Skip to Content
Featured

Everything We Know About Ricardo Diaz’s Whittier Brewing Company and His Seven Food Stalls at Poet Gardens Opening This Fall, the L.A. Taco Exclusive

12:16 PM PDT on September 16, 2019

    The chef who put Uptown Whittier’s Mexican food scene on Jonathan Gold’s map, Ricardo Díaz, has announced a fall grand opening for his highly-anticipated new project: Whittier Brewing Company at Poet Gardens. Over two years of planning, construction, permit-hunting, and brewing trial and error are about to finally pay off for the visionary who was once dubbed “The East L.A. Emperor.”  

    How does he feel that his most ambitious project—a brewery and seven food stalls—to date is finally opening soon?

    “I’m relieved and excited at the same time,” Diaz shares with L.A. Taco.

    In a Facebook video with over 8,000 views posted this weekend on the WBC’s page, Díaz describes the communal food hall and local craft beer gardens in greater detail. I visited the cavernous space inside Nixon Plaza in Uptown Whittier that will house Poet Gardens and the brewery. It bustled with life on an early September Friday afternoon, the excitement palpable. Hopeful job applicants clad in professional black lined up for interviews, while executive director Adelina Cano chatted with others about their resumes. New plants sprouted from fresh soil in the vertical floor-to-ceiling garden, splashing the bright sunlit walls with verdant greens. 

    Poet Gardens wall

    Around the corner, head brewer Ed Hernandez and brewery manager John Kennedy sampled fresh beer from shiny new tanks. “It still needs a couple weeks in the tank,” says Hernandez, “then it’ll be perfect.”

    Since Díaz signed the papers with the city on April 2017, the buzz about the brewery and Poet Gardens—named for the Whittier College Poets mascot from the chef’s alma mater—has been building around Uptown Whittier and beyond. Poet Gardens will feature a collection of Chef Díaz’s new food concepts, hand-picked wines, and craft beer brewed on-site. The food hall will immediately diversify the Whittier food scene while offering locals and visitors an affordable gathering space for eating, drinking, and building community.

    Poet Gardens: Diversifying the Whittier Food Scene While Offering Communal Eating Experiences

    Visitors to Poet Gardens and Whittier Brewing Company will undoubtedly want to compare it to a certain Orange County packing house or other such food halls in retrofitted, ‘vintage’ settings, which is understandable. The bright, airy atmosphere inside Nixon Plaza, a historic Uptown building that once housed a Bank of America and Q’s billiards hall, invites conviviality around delicious comida and quenching beverages in a setting suitable for a family outing or a first date.   

    But I would resist the temptation to compare it to that other spot in Anaheim. For one thing, all the food stations in Poet Gardens will feature Chef Díaz’s own recipes, a move that bucks the mall-ish multi-vendor ‘food court’ model while still offering something for everyone. 

    “The tacos at Tepezcohuite will be reinterpretations of Mexican classics around veggies and yerbas from Mexico,” said Díaz. “For example, think of a chile verde with cauliflower instead of pork, or a coloradito with potatoes instead of beef. All similar to what I did at Guisados, and also to keep expanding Mexican cuisine in L.A.”

    His new food concepts include wood-fired pizza at Faustino, Shanghai-style dumplings at Xiao, and a bread pudding dessert bar at Rue Dauphin. Díaz hopes these new menus appeal to the palates of locals and visitors alike while offering much-needed diversity to the current Uptown food scene. 

    “We’re close to Downey and Pico Rivera, and La Habra, La Mirada. We’re right in-between the freeways, we’re near east L.A., the San Gabriel Valley. We’re like the final frontier before Orange County,” said Díaz. “We want more people to come to Whittier. With these new menus, I’m making an effort to offer a greater variety of cuisines and flavors.”

    Tepezcohuite, Diaz's vegetable-centered taco concept

    Of course, There Will Be Tacos

    Tepezcohuite will offer mostly veggie-based tacos that feature Díaz’s signature regional Mexican flavors, currently featured in his dishes at Bizarra Capital and Colonia Publica. 

    “The tacos at Tepezcohuite will be reinterpretations of Mexican classics around veggies and yerbas from Mexico,” said Díaz. “For example, think of a chile verde with cauliflower instead of pork, or a coloradito with potatoes instead of beef. All similar to what I did at Guisados, and also to keep expanding Mexican cuisine in L.A.”

    True to its name, Tepezcohuite makes southern Mexican yerbas the star of the show. Adelina Cano, the executive director, points to herbs and plantas like quelites (purslane), epazote, hoja santa, and pipicha that will feature in Tepezcohuite’s tacos. 

    “These are rural herbs, rustic Mexican flavors,” said Cano, excited about the menu. “I’m from Puebla. Chef Díaz knows about recipes I’ve only seen at home in Mexico. When you eat his food, it’s like eating at someone’s house there.”

    Fish God, Diaz's intimate multi-course seafood concept

    Díaz has hired trusted staff to prepare and execute his menus, recipes, and concepts at Tepezcohuite and the other food stalls in Poet Gardens, but he will do all the cooking himself at Fish God. 

    Mariscos and seafood run deep in Díaz’s line, hailing from the first family in Los Angeles who brought mariscos to the city in the 70s and early 80s via El Siete Mares family restaurant empire. The chef’s eyes sparkle when he describes Fish God. “It’ll be a reservations-only chef-driven intimate dining experience,” he says. “Each night will feature a seafood-centered tasting menu of five to eight courses. I do all the cooking for you right here in front of you and serve you around the bar. It’s the fancy thing in the middle of all this.” 

