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Hinano’s Unsung Oaxacan Grill Master Is Serving a Tender Grilled Calamari Taco In the Streets of Venice

12:35 PM PDT on July 29, 2022

    Los Ángeles is a city of tacos, with new taquerías popping up on street corners around the county on a weekly basis. To help us get through them all, L.A. TACO presents our new “Taco of the Week” column, where we celebrate the latest taco we’ve eaten that blew our minds.

    Mario Curiel is manning the famous grill at Hinano’s, one of Venice's last-standing great neighborhood dive bars. He grills up a storm from Monday to Thursday, making Venice’s favorite beach burger. The other two days of the week, he’s out on the streets with his wife of 26 years, Lupita Cruz, bringing the neighborhood out for Baja-style tacos and building community without realizing it.

    Neighbors walk up to this corner of Palms and Lincoln Boulevards to see tender strips of glistening calamari grilled on a flat top griddle next to a tortilla smeared in simmering aciento (pork fat), getting a spoonful of pinto beans and chopped sirloin steak for a memela. Against the wall, a frying disk filled with oil gently reacts to beer-battered popcorn shrimp and rockfish deep frying before being served on a fresh hand-made tortilla. Lupita looks over at Mario and smiles as she presses another tortilla while Mario dresses the tacos with cabbage, chipotle mayo, cream, avocado sauce, and red salsa.

    The grilled calamari strips behind our taco of the week. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.
    The grilled calamari strips behind our taco of the week. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.
    Lupita Cruz and Mario Uriel. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

    There’s a vibe of family and friends as neighbors walk up to fist bump them before ordering food. Smiles brighten this corner of Venice while the sounds of Oaxacan folk music, cumbias, and laughter drown out the speeding cars on the boulevard. In a recent post on their Instagram, a young girl sits at a table on the corner with a bouquet of roses and a candle while her boyfriend has a Mariachi serenading her for her birthday. This isn’t a cafe in Paris or Italy like you see portrayed in typical romance movies. This street corner in west Los Angeles is where tacos and mariachi are our love story. Hollywood, take note. This is not La-La Land, this is Los Ángeles.  

    Initially, Lupita and Mario are both from El Valle in Oaxaca, Mexico, like many Oaxaqueños on the west side. But, you could say that Mario and Lupita love the coastal food life. Besides working close to the beach, they travel to Tijuana and Baja at least twice a month just to eat. It’s why during the pandemic, when work slowed down for them, they, like many others, decided to sell food on the streets. They chose not to make just any tacos. They went with their favorite ones, Baja-style tacos, because, according to Mario, you don’t see these styles of tacos on the streets, and when you do find them, most don’t make them right. 

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

    Just like the legendary burgers that Mario makes at Hinano’s, these tacos have the same approach. Simple, fresh, and correct. No reductions, emulsifications, rare ingredients, or gourmet shit are happening, except for their conscious choice to use wild rockfish instead of farmed tilapia—just quality ingredients, the right portions, and flavors, and made fresh to order and perfectly satisfying. And also, just like at Hinano’s, the show's real star is one item that doesn’t get enough love but should. It’s not the fish or shrimp tacos but the grilled calamari taco. (At Hinano’s, it’s their Philly cheesesteak, not the burger, and that’s the best item).

    You can order the calamari deep-fried but don’t. You can get that anywhere else. Order it grilled and enjoy the perfect texture as you bite into it. It’s seasoned and topped with cabbage and their sauces. Also, ask for their special salsa molcajete de chile manzano. Its sweet and savory flavor separates it from other taqueros’ salsas. 

    Lupita’s is currently testing new dishes and building a secret menu. Among the items, they’re looking to bring out is a calabacitas taco with chapulines, vegan-friendly options, and other Oaxacan eats. They are also collaborating with other local businesses. In a recent collaboration, Gnarwhal Coffee Co. on main invited them out to make Baja-style breakfast burritos. If that sounds delicious, the word on the street is they’re planning another breakfast pop-up at Gnarwhal on September 3rd. Be sure not to miss that. 

    Lupita’s Tacos pop up every Friday and Saturday evening at Palms and Lincoln Boulevard. In the meantime, if you order a burger at Hinano’s and you see a man with a Mexican flag bandana wrapped around his forehead, that’s Mario, and according to Justin, one of the bartenders, the burgers always come out better when he makes them. 

    Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.
    The famous cheeseburger at Hinano's. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.
    Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

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