La Querencia is run by Miguel Angel Guerrero, a fourth-generation Baja Mexican who hunts for quail, duck and deer and decorates his restaurants with the spoils of his hunting trips. (He’s the one wearing camo.) When we arrived, Guerrero had recently shot a deer, and he served us a luscious venison tartare drenched with olive oil, chile and the Mexican specialty escamoles—ant eggs—which are little white orbs with a mild, nutty taste.
When Esparza and his chef friends start to talk, the conversation inevitably drifts away from the high-end to what’s happening on the street. “Street-food culture is just a lot more honest,” Esparza says. After dinner at Misión 19, Plascencia and Esparza trade details about their latest taco find in an obscure neighborhood. Here, innovation starts at the bottom and trickles up—not the other way around.
To demonstrate exactly what he means, Esparza takes me to one of his favorite new spots: Takesos y Papas, a taco stall inside the food court of a local mall. The chef here, Marcos Flores Luna, is from Puebla and specializes in extra-silky salsas that are emulsified with egg whites and tacos that mix savory and sweet flavors. While we watch, Flores expertly griddles cheese until it’s crisp, then stuffs it with shrimp, wraps it all in a tortilla and covers the dish with a tart-sweet, raspberry-strawberry-mango salsa. The salmon, shrimp and jalapeño taco is plated with unusual elegance, the sliced avocado fanned out on top and the salsa applied with a light hand. Esparza declares that L.A. taco stands “can’t even come close to this.”