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Head to Vermont and 27th to Try These Super Crispy Guisado-Filled Fried Quesadillas That Went Viral on Tiktok

3:03 PM PDT on September 9, 2021

    A fried quesadilla at La Cosa Nuestra. Photo by Cesar Hernandez for L.A. TACO.

    [dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he Villalobos family has been making fried quesadillas since the 90s. Rosa, the matriarch, was inspired by a woman who used to sell them at a swapmeet where Dr. Maya Angelou Community High in South Central currently resides. 

    The vendor folded fresh masa filled with cheese before frying them. However, Rosa’s innovation was slicing each quesadilla open and filling it with guisos, like spicy rajas con queso, chicken mole, chicharrón, chorizo con papa, or tinga de pollo or res. These are recipes she learned from her Jaliscience mother. The guiso-stuffed quesadillas that followed are the ultimate expression of eating comida casera.

    The crunch of the fried masa combined with oozing cheese, potent guisos, and salsa make this a special taquería. Rosa’s quesadillas don’t strictly come from a specific region in Mexico, but one she developed here in L. A where cultural food innovations are plentiful. Though, you can find similar quesadillas in Zapopan, Jalisco like at Quesadillas El Roger.

    La Cosa Nuestra
    An open quesadilla at La Cosa Nuestra. Photo by Cesar Hernandez for L.A. TACO.
    An open quesadilla at La Cosa Nuestra.

    At Antojitos La Cosa Nuestra, each quesadilla features a crunchy shell of masa housing a river of melted cheese, customized with guisos al gusto. The chorizo con papa (an L.A. TACO favorite) casts a powerful spell of nostalgia, creating images of comfort and home. For the mole, the shredded chicken is kept separate to prevent it from drying out. Instead, the mole is poured over like a sauce. The chicharrón is soft and chewy in red salsa, infusing a porkiness to the quesadilla. The tinga tastes like the one you’ve had at a quince, softly sweet with tomatoes and a hint of heat and smoke from the chipotles. The beef version of tinga is one of Rosa’s specialties, ropy strands of beef flavored with tomatoes and chipotle. Tinga de res is one of the most popular guisos.

    With each order, you get a simple salsa made of tomatoes, habaneros, and serranos. The spicy salsa compliments the food wonderfully, spicy enough to tickle your throat and full of flavor. But they also offer an off-menu green salsa that Rosa’s sister makes. Though, if you ask Rosa, she refuses to pair the salsa with the quesadillas. But the spicy green sauce compliments the asada and chicken exceptionally, spicy, and acidic. 

    Antojitos La Cosa Nuestra has existed as a lonchera (food truck) since 2014. After replicating the recipe, Rosa started making the quesadillas for parties and eventually selling them from home. They used to park on San Pedro Street and 41st Place, on the corner of Gilbert Lindsay park. Back then, it was just Rosa, her husband, and another worker. They had a full menu of tacos, burritos, gorditas, and of course, quesadillas.

    Stuffing a fried quesadilla with tinga de pollo.
    Stuffing a fried quesadilla with tinga de pollo. Photo by Cesar Hernandez for L.A. TACO.
    Fried quesadilla with tinga de pollo.
    Fried quesadilla with tinga de pollo. Photo by Cesar Hernandez for L.A. TACO.

    In 2017, Rosa took some time off from the lunch truck after her husband passed. A year later, Steven Villalobos, her son, took over the operation and moved the lonchera near Staples Center. Steven worked with his sister Jackie Villalobos who works inside the truck, preparing the quesadillas while Rosa prepared the guisos at home. 

    Eventually, they moved to their current spot on Vermont Avenue in April 2021, right in front of Ralph’s. Since it was only Jackie and Steven, Rosa recommended cutting the menu down to just quesadillas, giving the two siblings more time to focus on a single menu item due to the limited space on the lonchera.

