flair to Mexican food. Gutierrez’s Alitas takes things in the other direction, Mexicanizing an American favorite.

RELATED: Tacos Straight Outta Compton

Alitas aguachile.

Gutierrez’s business plan began with a video that he recorded for himself late one night when he was at the end of his rope financially. Although he never posted it to social media, it served as a promise to himself. Gutierrez had been working a construction job for minimum wage and found himself with only five dollars to his name.

As a native of Southeast L.A., Gabriel had run-ins with gang activity, which lead him to some trouble. It’s a story that is not uncommon for people of the area, a fact that’s not lost on Gutierrez. “Isn’t that the story that everyone tells about us?” he explains.

According to Gutierrez, the video functioned as a vision board, or a receipt to hold himself accountable. In the video Gutierrez states that he had one last idea, that idea was Mexican wings.

[dropcap size=big]W[/dropcap]hen Gutierrez ran this idea by a previous employer — a deli in the South Bay – it was shot down immediately. Nonetheless, in February 2018 he began to sell wings with flavors and recipes he inherited from his mother.

His first wing stand opened in front of a liquor store in West Compton, and it has been a steady climb ever since. Though El Diablito has only been open for a short time, he’s cornering the Mexican wing-eater market in Southeast L.A. thanks to the bedrock support of his community.

Gutierrez credits Samuel Cortez, the owner of a neighborhood favorite churro stand named Dulce Canela, and his barber, for encouraging him to finally open his stand. He also credits his network of informants for keeping him in business most nights.

Regulars chomping down on El Diablito's wings.

In his most recent run-in with city officials, Gutierrez lost one of his prized possessions — his "devil’s cauldron." He complied with the health inspector, so they allowed him to keep his coolers, but his supplies and trademark cazo were taken.

The very next night, Gutierrez was at it again.

RELATED: Compton's Own Kendrick Lamar Wins Pulitzer Prize

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