Food

Wes Avila, the Unorthodox Taquero That Has LA Head Over Heels

Photo by Josh Telles via Life and Thyme

For the most part, the Los Angeles taco game is dominated by ultra-traditional regional Mexican fillings. Fillings like the meat in al pastor tacos, which is judged by devotees solely based on whether the taquero shaves the thinly-sliced pork right off the trompo on to your tortilla (as opposed to the grill, where it can scrunch up or overcook). That is, until chef Wesley Avila of Guerrilla Tacos busted out his plancha grill emblazoned with graffiti art work, and started making tacos filled with things like sweet potato and lambs tongues. Sounds sus, we know. But once you’ve had a taste, it’s easy to understand how one of Avila’s tacos wound up on Jonathan Gold’s best dishes list in 2013 (the same year Guerilla Tacos opened).

Avila wasn’t always so unorthodox. Before he was making non-traditional tacos, the native Angeleno was on a more predictable culinary path. He graduated in 2005 from Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, and took a series of fancy restaurant jobs, working under chefs like Republique’s Walter Manzke, Le Comptoir’s Gary Menes, and even studying staging in France with Alain Ducasse. But he found the intensity and stuffiness of fine dining a little unfulfilling. “It was a really good learning experience, but that wasn’t the direction I wanted to go with my cooking,” he told the LA Times in March.

 

Photo by Josh Telles via Life and Thyme

 

And so, he left the world of white table cloths and wine pairings behind for the unpredictable, scrappy world of street food – a better fit for his famously foul-mouthed and funny personality. The first iteration of Guerilla Tacos was born: a spontaneous cart set up on a downtown L.A. sidewalk outside Handsome Coffee Roasters. “[We had] no permits, no permission, no nothing, dude. That’s why we chose the name Guerrilla Tacos—we would just setup in random spots. We would set up on the street and boom, we would start rolling,” he told Life & Thyme.

Photo: Janica De Guzman via LA Downtowner

After getting shut down over his lack of permits, Avila jumped in a food truck, where he’s been serving up his incredible, complex concoctions ever since. His menu, which features anything from sweetbreads to random vegetables to wild boar, is subject to his mood and inspiration, getting updated regularly. So that means the Guerilla fiends have to come back all the time to try something heavenly that might be here today and gone tomorrow. Gold’s advice? Treat the truck “as a kind of tasting-menu restaurant whose dishes happen to be composed on tortillas instead of on fancy plates […] sometimes the best way to experience it is to show up with a few friends and order one of everything.”

And as for what’s next, Avila’s got big plans. First an LA brick and mortar he can call his flagship, then the world. “ I don’t want to just be in LA. I want to be in Chicago, Brazil, Tokyo, Hawaii… I don’t see an end to it. I don’t want to become complacent. I’m always pursuing something better. Always, always, always. Or else you become that guy.”