    “We make them from scratch. It’s a process. Some people will be like, ‘Oh my God, they take too long.’ But they’re not pre-cooked already, then they’re not going to taste good, se secan (they dry out)...”

    Today, the team usually consists of three to four people, each with their own task. Perhaps the most important is America Genchi, the tortillera who handles the masa and makes the quesadillas by hand. She takes a handful of masa, presses it down, fills it with Monterey Jack cheese, then deftly meets the two ends and seals the quesadillas. As the orders come in, someone will fry them, take them out and leave them dry. For the assembly, Jackie takes a small knife to reveal the cheesy innards. Then she’ll squeeze a line of sour cream, insert a hearty portion of guisos, add shredded repollo, then sprinkle cotija cheese with a spoon.

    “We make them from scratch. It’s a process. Some people will be like, ‘Oh my God, they take too long.’ But they’re not pre-cooked already, then they’re not going to taste good, se secan (they dry out.),” explains Rosa.

    A few months ago, Antojitos La Cosa Nuestra went viral because of a TikTok by popular food influencer Mr. Biggs. The video shows how the magic is created, from making the quesadillas by hand to giving the quesadillas an oil bath in a giant silver cazo to the final sprinkle of cheese. The video captivated audiences and resulted in long lines for the lonchera for roughly two weeks.

    “We were not ready,” explained Elisa Villalobos, their sibling who works the register, “It was non-stop. We had to work from 1 to 10 for two weeks. They were making a line an hour ahead [before we opened].”

    Tinga de res quesadilla.
    Tinga de res quesadilla. Photo by Cesar Hernandez for L.A. TACO.
    An order of three quesadillas at La Cosa Nuestra.
    An order of three quesadillas at La Cosa Nuestra. Photo by Cesar Hernandez for L.A. TACO.

    The TikTok video changed the business. It’s part of what has given them exposure to new audiences. The recent success has helped them get a second truck that’s full-sized, giving them more room to work. With the new truck, the Vilaloboos are planning to bring back the full menu, including new items Rosa hasn’t announced yet and the popular asada fries. Soon, they’re going to replace the hitch truck they have in Vermont and open a second location.

    “It was a good experience overall. It was just very overwhelming. And it was kind of a bummer [sometimes] because we wouldn't have as many people as we do now,” explains Jackie, “but now it’s worth it.”

    The lines started to dwindle after the viral video, but that exposure has helped them keep a steady flow of customers, often resulting in them selling out. Social media marketing was part of Steven’s strategy to drum up interest in the family business. They hired influencers like LA Foodie Guy, Chuypatabionica, and Mr. Biggs, who they hired to take over their social media and has helped them grow to 65 thousand followers.

    “They went from ten or 20-minute waits to an hour or an hour and a half. TikTok does that. It’s kind of a blessing and a curse at the same time,” explains Danny Zion, aka Mr. Biggs. “But it definitely brought them exposure. I think people like to see something they can relate to. People will be like, ‘Oh, my mom or my grandma used to make those.' I think people relate to that. It reminds them of home.”

    Steven has always had an eye for engaging people. When he was a teenager, he had a crew known for throwing underground parties (flyer parties). They called themselves La Cosa Nuestra—invoking the popular mafioso-speak of The Sopranos or The Godfather, referring to their business, only without any of the guns or dead horses. When his parents got the lunch truck in 2014, they named it after his crew. 

    “It came from running our little underground events. We decided to come up with a name for something to represent us, our own way, our own style. La Cosa Nuestra, this thing of ours,” explains Steven, “Before we didn’t have a name, it was just quesadillas.”

    The name has multiple meanings. It refers to a dish that is rooted in Mexican cooking but was created here in L.A. It refers to the business being family-owned, and it refers to the Villalobos creating their own legacy. Each quesadilla represents the story of their family, a generational product, entirely a thing of theirs.

    Follow Antojitos La Cosa Nuestra on Instagram.

    2620 S Vermont Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90007

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