When Vartan Abgaryan’s business partners wanted to open a Mexican restaurant in Venice, the Armenian American chef had to call for backup.
“I’ve been in L.A. for 30 years. I’ve eaten Mexican food for 30 years. But it’s a different thing growing up with it in your family,” says 38-year-old Abgaryan. So he turned to a young Mexican American chef he’d known for years: 31-year-old Mesraim Llanez.
The result of their collaboration is Nueva, a cheery neighborhood cantina with a spacious patio and a menu of Mexican dishes with Middle Eastern moments. In addition to the traditional ceviches Llanez fondly remembers eating on the beach with his family while growing up in Southern California, there’s a taco with black bean falafel, branzino topped with red mole and olive tapenade, and a brunch combo of huevos rancheros and shakshouka.
“The spice profiles work really well together,” Abgaryan says. “The Middle Eastern palate really likes the herb-driven, the acid-driven, the spice-driven. The Mexican palate is very similar.”
“There’s a huge Middle Eastern community in Mexico City,” Llanez adds. “The trompo”—the vertical rotating spit—“for al pastor came from the Middle East.”
Seeing an ambitious project through during the pandemic has been challenging and emotional. Last year Abgaryan opened Yours Truly to much acclaim, but the restaurant has been closed, for the most part, since March. “It’s a bit bittersweet,” says Abgaryan, adding that he plans to reopen soon. And he and Llanez are heartened by how many Venice folk have come out to eat at Nueva in spite of everything. On some weekend days, when they serve both brunch and dinner, they’ve had as many as 600 customers come through the restaurant.
“We’re meant to feed the neighborhood,” says Llanez. “And that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
822 Washington Blvd., Venice, nuevavenice.com.
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