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They Used to Make Fun of Her for Being the Daughter of a Street Vendor, and Now They Just Opened Their First Restaurant in HP

[dropcap size=big]F[/dropcap]or Maria Del Socorro Vazquez, dreams of opening her restaurant featuring food from her homeplace of Guerrero seemed unimaginable. Upon migrating to the United States from Guerrero, Mexico, Maria, a single mother, made ends meet by working as a housekeeper in Los Angeles. 

In the early 2000s, she decided that cleaning houses was no longer bringing in the income needed to support her family, so she dedicated her weekends to street-vending sopes and various tacos dorados by the Ramona Garden Projects in East L.A. “A esos tiempos hace 20 años, era más prohibido vender comida en la calle, pero para mi era necesidad…(Back in the day, 20 years ago, street vending was far more prohibited, but for me, it was a necessity.”) 

Zacil “DJ Sizzle” Pech was ten years old when her mother decided to begin street vending. Though she understood and appreciated her mother’s esfuerzo (effort), bullying from her schoolmates brought her shame. When her mother would ask her for help to work as a cashier, Zacil shared she felt embarrassed because her schoolmates would call her “La Hija de la Sopera...The Sope vending lady’s daughter.” This experience is all too common for young children of color taught that “American” culture meant living in white picket-fenced homes, in two-parent households, working office jobs, deeming any other experience as unpopular and uncool. 

Aguas frescas inside Sazón. Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. TACO.
Aguas frescas inside Sazón. Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. TACO.
Zacil Pech. Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. TACO.
Zacil Pech. Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. TACO.

At this age, ten years old, Zacil made her mother promise that she would one day invest in a restaurant for her. Maria reminisced, “Ella me decia, ‘El dia que tengas tu propio restaurante,  no te va corretear la policía, ya no vas a tener miedo’ y yo trataba de tomar sus palabras en serio pero me daba tristeza. (She would tell me, ‘the day you get your restaurant, the police will no longer chase you, and you won’t be scared anymore.’I tried to take her words seriously, but it made me sad.” 

Maria couldn't fathom the idea that this dream would ever come true until it did. 

Zacil has flourished in the Los Angeles, Bay Area, Seattle, and New York communities for being one of the most poppin’, hardworking DJs in the scene. Her mama, “Coco Loco,” serves as a host and a cumbia dancing extraordinaire by her side. Pre-Pandemic Zacil and her crew from, Cumbiaton, who describe themselves as “an intergenerational cultural movement which utilizes music and art as a vessel to heal and uplift oppressed hood communities,” gained notoriety for hosting the best of the best in Cumbia events safe for queer, undocumented, BIPOC communities. 

Sazón spread.
Sazón spread. Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. TACO.
Michelada at Sazón.
Michelada at Sazón. Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. TACO.
A michelada at Sazón. Photo from L.A. TACO archives.

She began putting in work to manifest the dream to secure a location for her mamá in the last couple of years, to surprise her mother during her birthday month, March. “It was so difficult beginning the journey to finding the space, but my brother and I made this promise, and though nobody believed in us as business owners, we hustled.” As 2020 approached, with the support of connections in the community and longtime family friend John Longoria, she found a location in Huntington Park, CA. She described it as the perfect space for brunch and all the production aspects of hosting events like Cumbiatón. It all began with excitement and feelings of triumph after a struggle, and then the pandemic struck. Days after she presented her mamacita with the keys to their new and exciting project, California, issued the stay-at-home order, throwing their plans and dreams into a mosh pit of emotions. 

“Black, Brown, Indigenous people don’t get told this enough, but if we believe and continue to see this power in each other, we can move mountains.” 

Zacil shared many moments throughout this last year and a half where she felt like giving up. Her mother would encourage her just to give the keys back, wishing it was that easy to retract on such a huge commitment. Fortunately, after months and months of pushing, constantly contacting City Hall, and overcoming complex challenges, they finally began gaining traction, having their permits approved, and moving forward to make the opening of Sazón happen. 

“Vamos hacer maravilla con le que haya. (We’re going to create wonder with what we have,”) Maria shared when asked about getting the location ready for opening day. As products of the hustling street vending community in Los Angeles, Maria, Zacil, John, and a few others took on the role of builders, painters, and more to get it all done. Zacil attributes the success of the restaurant’s setup to the quality of life she gained, learning how to navigate the streets, a precious life skill indeed. “Shoutout to the swapmeet life; it’s made us resourceful, a todo le echamos aqui! We became drywalleras and carpenters because we didn’t have the budget to pay people.” 

