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A’s BBQ: Smoked Meats With Mexican Flavors and the Soul of East L.A. ~ Taco Tastes

1:52 PM PDT on October 11, 2018

    [dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]t’s a bright, hot afternoon outside Sara’s Market. The kind of L.A. heat that punishes you for wearing pants but welcomes a sip of a cold beer. A’s BBQ is setting up for its latest Chicano BBQ pop-up, there’s smokey meats, blue tortillas, and all is right in East L.A..

    There are three tables adorned with picnic blue and white squares that strategically match the logo of A’s; a reimagined emblem of an East L.A. street sign with Alan Cruz’s, pit-master of A’s BBQ, likeness in its place.

    A line of hungry patrons wait patiently but eagerly to try A’s “Chicano Q.” That’s Texas inspired BBQ styled and recoded through Mexican flavors. Patrons of Mexican food will recognize the remixed favorites. A’s offers cochinita pibil pulled pork, a Yucatan dish of adobado traditionally roasted pork in banana leaves, but smoked instead. Another offering is the al pastor pork belly, a reimagined version of L.A.’s favorite taquero protein but smoked rather than roasted on a spit.

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    As a side dish, you might get the “Mac and Rajas,” a play on mac-and-cheese with an added kick of roasted poblano peppers. A’s also serves calabacitas – stewed zucchini, corn, and tomatoes – a dish that can be found in any Mexican mother’s kitchen.

    A’s still honors the Texas classics like brisket and beef ribs. A’s brisket is the culmination — as it is for any pitmaster — of practice and time. The succulent briskets at A’s are smoked anywhere from 12 to 18 hours. But the result is a waterfall of liquid that almost gushes out when Cruz cuts into it. The beef ribs are part of A’s marketing skills, and you’ll only know about them if you follow A’s BBQ on Instagram. They are often served in a traditional style — salt, pepper, and time — but on occasion they’ll rub it with salsa macha, a rich concoction made of smoked chiles and peanuts.

    Rick Ortega, co-founder of Kernel of Truth Organics. Photo by Erick Galindo.
    Rick Ortega, co-founder of Kernel of Truth Organics. Photo by Erick Galindo.

    [dropcap size=big]O[/dropcap]f course, there are tacos. Any of the smoked meats are offered in taco form. A’s exclusively uses blue corn tortillas from Kernel of Truth Organics. Ricardo “Rick” Ortega, co-founder of Kernel of Truth, told L.A. taco that he’s built a relationship with Cruz even though a customer accidentally took A’s tortillas. “I had to bust my ass to get him something with the quickness.”

    For his part, Cruz’s said his faith in Kernel of Truth never wavered, because he believes in what they’re doing.

    He’s is both afraid and excited to invest more of himself into A’s.

    The idea for A’s BBQ came in the form of a drunken vision, as the best ideas tend to do. Cruz thought that BBQ with flavors he grew up eating in East Los Angeles would be his way into the smoky world of BBQ. He approached his friend Eddie Fregoso and eventually they would be joined by Ricardo Ramos, who is often seen heating the blue corn tortillas with a touch of beef tallow.

    As BBQ Brisket. Photo by Erick Galindo.
    As BBQ Brisket. Photo by Erick Galindo.

    Cruz is self-taught and followed the advice of other amateur pit-masters online. “I originally never planned on doing brisket,” Cruz recalled.

    He did not want to follow the same path as the BBQ Gods, after all it is hard to improve on the classics. But Cruz thought Mexican-styled BBQ was his stamp. A’s is in many ways purely a labor of love: he’s is both afraid and excited to invest more of himself into A’s. Up until recently all three BBQ amigos worked separate full time jobs.

    But Cruz told L.A. Taco that he has finally taken the plunge and left his job to concentrate on A’s. “[The way] I feel is bipolar.”

    A’s isn’t a cash grab. Since they’ve started in May 2017, they have seen slow growth as the profit for BBQ is slim. They don’t put crazy mark ups on their product. As long as he can break even, pay his guys, and puts a smile on a customer’s face, he says that is enough. Cruz says they’re trying to explain East L.A. through their BBQ.

    Chef Alan Cruz, center, with Eddie Fregoso, right, and Ricardo Ramos. Photo by Erick Galindo.
    Chef Alan Cruz, center, with Eddie Fregoso, right, and Ricardo Ramos. Photo by Erick Galindo.

    “Networking to me is number one,” Cruz notes. Developing relationships has been important to the survival of A’s. They have collaborated with local fried chicken spot Phat Birds. They’ve also developed an ongoing relationship with Indie Brewing Company and Sara’s Market.

    Steven Valdés, co-owner of Sara’s market with his wife Sara Valdés, told L.A. Taco about the community's outpouring support for A’s. Sara’s Market offers some of the best beer from the surrounding L.A. area but they don’t offer food. Instead they look to feature the best from around L.A. like All Flavor, Chef Alan, and A’s BBQ. “He’s just such a good dude.”

    Valdés walked out with golden balloons that read “ALAN,” in celebration of Cruz’s birthday.  He celebrated doing what he loves most — feeding the neighborhood.

    All photos by Cesar Hernandez.

    RELATED: Portable BBQ: Ray's Texas BBQ in Huntington Park has a Two Pound Burrito That's a Game Changer

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