Korean asada, mole almendrado and barbacoa tacos at Balam Mexican Kitchen
Korean asada, mole almendrado and barbacoa tacos at Balam Mexican Kitchen
Courtesy Balam

Balam Mexican Kitchen Slings Gourmet Tacos From a Guadalajara Chef

There are many good taco spots along the stretch of Long Beach Boulevard where the 6-month-old Balam Mexican Kitchen is located, but you probably won't find many that resemble what Guadalajara chef Manuel "Kornie" Bañuelos is serving inside a former fast-food stand in Lynwood.

On the menu at Balam you'll find 10 or so varieties of tacos — some traditional, some more creative — each served on handmade tortillas. There's one stuffed with stewed huitlacoche and a drizzle of cilantro crema, one made with slow-braised barbacoa and pickled red onions, and another made with "chicken tinga masala," a Mexican-Indian riff garnished with cilantro and a handful of roasted almonds.

You'll find not only a version of the now-ubiquitous Korean taco made with grilled bulgogi and chipotle slaw but also a fried coconut shrimp taco that cleverly subs in a slice of pink, hibiscus-marinated jicama for a tortilla — lending a welcome vegetal crunch — as well as a homey mole alemandrado taco filled with yellow basmati rice and a scoop of ruddy orange mole sauce. You can have any of the fillings with quesadillas or burritos, too, but ordering a few $3 tacos is probably the way to go. There's a lot of taco innovation happening at Balam worth sampling.

Balam Mexican Kitchen in Lynwood
Balam Mexican Kitchen in Lynwood
Garrett Snyder

Bañuelos, who goes by the nickname "Kornie," is a heavily bearded Guadalajaran chef who arrived in Los Angeles just a few weeks before opening Balam. He previously opened a Mexican restaurant outside London and the now-closed Chicago restaurant Mezcalina. He also cooked at various restaurants in his home state.

So how does a globe-trotting Mexican chef end up in Lynwood, exactly? The answer is Balam's co-owner, Rosendo Jacquez, who had heard about Bañuelos through his sister and was looking for a chef for a new project he planned to open inside a former taqueria space his mother owned. Six months later, Balam has amassed a following that even Jacquez didn't anticipate, attracting curious locals and hip Long Beach kids alike.

With so many gourmet taco operations across the city — Guerrilla Tacos, Guisados, Colonia Tacos Guisados and B.S. Taqueria — you might be skeptical about making such a trek for trendy tacos. Perhaps you'll be convinced by Balam's take on the classic torta ahogada, a pork-filled sandwich submerged in a fiery tomato sauce that's made with a special birote salado roll Bañuelos imports from Guadalajara. It's a wise move to tame the sandwich's heat with the various house-made aguas frescas, including a refreshing, spearmint-spiked lemonade.

For the coming summer months, Bañuelos and Jacquez plan to add a selection of ceviches to the menu, and even more exciting, their newly approved beer and wine license means they'll soon be pouring craft beer. According to Jacquez, a night of pairing ceviches with nearby brewery Phantom Carriage's sour beers is already in the works. 

Balam Mexican Kitchen, 11700 Long Beach Blvd., Lynwood; (424) 338-6762, instagram.com/balamtaco.


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