All it takes is a backyard, Santa Maria grill, and wood-burning brick oven to turn this La Puente backyard into a charming, sit-down restaurant. Campo é Carbón comes from Adriana Alvarez and chef Ulysses Gálvez, who formed the idea of doing a backyard restaurant after a 2019 trip to Baja California’s Valle de Guadalupe wine country. Though Campo é Carbón fits the definition of a pop-up, the experience is pure Southern California, with outdoor decor, well-appointed tables, and Asian and Latin flavors. All it takes is a direct message via Instagram to get the address and a 20-mile drive east of Downtown LA to the city of La Puente.
Though at-home restaurants like this aren’t fully legalized in Los Angeles County, other Southern California regions like Riverside have utilized California state law AB-626 to legalize serving prepared food onsite in private homes. It’s a trend that became more notable as the pandemic made operations more difficult for typical commercial establishments, opening opportunities for food entrepreneurs to start businesses in their homes.
Though Campo é Carbón started in October 2020, Alvarez and Gálvez were inspired by Valle de Guadalupe’s relaxed, mostly al fresco vibe. “As soon as we walked into [Valle de Guadalupe] restaurants, we noticed that 90 percent of the restaurants had people sitting outside,” says Gálvez. “The actual tables weren’t perfect, but the restaurants were great and minimal. When you have a restaurant [in the U.S.], everything usually has to be perfect. There, everything is laid back but the food is amazing. That’s what inspired us. We knew that we had to do this back home.”
Before doing the pop-up, Gálvez was operating a food truck that he wasn’t particularly inspired with. He switched over to doing takeout food early in the pandemic. But that model didn’t showcase his ability to prepare composed plates. As restaurants around Los Angeles focused on outdoor dining in the middle of the pandemic, Alvarez and Gálvez headed in the same direction, since they had everything needed to bring Campo é Carbón to life in their own backyard. Alvarez utilized her skills as an interior designer to ensure diners see the food in the best light, while Gálvez assembled all the equipment to create a proper ambience.
Though adjacent neighborhoods like Montebello have seen a recent shift in dining with places like BLVD MRKT, Alvarez and Gálvez haven’t seen a similar change to their area. “There’s no dining experience like this in West Covina and La Puente,” says Alvarez. “It’s hard to find something a little more elevated. This is what our pop-up claims to be and we want to just give it to La Puente.”
This Sunday marks the first time the couple is doing a casual daytime menu called Campito, with brunch dishes like french toast and a smoked beef hash. In the past, dinner menus featured kimchi belly carnitas with a confit pork belly and kimchi salsa; grilled tiger shrimp with sweet corn pudding, garlic, and chili oil; and grilled octopus with chicharron, chile morita, garlic aioli, and arugula. Another crowd favorite was the crab alfredo with garlic and cured cod roe. Gálvez has a love for tequila and mezcal, and so Campo serves colorful cocktails with fresh ingredients.
Campo é Carbón seats between 30 to 50 people per event, complete with bussers, bartenders, and servers, and each attendee meets a host who escorts diners to assigned tables. This really does feel like a restaurant meal, but tucked into a wide Southern California backyard. There’s no set tasting menu, and diners can order a la carte with a $25 to $30 per person price range for lunch, and up to $60 for dinner. Reservations are not required Sunday from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. for the Campito daytime menu, though you can get the address and other information by dropping a direct message to them on Instagram. The next dinner service will be on March 19, which does require a reservation.
When developing the name, the pair went for something that felt personal to them. “Our food has a purpose,” says Gálvez. “First, Campo is my mom’s maiden name. ‘Campo’ also means fields. My family has a produce business and we love cooking with a lot of vegetables. Fields always played a big role in my life. Carbon means charcoal and we love to cook with fire. The name best represents what we’re doing.”
For more information about Campo é Carbón, check out the pop-up’s Instagram page.