Two years ago, when Briana Valdez originally came up with the idea to open her new Tex- Mex restaurant, HomeState, and started testing recipes, she went the Texas food purist route. "What we found out was that L.A. palates are so different," says Valdez, who plans to open in December. "Because of the ingredients we have access to, everyone is accustomed to more dynamic and brighter flavors." So what she came up with instead is a breakfast and lunch menu that is basically an inventory of all the food that she missed when she moved to Los Angeles from Austin, Texas, only tweaked to suit SoCal tastes.
For example, she doesn't mess with the presentational essence of that Texas-style elementary school cafeteria staple, the Frito Pie in a Bag -- it's still a single-serving package of corn chips sliced open on one side.
But one of the reasons her FPiaB won an LA Weekly Best Of award in 2011 is that the chili con carne part is perfectly spiced, made with quality beef and topped with tomato, cheddar cheese, sour cream, pickled jalapeño and shreds of iceberg lettuce. Her breakfast tacos, which proliferate in the Lone Star state but are a rarity here, are flour tortillas wrapped around soft scrambled eggs.
But HomeState's version involves eggs fresh from the farmers market, crispy applewood-smoked bacon, potatoes and cheddar cheese, and the flour tortillas are handmade and still warm from the traditional cast iron skillet known as a comal. She even tinkers with queso, the often rubbery yellow dip that's regarded in many parts of Texas as party food poetry but that outsiders often find perplexing. At HomeState, they toss out the classic ingredients -- a glossy off-the-shelf combination of Velveeta and Ro*tel -- and offer instead an almost silky blend of high-quality cheeses flecked with jalapeño chiles and cilantro.
When Valdez first began scouting for locations, she obsessed about replicating what it's like to eat kolatches, charro beans, migas, pulled brisket or pulled chicken sandwiches and chicken fried steak tacos in Austin -- on the wraparound porch of an old house that's been converted into a restaurant.
So how did she end up on a stretch of Hollywood Boulevard between Los Feliz and East Hollywood in a 30-seat shotgun space that once used to be a deli run by the guys from Salt's Cure? "This area is a sister city to Austin," Valdez says. "It's young, creative, open and there are a lot of weird people around, which is what Austin prides itself on. Weirdos."
As much as HomeState is Valdez's spin on Tex-Mex, there were certain things she decided needed to be imported: They'll be pouring Austin-based Cuvee hand-roasted coffee, and she's working on shipping in Milagro tortilla chips.
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Recently on a research trip to Austin with her consulting chef, Alex Ageneau (Patina, the Royce), Valdez realized that there was something else that would be crucial to making HomeState feel like a slice of Texas.
"When you walk into an establishment there, it's, 'How do you do?' and 'How can we make you comfortable?' and 'What do you need?' To me it was an important reminder of why I love Austin. It's not just the food and nostalgia -- it's also about how people treat one another," Valdez says. "It comes from somewhere deep in people, and it's something I want to try and transplant here."