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Taco of the Week: This Cocktail Bar-Taquería Hybrid Makes the Most Tender Handmade Tortillas On Melrose  

Umbrella’s taco with chicken en mole Teloloapan

Los Ángeles is a city of tacos, with new taquerías popping up on street corners around the county on a weekly basis. To help us get through them all, L.A. TACO presents our Taco of the Week” column, where we celebrate the latest taco we’ve eaten that blew our minds.

Sometimes your friends do the silliest shit.

Like coming into town and staying somewhere like Hollywood, against your most urgent advice.

Next thing you know, they’re asking where to meet for tacos in between window shopping for gas mask bongs and latex lingerie on the boutique-studded sweep of Melrose Avenue.

So you’re kinda like “uuuuuuhhhm… ” despite thinking you know something about something.

From now on, you’ll just have them meet you at Melrose Umbrella Co., which is no longer just a fantastically atmospheric haunt for well-crafted creative drinks, but also now taco a hub for pairing excellent antojitos to your "Mezcali Mi Banana" cocktails from their attached taquería, Umbrella Taco. It’s a bright, slim, sunny taco shop right next door, which connects to the bar to supply their lunchtime and early afternoon crowd with a menu of pan-Mexican recipes in taco-form.

Melrose Umbrella owners Austin Melrose and Zach Patterson opened this arm to their hospitality business in October 2020, amid the early death spasms of our pandemic lockdown, in a concept the partners had been Imagineer-ing for many years.

To compose the menu and lead the kitchen, they tapped chef Juan Catalan Moreno, an Acapulco-born, Koreatown-raised chef with a long history in Japanese restaurants and a childhood selling his family’s tamales on the L.A. streets. His time-tested resume includes a role cooking at Katsuya Hollywood and later at Lono, Umbrella’s celebrated Hollywood tiki realm, as well as running his own catering company.

Los Hermanos Catalan at Umbrella Tacos, photo via Umbrella Taco/Instagram
Los Hermanos Catalan at Umbrella Tacos

Hit by 2020’s plague-pushed bar and restaurant shutdown, Lono was forced to suspend operations, leading to the materialization of Umbrella Taco, which initially sprang to life as a pick-up and Postmates-ready pop-up praised for its Taco Tuesday specials. The restaurant officially opened as its own stand-alone take-out space on October 1, 2020, with Catalan's brothers, Felippe and Efrain, helping him execute a menu of chef-boosted versions of regional Mexican recipes. Today, Umbrella Taco stands as a business busy with Melrose pedestrians, Instagram model-types, and the street’s own salespeople.

You can order its tacos inside the dedicated Umbrella Taco space or next door at the impressively tailored Melrose Umbrella Company, a bar housed in an actual old umbrella factory and filled with vintage majesties, among them the odd stuffed goose and antique apothecary shelves, a tile-clad arched ceiling hung with iron chandeliers, and a menagerie of ancient umbrellas racked along the walls.

We opted for the bar side, sitting down to a parade of meaty tacos that did not include the menu's plant-based options with wild mushrooms or jackfruit mole. Umbrella Tacos’ strongest asset, besides Catalan, are their soft, but sturdy corn tortillas, pressed to order using masa from a local company we’d put our money on being Masienda. Depending on the size of your mouth, each golden tortilla is a 3-4 biter of rustically ragged edges and gloriously rugged complexion, thick on the palate, but tender to the tooth.

Umbrella's taco with chicken en mole Teloloapan
Umbrella's taco with chicken en mole Teloloapan

We started with two of Umbrella Taco’s pollo con mole tacos, which deploys Catalan’s grandmother’s traditional recipe from Guerrero's mole stronghold of Teloloapan, one he’s been making since he was seven with separately toasted ingredients including pepitas, sesame seeds, and galletas.

The reddish-brown mole strikes a harmony between chocolate-tinged sweetness and an earthy nuttiness, with a slight chile-flavored heat, a crunch of pepitas on top, and inflection of salt provided by its sprinkle of cotija cheese. We’d like to try it out of the taco and without the liberal concession of crema for a purer taste, perhaps drowning some form of protein or row of enmoladas.

Umbrella Taco's chicken tinga taco
Umbrella Taco's chicken tinga taco

Next came chicken tinga tacos, the pure, poultry-packed flavor complimented by the smoky signature of chipotles. We savored the chicken's stewy, homecooked quality, though we have funny feelings about the addition of shredded iceberg lettuce and crema to the mix. Through each bite, the tortillas stood up to their contents, holding them up before melting gently in our mouths.

Umbrella Taco's taco de pastor
Umbrella Taco's taco de pastor

Our favorite tacos featured Umbrella's more straight-forward pastor, featuring sizable cuts of pork loin with smaller, fattier scraps marinated together in a rich adobo, and aided by the sweet spike of pineapple and a giant dollop of creamy guacamole. This more straightforward, slightly smoky, and buttery taco reached divinity with dueling rails of the restaurant’s extremely fresh salsa verde and salsa rojo, which don’t tamp down on their heat just for the Melrose crowd.

Umbrella Taco's battered Baja fish taco
Umbrella Taco's battered Baja fish taco

As to be expected from a Mexican-American chef with a zeal for Japanese cuisine, the Baja-style fish taco (the form itself a culinary contribution from Baja’s Japanese fishing community of days past, we’ve been told) is stellar. A large lobe of fish is encased in a deep orange batter, stretching well beyond the bounds of its tortilla under a mound of guacamole and jumble of pico de gallo. The batter shattered crisply into the faintly muddy charms of what tasted like tilapia, its flesh soft, pearlescent, and lush under the protection of its tempura force-field.

There were plenty of other enticing descriptions we didn’t have the remaining digestive capacity or budget to try at Umbrella Taco, like a dashi-and-yuzu-assisted aguachile, mole rojo fries, tacos de flank steak asada, and regular taco specials that we look forward to going back to taste.

For now, with our ability to point wayward loved ones towards a rocking taco spot in the thick of the Melrose Shopping District and the environs of Fairfax High heightened, our satisfaction has been attained until we return.

Umbrella Taco ~ 7461 Melrose Ave West Hollywood, CA 90046 ~ (323) 879-9948

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