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Between their heavy metal aesthetic and bold taco lineup, Evil Cooks is not your typical mom and pop taquería. That’s because its owners, Alex “Pobre Diablo” Garcia and Elvia “La Bruja” Huerta, aren’t your typical chefs.
Garcia originally started Evil Cooks in 2016 as a t-shirt brand while working as a chef at a local Chicano food truck. Bored with the structure and office work that came with the chef title, he saw Evil Cooks as a creative outlet where he could express himself again, drawing inspiration from the bands of his youth.
His Instagram posts caught the eye of Huerta, a classically trained chef and his future wife, the next year. After she slid into his DMs, the two connected over their passion for food and freedom of expression. They started toying with the idea of expanding the Evil Cooks brand into the culinary world. With encouragement from Garcia’s clients and friends, the two decided to quit their jobs and go for it.
“I got a tattoo in between my knuckles that says ‘Evil Cook.’ I wanted to be a cook again, to put my hands into food,” said Garcia. “The chef gets the recognition, but the cooks are the ones doing the job and putting their heart into the plate. I didn’t want to be a chef anymore, I wanted to be a cook for life.”
It was a big gamble leaving their regular paychecks with no safety net to catch them. They started off small, buying equipment a piece at a time as they took on catering gigs and pop ups at local family-owned breweries and markets.
While it was tough to get in places at first, little by little, they built up their reputation. As word spread, they started to get more and more gigs and even invites to their dream job: catering at music festivals. Now, Evil Cooks (and their iconic black van featuring their devilish mascot, Zeke) is famous all across L.A.
While Evil Cooks draw a lot of their inspiration from metal and rock music, there’s one influence that’s even stronger: nostalgia.
Growing up as a kid in Mexico, Garcia worked on the streets of Querétaro selling pan dulces and whatever else he could, dreaming of one day having his own business. With Evil Cooks, he wanted to get back to these roots and bring the nostalgia of Mexican street food vendors to fellow first-generation Mexican-Americans.
“I started to cook Mexican food from memory, recreating whatever I tasted as a kid, what I tasted on our street food crawls. Then we put our own ‘evil twist’ on it, do something crazy with it,” Garcia said. “We don’t cook really authentic, but somehow we do.”
The creative duo has made tacos with a lot of unusual ingredients over the years, like flan, pho, venison, shark, octopus and even chow mein. As a self-taught cook, Garcia cooks by feel and breaks a lot of rules while Huerta leans on her classically-trained background to ensure everything is well planned and there’s little room for error. Together, their unique styles have led them to put out some killer hits.
Although they started out creating new menus for every event, they’ve now developed a set list of favorites that have made them famous across L.A. Like their black al pastor tacos.
While black al pastor tacos were originally invented by Yukatán chef Roberto Solis, Garcia and Huerta were the first to bring the dish to the U.S. They actually contacted the chef to ask for his blessing before borrowing a recipe from Garcia’s stepdad to start playing around with and make their own.
While traditional al pastor tacos use pork marinated in an adobo made of dried red chilies, spices and vinegar, black al pastor tacos use a recado negro made of chilies, spices and cacao cooked using a Mayan technique which involves burning chilies into a paste and flavoring it with spices.
“We get a lot of traditional people that don't believe in it. But they taste it, and then ask for as many as they can eat,” Garcia said. “That’s what we like. We love to change people’s mindset. Even al pastor wasn’t traditional at some point—let’s open our minds to new things.”
“We want to be innovators and give people a different experience,” Huerta added. “I hope we inspire people to do different things and not be scared of the outcome, because people will love it.”
As for what’s next for Evil Cooks? Don’t expect this popular pirate kitchen to settle down anytime soon. While they’ve had a number of investors approach them with offers to help them open a restaurant, they’ve turned them all down.
“We go wherever the wind takes us, but one thing is for sure,” said Garcia. “Evil Cooks belongs to the streets, and it’s going to stay there forever.”
On the first episode of our new season of Todos Los Tacos, we explore the diverse offerings of the New York taco scene.