How Wes Avila is redefining the taco taxonomy of his native Los Angeles.

By Chris Hughes
January 04, 2018
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Dylan + Jeni 

Strip away the toques and tweezers, and the reality of working in fine dining can be far from glamorous. Just ask Wes Avila, who, like many haute-cuisine practitioners, worked multiple jobs as he toiled in some of the most acclaimed kitchens in France and California. 

That reality is why, during a particularly fallow period, Avila decided to gamble. After draining the last $167 in his bank account, Avila stocked a rolling buffet cart left over from a family birthday party and illegally set up shop in front of a Los Angeles Arts District coffee shop, where he peddled tacos and tostadas under the apt moniker Guerrilla Tacos. 

From the start, this wasn’t standard taquero fare. Steak and chicken might have made an early appearance at Avila’s curbside pop-up, but they were swiftly usurped by ingredients like uni and oxtail. Heirloom corn tortillas became a “blank canvas,” he says, for dishes that were every bit as stunning as those plated at his day job. “We were approaching high-quality ingredients the same way I did in those kitchens, those temples of gastronomy,” he says. “We just did it without the pretense.”

Related: How to Make Chicken Wonton Tacos:

After being shut down by the city and converting to a licensed food truck, Avila became even more ambitious. Tapping into his experience under vegetable virtuoso Gary Menes at Le Comptoir, Avila applied French techniques to seasonal produce and esoteric offcuts. Offerings like his roasted-eggplant taco even drew the attention of renowned Los Angeles Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold, whose gushing review made Avila the darling of taco-mad Southern California. 

Now, with a recently released cookbook and a brick-and-mortar location on the horizon, Avila is preparing to retire his mobile ways. But that doesn’t mean that Guerrilla Tacos is abandoning the subversive instincts that have forever changed Mexican street food in L.A.  

“I’m never going to rest on my laurels,” Avila says. “That’s how you get stale and jaded. I’m going to continue to evolve.” 

Meet Wes

Age: 37

Famous mentors: Alain Ducasse (le Meurice), Gary Menes (Le Comptoir), Walter Manzke (République)

Favorite chiles: Chile de arbol, serrano, habanero 

Underrated appliance: A microwave. “At home, I use it to cook pumpkin or sweet potato. It actually intensifies the flavor.”

Photo: Jennifer Causey; Prop Styling: Claire Spollen; Food Styling: Chelsea Zimmer

Make His Recipe

Avila’s inventive techniques shine through in this combination of roasted Japanese eggplant, salty halloumi—the Cypriot grilling cheese—and toasted hazelnuts, which the chef says lends the “necessary crunch” imperative in any successful taco.