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From Yucatán to La Puente, San Gabriel Valley’s Latest Pop-Up Specializes in Juicy Cochinita Pibil Tortas

12:17 PM PDT on April 21, 2021

    [dropcap size=big]G[/dropcap]ehiser Najera never imagined himself selling petite bolillos stuffed with his mom’s traditional cochinita pibil out of his in-law’s driveway in La Puente. He had an excellent job at Universal Studios before COVID-19 forced his furlough. “I had to do something,” he tells L.A. TACO, “the bills kept coming.” His only goal was “to stay even” during the pandemic. Little did he realize those tortas de cochinita pibil would do more than just pay the bills. They’d bring him closer to his family, his community, and his passion. 

    Cochinita PIbil is a Christmas tradition for Najera’s family. Loydi Najera, Gehiser’s mom and proud Yucateca, makes it on Christmas Eve, “But we wait until Christmas day to eat it,” Gehiser explains. “It’s always better the next day.” This is “el recalentado,” referring to dishes like mole or certain guisados that increase in flavor after being left overnight and reheated the next day. 

    “Mom would buy a big box with a hundred bolillos. It was just easier to eat it that way. This is what we ate every Christmas day and only once a year; tortas de cochinita,” according to Gehiser. “I wanted to do something different than everyday tacos, and these tortas just made sense. We love them!”

    La Tuza torta with cheese and black beans. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

    Now it’s Christmas every weekend, not just for the Najera family, but for anyone unrolling this gift of a sandwich from its aluminum wrapping and revealing the Mayan Angeleno torta. The bolillo is palm-sized with a thinner profile leaving room for a higher cochinita to bread ratio. It’s almost begging you to eat a second one for the instant post-meal craving. 

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

    The cochinita is made with achiote and orange juice. “We try to use as many ingredients from Yucatán as we can,” according to Gehiser. He also prepares it differently from his mom, adapting his own methods, like cutting out more of the fat to make a leaner cochinita. 

    Gehiser slowly cooks batches of this marinated pork in crockpots, losing some of the roasted flavors that result from underground ovens. But it does build that liquid achiote ambrosia that’s soaked up by the bread, giving this torta strong Yucatán dip vibes. The achiote and flavors of Yucatán come through enough to make any Yucateco remember the taste of home. 

    Salbute de cochinita. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

    It’s a family affair at this pop-up. Jacki Najera, Gehiser’s wife, greets and takes orders. Under the tent, Gehiser’s lil’ bro, Jesus brings his homemade flan. His son Jonathan slices bread while his nephew Santiago mans the plancha. “It’s not just food,” Jacki tells us, “It’s the culture, the time you put into it. It’s the preparation, the ambiance, the people.”

    More than just food, family, and culture, it’s also now become about community. The way Gehiser sees it, “Something great came out of it. Seeing all our people, the Yucatecos come out. We didn’t know there were so many in the area! It makes me the happiest to see their faces enjoying our food.” 

    The family behind Yuca Tortas. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

    We asked Jackie how she felt about her husband’s pop-up, “I’m a special ed teacher. I’m living my dream. That’s my passion. For him to find his, that’s priceless. Not a lot of people can because they got jobs. He supported me, and you gotta support each other and what you love.” 

    With the city slowly reopening, Universal recently rehired Gehiser. “The day I got called back, my son and I were looking at a food truck. But I fell in love with this; I’m going to keep this going.” Besides tortas, they’ll still be slanging cochinita tacos, salbutes, and their La Tuza, an open-faced torta with black beans, cheese, and their Christmas sazón.

    Find when and where Yuca Tortas will be popping up next by following them on Instagram, @yucatortas

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