North African Tacos Are an L.A. Ethnic Food Mash-Up That Actually Makes Sense
Barbacoa (left) and roasted cauliflower taco at Revolutionario
At first, the tacos at Revolutionario near USC look as if they could be just another one of L.A.'s modernist Mexican offerings: The barbacoa is cooked with tomatillos, the chicken is flecked with cilantro, and the vegetables are coated in an aromatic red spice.
But even before you have a chance to take a bite and realize that the barbacoa is actually marinated in pungent chermoula and the roasted cauliflower is tossed in ras el hanout, the garnish bar decked out with kimchi curtido and red and green harissa sauces (no salsa) will tip you off that this isn't your ordinary take on tacos.
That's because Revolutionario, which opened on Jefferson Boulevard last weekend, is serving North African tacos, a creation of French-Algerian chef Farid Zadi, who moved to Los Angeles 18 years ago and has been teaching (Le Cordon Bleu, Ecole de Cuisine) and cooking (Spanish Fly) here ever since. Trained in Southern France, where he was born to exiled Berber-Algerian parents, Zadi has an eye for cross-cultural culinary connections. The street foods of Mexico and North Africa have given him plenty to work with.
According to Zadi and his wife, Susan Ji Young Park, a published food historian (and former L.A. Weekly contributor), the relationship between the two cuisines has always been reciprocal. The North African Moors, who were of Arab and Berber descent, ruled Spain for centuries — so when Spanish explorers set sail for the New World, they introduced to Mexico things like cattle, rice and cheese. In turn, Mexican ingredients made their way back to the Old World where North African cooking incorporated vegetables such as tomatoes, chiles and corn.
Lamb taco (left) and cilantro yogurt chicken taco at Revolutionario
Food from North Africa — a land at the center of transcontinental Muslim treks — has always been rife with diverse global influences. So unlike the historically disparate pairing of sweet-glazed Korean meat and Mexican masa that has become an icon of L.A.'s mash-up food culture, serving mesquite-smoked lamb on a handmade mixed-tamal tortilla with a side of habanero harissa isn't actually much of a new-age fusion at all.
Maybe you've already tried some of Zadi's tacos at any number of the weekly pop-ups he was hosting this time last year, back when the tortillas were filled mostly with guisado-style stews and braised meats. In order to open a brick-and-mortar Revolutionario — there are plans for two more (one in Inglewood and one in Koreatown) by year's end — he whittled the menu down to the most scalable options.
Burritos, bowls and tacos can be stuffed with lamb, barbacoa, chicken, black-eyed-pea falafel, roasted cauliflower, charred vegetables or lightly fried tofu tagine. Entrees will be added in the coming weeks, but for now, nothing on the menu is over $9 (tacos start at $1.75). There's even a "value menu" of under-$2, snack-sized wraps filled with creamy pinto beans in a thin, tortilla-like laffa bread. All meat is halal.
Hours are Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday, 5 to 9:30 p.m.; 5 to 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Revolutionario, 1436 W. Jefferson Blvd., Exposition Park, revolutionario.com
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Los Angeles dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.