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Tacos Negros: ‘Where Soul and the Tortilla Meet’

Inside of Alisa Reynolds restaurant on Pico Boulevard, My Two Cents, hangs a Vision Board. Amongst the list of goals written up, one word remained untouched for three years; that word was “Tacos.” 

It would take a business-crushing pandemic for Reynolds to find herself sitting in her empty restaurant, staring at her vision board once again, and think to herself, “My restaurant is going to close, we’re not doing any business, so what if I made tacos with a soul food touch to bring people together? After all, we’re all on this tortilla together.” 

That’s when Reynold crossed out tacos from her vision board and created Tacos Negros. In the last couple of months, this new innovative taco concept has grown to take over the restaurant space. Pushing My Two Cents’ core menu made up of costly ingredients that go into her seafood gumbo and crab fritters to only be offered on weekends, and effectively saving Reynold’s business in the process. 

Cornmeal catfish taco at Tacos Negros. All photos by Memo Torres

“I love it because I’m an L.A. girl. I’ve been obsessed with tacos growing up. Even as a child I would always have a taco as a snack at home,” Reynolds, a Black woman who grew up in Koreatown and went to school on the Westside, tells L.A. Taco. “We wanted to keep it thoughtful so that we don’t step on anyone else’s toes and we could create our own lane.” 

“I want to expand on this whole diaspora of Latins and Black people in America getting together and eating tacos because I could eat a hundred thousand of them, I love them. My dad was obsessed with Mexico and Mexican food. Tacos are born in me. I mean, we ARE in Mexico really.”

Tacos Negros makes everything from scratch including salsas, mixes, sour creams with healthy non-GMO, and gluten-free ingredients. The only thing they don’t make from scratch, yet, are the tortillas. Although she mentioned she’ll be experimenting with black charcoal dough from Italy and she is looking for a better tortilla source in L.A. 

“It’s all about Black and Brown people, learning Spanish, and talking to each other and building a huge coalition in business and relationship.”

The first and most popular taco they serve was ported over from the My Two Cents menu; the Oxtail taco. It’s braised for nine hours until the meat falls off the bone with rosemary, fresh garlic, a soul food rub, and orange juice. The result is a barbacoa-like guisado with a gentle, meaty texture. It is topped with a whiskey reduction, red onion, roasted tomato, and shredded raw kale for some crunch.

Oxtail taco at Tacos Negros.

From there she went on to create an interesting menu of tacos including a bacalao taco, a stew made from salted cod and potatoes. It’s a “Puerto Rican vibe” as Reynold’s says, inspired from her time living in New York while she was training under esteemed Chef David Burke, a James Beard Award recipient, and Top Chef Master. The bacalao is more of a tostada, served on a small fried tortilla which gives it that added crunch to complement the smooth taste and texture of flavors blended into the salted cod and potato stew. It’s topped off with a garnish of diced cabbage, radish, and cilantro that adds a crisp and fresh finish to the bite. 

Bacalao tostada at Tacos Negros.

Reynold’s approach to tacos is to bring together all the different soul and Latin flavors she’s learned while living with different families throughout her nomadic career. She’s learned to make Puerto Rican food from her time in New York, where she also learned to make Dominican food while living with a Dominican family. She has spent time in Cuba, Italy, Paris, and Germany honing her craft. 

She tells L.A. Taco, “I want to expand on this whole diaspora of Latins and Black people in America getting together and eating tacos because I could eat a hundred thousand of them, I love them. My dad was obsessed with Mexico and Mexican food. Tacos are born in me. I mean, we ARE in Mexico really.”

Cuban arroz con pollo burrito at Tacos Negros.

It’s a vision you can see reflected judiciously on the Tacos Negros menu. Like the sweet and spicy agave-shrimp, Jamaican jerk inspired taco over a small slather of cooked pineapple sauce drizzled with another vibrantly green sauce. A grilled catfish taco is rubbed and covered in one layer of breading made out of gluten-free cornmeal for a thin crispy texture placed on a spread of remoulade hot salsa that’s similar to a sweeter tartar sauce and topped with red slaw. If the crab cake, BBQ chicken, and ground turkey and cheese tacos aren’t enough, the Cuban arroz con pollo burrito will slay any hunger.

The next item Reynold’s is hoping to cross off on her vision board is to collaborate with other taqueros and taqueras around the city. “For me,” she tells L.A. Taco, “It’s all about Black and Brown people, learning Spanish, and talking to each other and building a huge coalition in business and relationship.”