While chef Ricardo Diaz was working on opening Santa Monica's Tacoteca — the second-generation Mexican-American chef's first restaurant on the Westside — he also was busy adding another layer of complexity to his homestyle Mexican food empire in the east.
In January, Diaz (the man behind Guisados, Cook's Tortas, Colonia Taco Lounge and more) started serving bowls of fideos at a small, weekends-only pop-up restaurant called Colonia Publica, in Whittier.
Sopa de fideo is like the Mexican Top Ramen, a cheap and simple combination of tomato-based broth, onions and toasted vermicelli noodles, which makes a nourishing soup for a fraction of the cost (and in a fraction of the time) of other homemade dishes. You can use premade seasoning packets or cook the ingredients together yourself. Search the fridge for additions such as chorizo, avocado or queso fresco, and you can craft a hearty meal out of a basic recipe.
“One of the things I set out to do with my restaurants was introduce people to the food Mexicans really eat,” Diaz says. “Carne asada, tripa – that's all weekend barbecue food that you do every once in a while. Fideos come from the heart.”
As of last month, Colonia Publica is a full-service, fideos-slinging restaurant, open six days a week with an alcohol license that also allows Diaz to sell his lineup of new-wave micheladas, made with IPAs, oatmeal stouts or aguachile.
You build your own soups as you would a bowl of ramen at ramen-yas such as Shin-Sen-Gumi. A fideos order form and checklist arrives at your table along with a regular food menu, and with a golf pencil you can go down the line, ticking off toppings ranging from tortilla chips to sour cream to hard-boiled egg. With a few add-ons, you'll end up spending around $10 for a bowl.
The rest of Colonia Publica's menu includes smaller plates that make perfect bar food, such as octopus escabeche, chicken mole tostadas and mulitas, a sandwich of small corn tortillas packed with cheese and fillings such as chicharron (fried pork belly) or black forest ham, pickles, mustard and “garlic mojo” (the Cubano).
“I wanted more of a pub feel,” Diaz says.
The term “gastro-cantina” has been thrown around to describe some of Diaz's previous projects, but Colonia Publica may be an even more accurate expression of the term. Micheladas – the original beer cocktail – get a Whittier-worthy update with options such as the IPAlada (Epic's Escape IPA plus grapefruit juice), Cocochelada (Negra Modelo, coconut, pineapple) and La Morena (a take on a black-and-tan made instead with horchata and St. Ambroise oatmeal stout).
Of course, traditionalists still have plenty of options at Colonia Publica. Diaz settled on an old favorite — Modelo — as the base for the rest of the michelada menu, including the classic michelada roja (with Clamato), a jalepeño aguachile michelada, a chamoy michelada and the tamarindo michelada with agave wine and cayenne pepper.
“For years people were trying to match wines with Mexican food, but I always thought it was a stretch,” Diaz says. “Cerveza always went with Mexican food — it's part of the national diet almost.”
Colonia Publica, 6717 Greenleaf Ave., Whittier; (562) 693-2621.