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Married with Tacos: Fine Dining-Rooted L.A. Culture On a Blue Corn Tortilla at Metztli

5:12 PM PDT on July 25, 2019

[dropcap size=big]M[/dropcap]etztli owners Vanessa and Alejandro Silva met in the kitchens of Jean-Georges in Beverly Hills while both were working as chef de parties.

Two years later, they’re married with two kids and a pop-up taqueria that reinvents familiar L.A. dishes using Mexican ingredients.

Vanessa, 27, was raised in Carson; Alejandro, 30, in Long Beach. The couple has a combined 20 years working at restaurants, including .ink and Baco Mercat.

They jumped into the street taco game out of a longing to do something different.

“We’re trying to break that barrier of what Mexican food is seen as,” Vanessa says. “To bring all the cultures of L.A. together and put them on a really good tortilla.”

On a recent Saturday in Mar Vista, Metztli was posted outside of Buckwild Gallery in the thick of the neighborhood’s art walk.

Alejandro Silva of Metztli

Beneath a low slung tent, Vanessa was taking orders while simultaneously pressing blue corn tortillas with masa from La Gloria in Boyle Heights. To her right, Alejandro swiveled nimbly around a hot griddle.

They named Metztli after a goddess of the moon, night, and farmers in Aztec lore. It’s also their daughter’s name. The title reflects their fiery passion for California agriculture.

The result is a market-driven taqueria merging imagination, sterling product, and fine-dining technique with a pronounced L.A. pride. Their interpretation of things on a tortilla is not completely dissimilar in theory to Wes Avila’s Guerrilla Tacos.

“With Latinos, our food is not just meat-heavy but also vegetable-driven,” Vanessa says. “Unfortunately with many parents, when they had a bunch of kids, they couldn’t afford a good piece of meat. So they made a lot of vegetable-heavy stuff.”

“As Latinos, we feel we should really be bringing that market food forward into the community so that everyone is eating good,” Alejandro adds.

The result is a market-driven taqueria merging imagination, sterling product, and fine-dining technique with a pronounced L.A. pride. Their interpretation of things on a tortilla is not completely dissimilar in theory to Wes Avila’s Guerrilla Tacos.

The hot pollo mulita at Metztli

One of Metztli’s instant classics is a “Hot Pollo” mulita: two crisp tortillas bookending a crisp and juicy piece of jocoque-battered fried chicken that’s been tossed in hot schmaltz infused with chiles and mole spices, turning the bird an inky black. Jocoque is a fermented cream traditionally eaten in parts of Mexico that resembles a full-bodied, thinned-down sour cream.

The spicy chicken could stand on its own, maybe even claim Nashville without a spat. But the design—melted quesillo on both ends, a creamy slaw of pickled cabbage, with prominent flavors of chipotle and mole—is pure L.A.

A series of tacos on beautifully soft tortillas come next.

Barbacoa (background) and Surf n' Turf (foreground)

Short rib barbacoa is umami-rich, braised in a corn husk-infused dashi rather than water-based broth. Mexican furikake—a mix of nori, black-and-white sesame seeds, puffed amaranth, and dry chile guajillo— thick avocado salsa and hibiscus-stained pickled onions accent the lush flavors.

A “surf n’ turf” taco tops that same beef with a few pristine tongues of Santa Barbara uni.

Taco with wild mushroom and burrata

The wild mushroom taco goes back to Alejandro’s days at Jean Georges and his penchant for “putting burrata on everything.” The ‘shrooms are buttery and retain a slight crunch, topped with burrata, cured egg, and jalapeño crema.

Stonefruit aguachile

The day’s special comes in the form of a stonefruit aguachile, something the chefs improvised after fish-shopping at the market that morning.

The dish is a 180 from the acid-forward orthodox, with fresh Baja red snapper bathing in an orange, fruit-sweetened broth made of plums, pluots, and peaches, built on a backbone of lingeringly floral habanero heat. If it sparks memories of your first stop at a frutero’s cart, that’s probably on purpose.

“It’s really just representing L.A., you know?”

“We’ll really just start with an idea or memory,” Alejandro says. “And try to twist it and see how we can make it in our own style using the ingredients we know. And just play that riff on it."

With excellent, stimulating dishes, the Silvas are successfully standing for their city, generating unique flavors through genuine product and recipes they are passionate to highlight.

It’s that rare nomadic taqueria bringing restaurant-quality ingredients and professional skill straight to the streets.

As Vanessa says, “It’s really just representing L.A., you know?”

Metztli will be popping up at 8501 W. Pico Blvd. 6pm-late this Saturday and Sunday. Follow Metztli's on Instagram to see when they will pop up again near you. 

Metztli in action
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