For about a month this past fall, the stylish patio at Enrique Olvera’s Arts District restaurant, Damian, was L.A.’s buzziest place to dine. But when the county banned outdoor dining in November, the acclaimed chef from Mexico City knew he needed to put dishes like a $21 uni tostada and the $46 albacore carnitas on the back burner. It was time to start selling $8 beef tacos from a window.
Olvera announced Damian’s temporary closure on November 26. A week later, he opened a back-alley taqueria called Ditroit behind the restaurant. “It will definitely evolve,” says Olvera, who unveiled the concept before figuring out what he would eventually cook on the taqueria’s rotating spit. “This is something I put together quickly so we could keep having income. It’s an effort to keep some people working.”
Chef Jesus “Chuy” Cervantes is running the kitchen day-to-day. “It’s the same thought process as our Damian menu,” Cervantes says. “We’re very much respectful of classic Mexican techniques and traditions, but we’re also trying to stay as local as possible and be supportive of the farmers in California. Ditroit just allows us to be a little more playful and a little more rustic.”
Olvera and Cervantes’s team is making 500 to 1,000 fresh tortillas daily for the taqueria. The process involves nixtamalizing heirloom corn nightly and then grinding the kernels at 7 each morning. “The most important part is the tortilla,” says Cervantes.
Complex salsas are also central to the taqueria’s offerings. “I want to pay special attention to not only levels of spiciness but also completely different flavor profiles,” says Olvera, whose favorite salsa is the guacachile, a bright, creamy green sauce of jalapeños and güero chiles that adds a pleasant jolt of heat to beef tacos.
Beyond tacos, Ditroit debuted with flautas, tamales, amaranth horchata, paletas, churros, cocktails, bottles of wine from Damian, jarred salsas, and even fresh masa to take home.
But one recent week, guests were in no hurry to head back to their houses, even though Ditroit’s outdoor seating was off-limits. Customers lingered in the big parking lot as they ate and drank out of their trunks and laughed and talked with strangers who were doing exactly the same thing 20 feet away. Like pretty much everything else involving the restaurant industry the past few months, this wasn’t the original plan.
Olvera and Cervantes are still sorting things out, but Ditroit is already a great time. “At the end of the day,” Cervantes says, “I think making tacos is what most of us like to do anyway.”
2117 Violet St., Arts District, ditroitdtla.com.
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