Passion Series Interview: Luis - Tacos La Restirada
Everyone in L.A. has their "taco spot," but until you have gone to Luis, you haven't had a good taco. Luis is one of the most hardworking, generous, kind people I've ever met; and his passion pours out into his food. This man even bakes his own bread for his Tortas. The bread is baked fresh weekly, and you can taste the difference in your first bite. You can find him posted up on Sunrise and Anderson in the Arts District of Downtown, Los Angeles. I am not only happy that Luis is able to fill my taco cravings, but can now call this man my friend.
Images by Mark Mendoza (IbMM) - Would you mind introducing yourself, who is Luis?
Luis - Hi my name is Luis and I’m addicted to awesomeness. Socrates once said, “It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” Although I’m not interested in becoming the incredible Hulk, I definitely want to look into the mirror someday and be blinded by my own awesomeness. That is why I embrace competition, because not only does it help prove myself but it also brings out the best in me. Life is short so I encourage everyone to make it glorious.
IbMM - How did you come about starting Tacos La Restirada?
Luis - After my parent’s divorce, my mother left the house and we were left without a cook. I missed my mother’s homemade pizza so I was inspired to create my own. I bought a book “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” just because it had a pizza recipe. The book didn’t only teach me how to bake pizza at home, it sparked my interest in the culinary arts. A few months later I was sitting in the back of a classroom waiting on my first culinary arts class to begin at LA Trade Tech College. Fast track a few months later… I was a baker at Universal Studios Hollywood. USH made me realize the culinary was pretty big and I wanted to explore it. I was never into coffee but a few months later I was a barista at Tierra Mia Coffee because “why not?” I’m was trying to be a chef after all so I thought getting a hands on experience with coffee would benefit me. At Tierra Mia I became friends with a guy named Nestor. Many thought he was cocky but I saw him as someone who was seriously passionate about coffee. He thought me a lot about coffee and how the same coffee bean can develop a different flavor depending on the region or climate and how it’s cultivated. I thought to myself, “I must learn more about plants”. Some time later I found myself inside a walk in refrigerator filled with so many fragrant herbs, fruits and vegetables… I had gotten a job at Zinc Cafe as pantry cook and I loved it. However sometime later Dunkin Donuts announced they were ready to hire. A few years back when I was in culinary school I made many new friends and we often talked about our dreams and aspirations. So this one time I told my friends there were rumors that Dunkin Donuts was making plans to expand to the West Coast. All my friends got excited and I promised my friends I’d submit my resume to Dunkin Donuts as soon as they moved into LA. So needless to say I left my job at Zinc Cafe because I took the job at Dunkin Donuts as baker. Dunkin Donuts was fun and I learned a lot but then I got really good at my job and they didn’t want to give me the raise I asked for. I decided to give myself the raise I deserved so with the support of my family I bought a food truck and opened shop in May of 2016. In a nut shell that’s how Tacos La Restirada happened.
IbMM - Who are your inspirations?
Luis - My inspirations come from all the girls who’ve rejected me. Each rejection gets me feeling confused and full of rage. The rage that comes from rejection always sets my soul on fire. And that fire is what’s been molding me into the person that I am now. The person that I am now wants to be better than yesterday. My food is a mirror to my reflection so the food you try now might taste better tomorrow. You just never know so if you’re curious about where my food is headed… keep coming to my food truck and keep yourself updated.
IbMM - What do you think food does for people?
Luis - So this one time, there was an emergency and on that day not one employee of mine was present… I was a one man show, working both as line cook and cashier. The day was cloudy and all of a sudden I felt the bleak wind hit my back. As I turned I noticed a well dressed young chap and a pretty but shy looking girl, each with their own dog, waiting in line to place an order. They didn’t seem to know each other but nonetheless engaged in conversation quite drastically. I have a feeling it was in part thanks to their dogs for they initiated a playful, yet with sincere and intense conviction, barking contest. Anyway, my point is this: food brings everyone together. Whether it be at the dinner table, at church, a potluck, food can bring the whole world together if only everyone had equal access. The fight against poverty doesn’t begin by sending money to charities. Begin by talking about the who the real enemies are and who controls most of our food and resources. If this becomes common knowledge then it’ll become easier for us to form a plan to end poverty, bring justice, and unite us all.
