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Only in Pomona: A Delicious Bolivian-Mexican Lamb Barbacoa Hidden Gem

11:19 AM PDT on March 24, 2023

Hidden in a suburban corner of Pomona, away from the main streets and thoroughfares of the city, is a hole in the wall where you’ll find a single mother of four serving incredibly flavorful Mexican barbacoa with her own Bolivian sazón. 

Virginia Ardaya, a Bolivian woman, works seven days a week out of a cramped kitchen no bigger than a storage closet serving your typical Mexican food from tacos to tortas out of a literal hole in the wall. But come Friday at midnight. She begins the laborious process of butchering and prepping up to five lambs for her loyal Mexican clients. 

She makes everything from scratch, starting with her Bolivian sazón, which includes garlic, cumin, and ginger, grounded in a traditional Bolivian "tacu" as she calls it, which is a traditional mortar and pestle used in Bolivia. She uses those freshly ground spices to marinate all the meat. She tells L.A. TACO, “I don’t buy any processed condiments. I make everything from scratch.” 

Virginia Ardaya serving a plate of her unique Bolivian-seasoned barbacoa de borrego.
Virginia Ardaya serving a plate of her unique Bolivian-seasoned barbacoa de borrego. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.
Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.
Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

This is the most unique, flavorful, and well-executed of the several dozen barbacoas around Los Angeles. The result is a juicy and tender barbacoa with the fat rendered to a sticky tenderness and with a bold flavor profile. It’s a dish that Ardaya wasn’t planning on making initially, but her clientele from her past found her, asked her for it, and now comes weekly for it. 

When Ardaya arrived from Bolivia, she started working at a restaurant where she met her now ex-husband. He taught her over the years how to make his barbacoa Texcoco style. But after the separation, she found this hole in the wall at this local market where she started with typical Mexican dishes until her old clientele started finding her and asking for that barbacoa. That’s when she decided to start making it on her own but with her own Bolivian methods and seasoning to differentiate it and make it uniquely her way. She tells L.A. Taco that although she’s not Mexican, she loves the Texcoco style of barbacoa and wants to visit that city in Mexico one day. 

Ardaya is ultimately waiting for her mom to visit so she can learn how to properly make some typical dishes from Bolivia, like a lechon relleno which her mom specializes in making. She eventually wants to open a bakery and bring more Bolivian flavors to this little corner of Pomona. 

Ardaya’s Restaurant, 1076 W. Phillips Blvd, Pomona. Closest transit line and stop: Foothill Transit Line 291 - "Garey/Phillips."

Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.
Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

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