Now that bulgogi tacos are de rigueur and foie gras tacos are back, the taco landscape is expanding once again. Introducing North African tacos via Revolutionario Tacos in South Los Angeles.
Chef and owner Farid Zadi worked in fine dining for years and taught at Le Cordon Bleu, but the French Algerian chef from Lyon is returning to the cuisine he knows best: the food of his childhood. In the case of one Tuesday afternoon, it's shakshuka.
In the kitchen, Zadi seasons layers of onions and red and green bell peppers with his homemade ras al hanout, a staple of North African cooking. He recites what goes into his spice mix: "Lavender, saffron, paprika, cumin, coriander. Some people put garlic powder, but I don't."
While he goes through his spice shelf, he continues: "Cumin, coriander...."
Zadi loses his train of thought when it's time to add the tomatoes and he re-seasons the sweating vegetables. "I'm making shakshuka in a wok, so I call it wok-shuka," he says.
He's also making a large stock pot of harissa at the same time, occasionally stirring the mixture of chilies. It's also made with what seems like an infinite number of spices: "Coriander, turmeric, lavender, saffron, sumac, anise seed, fennel seed, Spanish paprika, chili powder," he says. "I use three types of chilies: chile de California, chile de Mexico, and chile de árbol."
As the shakshuka cooks down, he takes it all in. "Now this is starting to smell like my childhood."
The smells swirling around the kitchen are of the Maghreb, the North African region that includes Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria. And while most of us may be familiar with typical North African fare like Merguez sausage, lamb tagine, brik, and mint tea, Zadi uses ras al hanout and harissa in a very accessible, knowable way for Angelenos. His tacos, which include smoked beef and lamb smoked outside for four hours, are topped with his red, green, and Habanero harissa. Zadi says these flavors are very similar to Mexican food, due to the cultures' shared Spanish and Moorish influences.
Zadi and his wife and partner Susan quietly opened Revolutionario Tacos on May 31. They didn't do any marketing, but they already have something of a following from Zadi's pop-up events around town and from his previous restaurant Cafe Livre et le Marche in Culver City.
Weekends started to pick up and they've added weekend brunches in collaboration with chef Rui Mateo to make Japanese Peruvian-inspired food: ceviche and tiradito.
That might sound fancy, but they're still going to keep the prices down. As Susan puts it, their no-frills restaurant is a "quirky model" meant to challenge the fast casual dining experience. They want to provide convenient, fresh, and affordable meals for their new South L.A. community. Their menu includes a value menu of tacos under $2, but points out that a fuller meal won't cost any more than $10. They're also eager to get other chefs to do the same, but so far, no one has taken on their #FastFoodRevolution challenge when they put the call out on social media.
They're also trying to accomplish what other restaurants in this neighborhood aren't doing: cooking fresh vegetables that people crave. They say that 70% of their orders are vegetarian dishes, the blacked eyed pea falafel taco being the most popular.
They have a small table devoted to garnishes, pickled vegetables, and chilies. Perhaps thumbing their noses at high end establishments, a sign reads: "We source water locally straight from the TAP."
As Zadi finishes simmering the chilies, he strains some of the liquid and processes it until it becomes a thick paste. This should be enough for the week.
"I want to do something different," he says when he talks about his new restaurant concept. "But I'm still a purist in some ways. Everything needs to be properly cooked."
Revolutionario Tacos, 1436 West Jefferson Blvd., Los Angeles 90007
Hours: 5:00 pm - 9:00 pm Tuesdays through Fridays, 11:00 am -9:00 pm Saturdays and Sundays.
Recipe: Preserved Lemons
From Chef Zadi: "You can use preserved lemons in any number of Mediterranean and Latin American soups, stews, and braises. Depending on how salty you want a recipe, you can use them un-rinsed with the pulp, or discard the pulp, rinse the skin, and finely chop the lemon quarters."
6 Meyer lemons
2/3 cup coarse salt (kosher or sea salt)
1 pint size mason jar or other food safe glass jar with non-corrosive lid
Wash and quarter lemons.
Put a layer of lemon quarters inside the jar and sprinkle with a tablespoon of salt. Repeat until you have added all the lemons. Pack them down, as much as you can, while adding more salt. There should be enough juice from the lemons to completely submerge the lemons. If not, add more lemon juice to top off.
Seal the jar and let it preserve for at least 30 days before using.