A pandemic seems like an extremely challenging time to open up a new restaurant, what with businesses struggling to get by and many permanently closing. Nevertheless, Umbrella Hospitality Group’s Austin Melrose and Zachary Patterson (Lono, The Corner Door) are opening their new taco spot, Umbrella taCO., on October 1 next door to their Melrose Umbrella Co. cocktail bar. The challenging Melrose Avenue space has seen a consistent rotation of eateries, such as Pirolo’s Panino, which closed in 2018, and Eric Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese before that, with nothing quite sticking.
But as soon as Pirolo’s left, Melrose and Patterson started working on the taqueria with chef Juan Catalan at the helm. And it wasn’t until Melrose Umbrella Co. had to pivot to only delivery and takeout during the lockdown this year that they were finally able to focus on its opening. “The street has been asking for a delicious taqueria for quite some time,” says Melrose, who wants the place to evoke a motorcycle trip through Mexico, with fish taco stops and surfing. Maybe the taqueria will not only better suit LA’s hip Melrose Avenue but perhaps sate the travel bug of quarantined Angelenos.
Catalan, who started working at Lono in 2017, incorporates a mix of cultures in the cooking that reflects his experience in Los Angeles. He hails from Guerrero, Mexico, was raised here in Koreatown, and worked at Katsuya Hollywood. Japanese flavors such as kombu and yuzu are used to brighten up his aguachile, while Koreatown ingredients spice things up. “The ingredients used are from mom-and-pop stores I’ve gone to since I was a kid,” says Catalan. “HK Market is one of my favorites. Koreatown definitely has umami ingredients and flavors that are amazing to explore.”
His housemade tortillas are made from locally sourced masa and hand-pressed to order. The mole recipe used in the chicken mole taco originated from his grandmother, but he first started working on it when he was seven years old. “I am continuing every day trying to perfect it. Mine has a sweet and savory balance, which I think sets it apart and makes it unique.”
The mole and the al pastor are both “prepared traditionally, which involves toasting pepitas, sesame seeds, and galletas (as opposed to blending) to give more of nuttiness flavor in the mole,” says Catalan. “The al pastor is marinated with achiote and, of course, served with a slice of grilled pineapple.”
Tacos ($3.50 to $5.50 each) include the usual suspects of carne asada, al pastor, and pescado as well as pollo tinga, pollo mole, and camarones. For vegetarians, there are champiñón tacos with wild mushrooms, brussels sprouts, guacamole, and soy sauce, as well as cauliflor tacos with beer-battered buffalo cauliflower, slaw, avocado, and pico de gallo.
Those craving something more substantial than tacos can fill up on the quesadilla, burrito/bowl and tamale options. And naturally, there are plenty of drinks such as cervezas, housemade agua frescas, and agave-based cocktails. The spirits menu allows those looking for something a bit stronger to to explore the different regions of Mexico through its selection of mezcals and tequilas. Sip on espadin at $6 a pour or pechuga mezcal ($8 to $12).
The taqueria has nine counter seats and three window seats, but will offer sidewalk seating, delivery and takeout once it opens. Hours are Tuesday to Saturday from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m.
- LA Restaurant Openings [ELA]