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10 years ago, gourmet food trucks were the hottest thing thanks to Roy Choi’s Kogi BBQ and that emerging social media platform, Twitter. Today’s trailblazing Angeleno gourmet wants an even more intimate and exclusive experience. For them, there’s guerilla dining: restaurants that are only available to those in-the-know on Instagram or via word of mouth.
Chef Keith Garrett’s All Flavor No Grease is one of the original guerilla dining establishments. He started selling straight off the grill from his backyard in Watts. His quesadillas are the perfect blend of gooey and crisp, with fresh pico de gallo and savory, full-flavored meat (shrimp, chicken, or beef) mingling with melty cheese. Thanks to Instagram (@allflavornogrease) and pure deliciousness, he built his business through word of mouth. AFNG is a veritable empire, with food trucks, multiple locations, and Postmates delivery options. But still, the best way to get a piece of these quesadillas is to be among the 128,000-plus to follow Keith on Instagram and track his latest opening.
If intimate and exclusive is more your style, Wolvesmouth, a pop-up dinner project from Chef Craig Thornton, might be the ticket.
There’s no menu on tap, but if you’re one of the lucky few attendees, you’ll be treated to a small, personal dinner party in a lovingly designed atmosphere (the where is a closely guarded secret) where a few new friends will share stories, BYO beverages, and a series of innovative dishes that play on themes of colors, unexpected flavor combinations, and a variety of textures. If you’d like to whet your appetite, you can visit Instagram (@wolvesmouth) and see highlights from previous dinners. Getting a spot at the table, though, is a bit more difficult. The Wolvesmouth mailing list allows you to be privy to the times and dates of upcoming dinners, but the closest you can get to making a reservation is emailing your request in. With hundreds of people vying for just 10 spots per seating, what brings someone to the top of the list is anyone’s guess.
Where Wolvesmouth thrives through a cloak of mystery, The Ceviche Project operates on the scarcity principle. Every so often, Chef Octavio Olivas, a lawyer by trade whose passion is ceviche, will announce a new meal hosted at a hip L.A. locale like the Mondrian Hotel.
The menu features ceviche made with fresh fish and oysters and beautiful, locally-sourced citrus. His dishes are feasts for the eyes as well as the stomach. Chef Olivas’ passion bleeds through on his Instagram account (@cevicheproject), where he’s constantly documenting the ceviche he’s eating, the fish and fruit he gets to cook with, and, most importantly, when you can enjoy his next dinner or brunch party.
Trudy’s Underground BBQ, located in Studio City, is another side-hustle restaurant, but its ethos is more towards All Flavor No Grease’s backyard barbecue. Literally.
Chef Burt Bakman, originally from Israel, works in real estate during the week. In his free time, he’s perfecting the art of smoking meat, especially brisket. He posts pictures of the mouth-watering finished product, sometimes alongside Israeli specialties like shakshuka or hummus (with brisket on top, natch) on Instagram (@trudys_underground_barbecue). You can be one of the few to try the meat that has proven to many a Texas and Kansas City transplant there’s such a thing as good barbecue in Los Angeles by messaging Burt on Instagram for orders. But you have to be quick. The meat tastes as good as it looks and it sells out fast.
While Instagram ordering and secret mailing lists might be underground enough for some, there are others who want an even more exclusive experience. If that’s you, how about finding a backyard restaurant in the real world?
Enrique and Rosalba make amazing tacos in their Highland Park driveway at Avenue 57 and Omaha. The only indication of their restaurant’s existence is a hand-lettered poster tied to a telephone pole: Tacos $1, with a list of the different kinds of meat you can get—chorizo, pollo, asada, al pastor, and birria, a.k.a. goat. At the end of the driveway, Enrique stands behind the grill while Rosalba takes your order. No matter what kind of taco you get, the meat is lovingly seasoned, savory with a piquant bite. An array of toppings sit on a plastic folding table for the taking: cilantro, onions, lime, radish, fresh guacamole, salsa verde, and a spicy salsa roja. And don’t forget to say yes to the grilled green onions Enrique offers. Then, take a seat and enjoy as a steady stream of customers come in and out all night on weekends.
Los Angeles is a city of dreamers and innovators. These guerilla chefs are no exception. They’ve created a new type of restaurant, one where passion and excellent flavors count the most, more than a fancy name or trendy promoter. If you want this experience first-hand, the next time you want a meal out, browse through Instagram or take a walk around your neighborhood. You might just stumble upon the best food you’ve never expected to have.