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Miso Birria and Suadero-Fat Tortillas: How Macheen Is Honoring Sawtelle’s Japanese and Mexican Roots at Bar Hermanito

1:23 PM PDT on May 20, 2020

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]acos as a way to honor the roots of a neighborhood, and they’re delicious. 

In short, this is the mission of Macheen’s residency at Bar Hermanito, a new Mexican-meets-Japanese concept in the Westside. 

From the 1950s to about early 2000s, the community on Sawtelle, between Santa Monica and Olympic Boulevards, was once bustling with generations of Mexican and Japanese gardeners working together. 

The mosaic of L.A. banter in broken Spanish, English, and Japanese between the Nikkei and Paisas have disappeared from this niche community known locally as Little Osaka. Developers have done away with any signs of this rich history, tearing down homes to build luxury apartments flanked by Japanese chain restaurants and some of the city’s best noodle bars. But if you manage to look beyond the influencers with boba teas posing where day laborers once stood, in front of the legendary George’s Lawn Mower Shop, you will be rewarded with some of the most culturally rich and delicious tortilla offerings happening in Los Angeles right now.   

Miso birria pork belly tacos

The harmony between these two famously working-class cultures has reincarnated itself in the one meal they always shared at the “loncheras” (lunch trucks) on Sawtelle: tacos. 

Just three doors down from the iconic missed lawn mower shop, the former Flores & Sons restaurant has been converted to Bar Hermanito by its owners. After the Va’La boys, created a menu of Mexican-Japanese cocktails like the “Saladito” with Ilegal Mezcal, umeboshi, and Japanese plum wine, and the “Corazon de Osaka” with platano-infused Toki Japanese whisky, guava, and chamoy,” the Boyle-Heights bar consulting group and non-profit organizers of No Us Without You, invited the one chef they trusted to create the perfect menu of tacos to represent the four blocks of this neighborhood that’s been officially rebranded as “Sawtelle Japantown.” 

Chef Jonathan Perez, the skater punk-turned-Da’Vinci of Alta California pop-up tacos, took his talent to Sawtelle and stepped up to a new level in his career. He’s come a long way from his beginnings where he was “laughed out of a chef’s interview for proudly listing Yoshinoya on his resume,” to now curating tacos for a promising Westside concept. 

Calamari tacos.

While other taqueros will chop meat, flip tortillas, and put tacos together without a thought, Perez carefully builds each taco into a basket of intricately assembled flavors, textures, and ingredients that get better the more you break down his tacos. He tells L.A Taco that, “the approach we’re taking to the tacos is combining Japanese ingredients and methods with traditional Mexican ones without insulting the cuisine and being very respectful to it.”

While other chefs preach the power of taking away ingredients and minimalism, Perez has adapted the opposite: a maximalist approach where the more, the merrier.  

Take the Japanese Fried Chicken taco for example. He uses Japanese bread crumbs, smokes the chicken over sage, marinades it with a guajillo rub, batters it, and then fries it all up. He tops it off with agave and hibiscus-marinated sliced cabbage and a Mexican buffalo sauce (aka, Valentina hot sauce with its velvety texture and peppery flavor), with Japanese peanut crumbs thrown in for crunch. While other chefs preach the power of taking away ingredients and minimalism, Perez has adapted the opposite: a maximalist approach where the more, the merrier.  

Hermanito's patio.

Another great cultural flavor marriage is the “Miso Birria” Pork Belly. Perez takes his birria marinade, adds some Japanese plum wine, miso, ginger, and marinates the pork belly. After braising it for six hours, it’s seared to give it a nice crunch on the edge and served with lemon; a throwback to chicharrónes with chile and limón. For the garnish, Perez goes the Vietnamese route with pickled veggies, ginger, jalapenos, carrots, cucumbers, and a little cabbage for added crunch. 

But perhaps the thing that Perez will go down in taquero history for is his suadero-fat flour tortillas.  

Grilled miso salmon tacos.

Bar Hermanito wanted to include a northern Mexican-style of tacos while keeping the modern Japanese influence. To create the flour tortillas to make this possible, Chef Perez taps into a technique he’s known for at Macheen, infusing tortillas with flavors to match the different proteins for his tacos like squid ink and al pastor infused tortillas, to name a couple. 

As he was bringing up the secret behind the flour tortillas, Chef Perez chuckles and says, “I don’t know if I should say it or not, but whatever, here goes!” After all, this is just one of his bangers in his long lineage of cultishly beloved tacos. 

He begins by cooking suadero (a Mexican beef cut that is a variation of brisket) for six hours in lard, coke, onions, bay leaves, “seasonings,” and Lechera (Mexican sweetened condensed milk). Once the suadero is tender, the fat is put aside and used in the dough for the flour tortillas. The end result is a buttery, savory taste with a slightly powdered texture similar to the tortillas most of the Westside has come to love from Paco's Tacos on Centinela Avenue.

Chipotle-smoked beet taco.

Ever mindful of the city he’s serving, Cheff Perez tells L.A Taco, “We’re borderline Santa Monica and a lot of people go for more vegetables to watch their figure.” So obviously, the Al Pastor Brussels Sprout taco has become a crowd favorite. It even made an appearance in a Reddit comment thread recently due to its tasty vegan sensibilities. Paired with his chipotle-smoked beet taco, their flavors are strong enough to compete with the rest of the city’s other plant-based taco powerhouses like Todo Verde and Bee Taqueria.

The great assortment of tacos for you to choose from also includes a miso and tamarind-glazed salmon, a perfectly fried calamari, and a delicious panko-battered shrimp taco with charred pineapple pico de gallo you can pair with a spicy Margarita to go. 

Whether he knows it or not, the food menu he has created to honor the historical harmony of Japanese and Mexican colleagues that once existed in the area is one of the most exciting things to happen to West L.A.’s taco scene since Tacos Punta Cabras and Ricardo Diaz's short stint at Tacoteca in the early 2010s.

Macheen's residency at Bar Hermanito is the only place you’ll be able to try these experimental flavors and textures, especially since Smorgasburg L.A. remains closed, where he usually sets up. 

It’s also providing a consistent opportunity for the Westside to try some of Macheen’s food for the first time. On weekends, he’s popping up on the front patio alongside a small barista station. You’ll find his other classic menu items there like his birria breakfast burritos that are as good as it sounds. 

Japanese fried chicken taco.

Whether he knows it or not, the food menu he has created to honor the historical harmony of Japanese and Mexican colleagues that once existed in the area is one of the most exciting things to happen to West L.A.’s taco scene since Tacos Punta Cabras and Ricardo Diaz's short stint at Tacoteca in the early 2010s. For now they join Sonoritas as the only other quality taco spot on the boulevard. Perez will eventually move on because that’s how chef consultations work, but the tacos he created at Bar Hermanito will stay in Chef Victoria Gallegos trusted hands.

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