IbMM - Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Luis- I remember asking for a raise at Dunkin Donuts. I forgot how much. I know my work speed was faster than most of my coworkers and the quality of work I did was also unmatched by them. So I was worth at least two people. If the average worker got paid $10 an hour, I was worth at least $20. However, I probably asked for $12. Three of my coworkers working together couldn’t match my quality of work so giving me the raise should have been a no brainer but they didn’t… so I left. I want my business to run better so in 5 years I see myself forming and working with an elite squad of highly skilled culinarians.
IbMM - If you could tell 18 year old Louis anything, what would it be?
Luis - Don’t take the spring of your youth for granted because when you finally start your own business, your time will be limited and you will regret wasting your dad’s money on toys and junk food… invest that money on your personal health and growth.… lock yourself away (no one is going to notice you for at least another 7 years no matter how hard you try) and read books, explore the world, train hard, take archery and martial art classes, literally kick ass and be awesome. Also believe in something greater than all of us and grow spiritually… grow that fire in your soul because for you life doesn’t get any easier. If you want life to get easier then embrace pain. You will get stronger with each wound that heals.
IbMM - Who are your culinary idols?
Luis - Once upon a time my dad had a dream to start his own taco business. He tried making a signature red salsa which would give us an edge over every other taquero in the streets of Boyle Heights. He almost lost his mind from trying and failing many times but he never lost patience. It took him two years to create his red salsa. Some time later my dad bought a food truck and quickly started gaining a following but then there was a plot twist… my parents split so my dad sold the food truck immediately. My dad had a dream my mom would leave him a few years before any of this happened so he prepared for that day… by the time my mom filed for divorce… it was too late for her to lay claim to half of anything. As you can see my dad’s dream came to an abrupt halt. It would seem the creation of my dad’s red salsa was all for nothing… but then I came along and decided to save my dad’s legacy. I saw my dad as a culinary hero who fell but always got back up. He inspired to never give up on the recipes I was attempting to create. All the recipes I use for my food truck are my own except for my dad’s red salsa. I bring my dad’s red salsa on board my food truck as a trophy of my dad’s accomplishments and as a reminder to never give up.
IbMM - Where did the passion for food come from?
Luis - When I was in high school I was a loner… but then I joined the Los Angeles Unified School District All City Honor Marching Band. Every year all high schools in the entire LAUSD send their top 10 musicians to the Dodger’s Stadium to form one band, play one sound, and practice in every weather condition mother nature can throw at us during the months of November and December. The last two weeks are intense, we suffer together, we make new friends, we bond together, we work together, and in the end we always manage to impress everyone and live up to the reputation as being the best band at Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade. My life hasn’t been the same ever since. It doesn’t matter what I do now or what I do next… I simply don’t do mediocre anymore. Everything I do is done with passion. Sometimes that can be a problem because I scare people away but I’m addicted to this craziness I got going so don’t expect me to change anytime soon. I guess this is a good thing for all you people who love my tacos.
IbMM - How do you want people to feel about your food?
Luis - One of my customers jokingly said my tacos were white washed. I laughed a bit because I though that was really funny. Back in the 1970’s King Taco reigned the street scene. Now, it’s difficult to tell with so many chefs trying so hard to come up with the next best thing to sell on a food truck. I’m not trying to come up with a new concept nor am I changing direction. However, I’m a millennial so I’m going retro with my taco game, not white washed. Nothing ever stays the same so when people eat my food I want them to take a bite into the golden age but with a modern twist.
IbMM -Do you have any favorite quotes?
Luis - “Life’s disappointments are harder to take when you don’t know any swear words.” — Calvin & Hobbes, Bill Watterson