It used to be a fair rule of thumb that celebrity-themed restaurants were kind of terrible or at least in poor taste — places like Sammy Hagar's Cabo Wabo, Lisa Vanderpump's Sur and the somehow-still-expanding Walhburgers chain.
Yet the more our obsessions with food and celebrity mush together into a giant bowl of pop-culture guacamole, the more we might need to rethink that notion. Could the idea of going to a celebrity restaurant just for the actual food be plausible?
Danny Trejo, the Latino actor and L.A. native best known for playing grizzled violent dudes in movies like Machete and From Dusk Till Dawn, is betting it is. His new, open-air taqueria, Trejo's Tacos — co-owned by film producers Ash Shah and Jeff Georgino — soft-opened about two weeks ago on La Brea in Mid-City, just around the corner from Top Round Roast Beef.
What's clear from the moment you look over the menu at Trejo's Tacos is that, yes, this is actually a serious restaurant: The $4 tacos are served on fresh, organic tortillas with a baby radish garnish, the tangy bottled hot sauce on each table is fermented in-house, and the usual stewed beans are upgraded with heirloom Rancho Gordo pinquitos. This is all less surprising when you learn that Trejo's Tacos wisely tapped former Cook's County chef Daniel Mattern as a consultant, contributing to chef-y dishes such as a roasted pork shoulder taco topped with a dollop of bright fermented chili, a picturesque shrimp tostada bejeweled with Haas avocado and cherry tomatoes, and a vegan fried tofu taco enhanced with a sweet and peppery shallot compote of sorts and pickled red onion. There's also a vague health-food aspect to much of the food. Most ingredients are organic, there's kombucha on tap, and the fried chicken taco is wrapped in lettuce (and more resembles a salad). Even the street corn with chipotle crema can be made vegan.
With its current abbreviated hours (11 a.m. to 4 p.m., though the restaurant aims to stay open until 11 p.m. by the start of summer) and limited menu, Trejo's Tacos might need to broaden its appeal to expand beyond its mustachioed namesake, despite a second Hollywood location that's already under construction. But while the shredded brisket taco is a bit dry and the house-made, date-sweetened horchata could stand to be sweeter, it's clear that this place is earnestly paying attention to the quality of its ingredients and its dishes. Add to that the taqueria's spacious patio, which will become an attractive place to chill on hot summer evenings once beer and wine start being poured, and Trejo's seems like a welcome improvement to the world of celebrity restaurants.
Besides, would you really want to tell Danny Trejo to his face that his tacos aren't good?
Trejo’s Tacos, 1048 S. La Brea Ave., Mid-City; (323) 938-8226, trejostacos.com.