    Fish God will be the last station to open after all the other stations are up and running. The Wine Library will specialize in chef-selected varietals, hand-picked by Díaz to pair perfectly with the dishes at Poet Gardens, from the spicy dumplings to dessert capirotadas. On the other side of the hall will be a pop-up space for local chefs to showcase their own food. 

    “It’s a place for people to gather and eat communally, together,” said Díaz about Poet Gardens.

    Homegrown Beer with Homebrew Roots

    Head Brewer Ed Hernandez echoed Chef Díaz’s sentiments about the community-based vision that drives the spirit behind Poet Gardens and the Whittier Brewing Company.

    “Even if you don’t drink wine or beer, come here for the food and to hang out in the patio,” he said. 

    Hernandez and John Kennedy, his brewing partner and the brewery manager at WBC, started as local homebrewers. Both live in Whittier, had day jobs, and have been brewing beer for eleven years. Hernandez worked in IT as a systems analyst and John for a beer distributor. The two buddies were regulars at the Bottle Room, an Uptown gastropub formerly under Chef Tony Alcazar, the man responsible for setting up a fateful meeting between the two homebrewers and Chef Díaz.

    “John and I had always taken our beer to Tony because we know he likes good craft beer,” Hernandez tells L.A Taco. “Our test was always, ‘Let’s see if Tony likes it.’ That was our gauge. John and I trusted him, and we’d add something or make adjustments based on his recommendations.”

    "And as an homage to our area code, we try to keep the ABV around 5.62 percent or as close as possible.”

    As Hernandez pours me a pint of fresh Greenleaf Pale Ale right from the tank, he continues his story of how he got to be the head brewer at WBC. “Tony, John, and I were working a mutual friend’s wedding. We made the beer and Tony did the food at this wedding. Tony’s always liked our beer, and he knew Ricardo was trying to start a brewery in Uptown. Tony contacted Ricardo about our beer, and that Monday or Tuesday after the wedding, we got a call from him. The chef said he’d take care of the business part and we could just brew the beer. We put something together for him, and it was just one of those things: The rest was history.”

    We finish our pints of Greenleaf Pale Ale, WBC’s flagship beer and the one Hernandez and Kennedy have been brewing the longest. The beer is delicious and easy to drink without sacrificing body and flavor. Hernandez calls it a great year-round beer. “It’s balanced and harmonious, not too hoppy or too bitter,” says the brewer. “It’s a versatile beer that compliments a lot of the food we’ll see at Poet Gardens, especially the spicier dishes. And as an homage to our area code, we try to keep the ABV around 5.62 percent or as close as possible.” Spoken like a true local beer meister.

    Other beers we can expect to see in WBC’s lineup include a Belgian saison, a Belgian continental style pale ale, a Double IPA, a witbier, and a seasonal beer such as porter. The brewery menu reflects the nearly dozen years of homebrewing experience of Whittier locals. “A lot of our beers are sessionable,” says Hernandez. “Lower alcohol content means we can eat and drink across the menu and not feel too bogged down.” 

    First pint of Greenleaf Pale Ale at Whittier Brewing Company.

    Community Ties

    Poet Gardens and Whittier Brewing Company represents a local chef’s offering to his hometown and community. Cano, Hernandez, and the others I spoke to on my visits all spoke to some aspect of community engagement led by Díaz’s example. Cano described the chef as someone who cares about his employees and their success. 

    “We don’t want some outside billionaire [coming in and] doing that. I live here. We all do. We’re locals, and we care about the commitment to the community. That’s the vibe we want to put out there. We’re extremely homegrown. We want people to see this as an offering for the community.”

    “He’s a mentor,” says Cano, who cites college internship programs in the works for students at CSU Long Beach, Whittier College, and other local schools. “These kinds of programs showcase Chef’s commitment to his community and young people, bringing them up in the [restaurant] business, showing them how to do everything in the kitchen from dishwashing and clearing grease traps to the front of the house and customer service.”

    Hernandez points out that Díaz recognized both him and Kennedy as homebrewers with longtime hometown ties. “First and foremost, we’re locals, and that’s what Ricardo wanted,” says Hernandez. “We all live within five minutes of this place, and we all were wanting something for the community.” 

    Hernandez also emphasized the importance of locals being the ones to invest money and support local businesses that serve the people who live here. “We don’t want some outside billionaire [coming in and] doing that. I live here. We all do. We’re locals, and we care about the commitment to the community. That’s the vibe we want to put out there. We’re extremely homegrown. We want people to see this as an offering for the community.”

    Stay in touch

    Sign up for our free newsletter

    More from L.A. TACO

    What To Eat In L.A. This Weekend: Mexican-Style Pastrami, ‘Trashburgers,’ and Flamin’ Jim Morrisons

    Plus, a new shawarma spot in Tarzana and the country's first wine festival dedicated solely to orange "skin contact" wine happening in Hollywood.

    April 19, 2024

    The 11 Best Backyard Restaurants in Los Angeles

    Despite many requests to publish this guide, L.A. TACO has been somewhat protective of these gems to not "burn out the spots." However, we wanted to share it with our small, loyal pool of paid members, as we appreciate your support (and know you to be okay, non-NARCs). Please enjoy responsibly and keep these 'hood secrets...secrets.

    April 18, 2024

    Announcing the TACO MADNESS 2024 Winner: Our First Ever Three-Time-Champion From Highland Park

    Stay tuned for the new date of our TACO MADNESS festival, which was unfortunately postponed this last Saturday due to rain.

    April 15, 2024

    What To Eat This Weekend: Cannabis-Infused Boat Noodles, Thai Smashburgers, and “Grass & Ass”

    Plus, a pizza festival and a respected chef from Toluca, Mexico comes to Pasadena to consult for a restaurant menu, including enchiladas divorciadas, and more.

    April 12, 2024
    See all posts