Pozole verde at Sazón.
Pozole verde at Sazón. Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. TACO.
Tinga de res.
Tinga de res. Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. TACO.

On their opening weekend, upon entering the space, the warm, homelike vibe immediately hit. It was as if your tia set her house up to have guests over for a special occasion. With plants hanging from the walls, tables decorated with floral vinyl tablecloths, popular musical bops bumping from the DJ booth on the second floor, and Norma Fajardo, Zacil’s partner in Cumbiaton, warmly greeting and seating folks. 

The menu offers plenty of delicious offerings such as the sopes Maria began her vending career with and tacos, tostadas, and huaraches.  Each item can be filled with the customer’s choice of tinga de res, asada, cochinita pibil, pollo pibil con papas, chicharrón en salsa verde, and some tasty, savory option for vegans, like rajas con elote and soy chorizo con papa.

The tostada de tinga was a pleasant surprise. The dish is commonly made of chicken and chipotle salsa. At Sazón, Maria prepares the tinga with tender carne de res. The tostada was spread with creamy pinto beans, topped with the flavorful shredded beef, lettuce, cotija, and sour cream as fresh toppings. Maria was eager to share her cooking widely with the Los Angeles community. The pozole verde is made Guerrero-style with crunchy chicharron, pickled onions, radish, taquitos, and cabbage. Their cochinita pibil is cooked with a recipe shared with Maria by Zacil’s great grandmother, Maximiliana. All of the food conjures memories of visiting family in Mexico, pampered by powerful matriarchs with talented hands like those of Coco Loco. 

To drink, there are micheladas, sangria by the glass or by the pitcher, mimosa kits, and hard seltzers and beers. The micheladas were rimmed with the tasty, rich, and thick Franchoi dip and were a perfect pairing for the meal. Zacil and Maria currently have a beer and wine license. In the future, they hope to create food pairings. A future filled with chicharrón and chardonnay, guisados with pinot grigios, and sopes with syrahs may loom close. 

Sazón menu.
Sazón menu. Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. TACO.
The Pech familia.
The Pech familia. Photo by Paolo Riveros.

Aside from food pairings, Maria and Zacil look forward to the future where they can build this space and offer it as a home for programming with Sazón. They hope to welcome artists from the local community to perform, host brunches with banda and mariachi, and of course, be a platform for Cumbiaton to continue growing. “There is so much talent in our hood, but so often, we don't have access to resources or spaces. We get overlooked. I want our communities to be highlighted. I very much want to continue to foster that community with Sazón,” Zacil says.

Sazón represents so much for Zacil, Maria, and their family. Zacil reminisced on days where her mom would take her to Pacific Boulevard in Huntington Park to get a break from Cesar Chavez Avenue in Boyle Heights. She remembers frequenting the street to shop and enjoy some of the local restaurants. Though the ideal location for Sazón was Boyle Heights, the neighborhood’s gentrification and soaring rent did not allow for this. Despite the grim reality, she’s happy that Sazón is in a community that feels like home. Maria is still reeling from their soft opening “este lugar, primeramente, representa mi sueño hecha en realidad. (This place, first and foremost, represents my dream made into reality.”) 

Zacil agrees, sharing that space is an ode to her mother and her roots in La Costa Chica de Guerrero and Yucatan. “Sazón is that comfort food on a rough day. It’s that desayuno (breakfast) en las mañanas after a long week. It’s that spot that feels like home.” The mother and daughter team hopes that people understand the menu was carefully curated to represent the indigenous communities in Yucatan and Afro-indigenous communities in Guerrero. 

It’s that hard work, cultural wealth, and love that went into the space that makes it worth the visit for anyone who knows the beauty of hustle and reward. Zacil and Maria welcome you with open arms and want the Immigrant and Black, Brown, and queer community to know that they hope to serve as inspiration never to give up.

“Black, Brown, Indigenous people don’t get told this enough, but if we believe and continue to see this power in each other, we can move mountains.” 

Sazón is currently open on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 to 7 PM with hopes to expand their hours soon. For the most up-to-date information, visit their Instagram

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