Everybody loves tacos — there’s nothing not to like. So when it was announced that beloved actor Danny Trejo was opening a taco joint in Los Angeles, it was a shoo-in for success.
We couldn’t wait to try it. With its original location on La Brea Avenue, and an official Trejo’s Taco truck traveling all around town, it was exciting but not surprising to hear Trejo’s was already expanding and opening a second location in the heart of Hollywood. We would have kicked ourselves for missing this invite to the official opening and new menu celebration — especially with the restauranteur himself present. We weren’t sure he would live up to his reputation for being absolutely wonderful, but hopes were high.
And yes, Trejo can officially add successful restauranteur to his already impressive resume. The 72-year-old’s IMDB page reads like a short novel, with over 300 credits listed. Famous for playing a tough guy, with his numerous tattoos, scarred face and deep voice, he easily comes off as someone you don’t want to mess with. Of course, part of the mystique is the intense history: Trejo spent 11 years in and out of prison before he entered rehab — a decision and success that not only turned his life around but got him started in acting. It’s an incredible story, and not one he’s shy about owning, or telling.
A buddy from Cocaine Anonymous was worried about a possible relapse, so he called Trejo for help while working as a production assistant on “Runaway Train.” As fate would have it, one of the screenwriters of this film had done time with Trejo in San Quentin — Edward Bunker — and Trejo was hired as an extra. After the director saw his skill as a boxer, his role got bumped up to a guest-starring position as the guy who fights against actor Eric Roberts, and the rest is history. A story about so many paying-it-forward, coincidental kindnesses and close calls would be inspiring no matter what — but we also got Danny Trejo out of it. How do you even deal with that?
Run-ins in LA are common, of course, but not this particular feeling: Trejo’s mean-mug and signature mustache serve as the restaurant’s logo, so when he walked in it was a little surreal, like the cartoon on the door was coming alive.
The “Machete” star and “Breaking” baddie opening up a cute, family friendly, healthy restaurant… Maybe not out of character, but for sure fascinating. You want the story there. Dressed in all black, with a gold cross around his neck, Trejo casually posted up at the bar. Sipping the seasonal frescos agua — 50 years of sobriety under his belt — approaching him for an interview was quite intimidating. And he doesn’t exactly give off the “I enjoy chit-chat” vibe, even if you’ve heard every story about how friendly and cool he is.
The moment I approached, Trejo’s face broke out into a huge smile. This guy iconic for playing violent characters couldn’t have been more welcoming and friendly, like I was doing him a favor. Getting sidetracked all over the place in conversation, he mentioned I reminded him of “A young Linda Blair… Not the ‘Exorcist’ version!” he adds, after I was unable to hide my confused and hurt look. He insisted it was a compliment, and that he’s a big fan of Blair — he told me all about the animal rescue group he works on with her, The WorldHeart Foundation.
So, the man we love to watch murder and stab and machete people to death on the big and small screen: Saves puppies, secretly loves cauliflower tacos, and is as kind and humble as anyone could ever be.
When I asked to take a photo for this article, he was totally game to take one with mean gangster faces. While we did take a bunch with normal smiling faces, he looked at the last shot and said, “That’s the one.” Who am I to argue?
As for the restaurant itself, the indoor/outdoor space has a hometown cantina vibe. In addition to over 30 beers on draft, various types of margaritas and wine, the extensive menu serves everything from vegan tostadas to tacos with carnitas and grilled pineapple. There are gluten-free options and the stellar dessert menu includes warm cinnamon-sugared churros with Mexican chocolate dipping sauce, which goes perfect with their date-sweetened horchata. The food is really delicious. You can tell how mindful he and his team are about every single thing.
What inspired you to open a restaurant in the first place?
Danny Trejo: This was one of my mom’s dreams — but my dad was like Mexican Archie Bunker, so every time we’d talk about a restaurant, he was like, “We’ve got a kitchen right there!”
Favorite thing on the menu?
The brisket tacos. The brisket is marinated for like 8 hours. It’s really tender. I liked brisket always, but we have this secret ninja sauce… That we can’t talk about… But it’s unbelievable.
Where did these recipes come from?
I discussed my mom’s recipes with the chef and they critiqued them. Because in the 50s, Latins used to cook with lard! We’re trying to get healthy food going, ya know? It’s really awesome.
Who does the cooking in your family?
Cooking? I eat here! I say, ‘ Come on, Let’s go out to dinner.’
What do most people recognize you from?
I did a series of movies called “Spy Kids.” I did them 10 years ago. So now all these guys are like 20 years old and they’re like “Hey!”
All your famous friends eating here, too?
We’ve got some pretty big celebrities, come in all the time…
Who’s your favorite coworker to grab dinner with?
My favorite actor of all time would be Robert DeNiro. Nicest guy in the world. He’s so down to Earth. I think he’s the only in the world that doesn’t know he’s Robert DeNiro. A friend of mine, Eddie Bunker [after “Runaway Train,” they also worked on “Heat” and “Animal Kingdom” together, before Bunker’s death in 2005] once said, “The whole world can think you’re a movie star, but you can’t.”
It’s really words to live by. The people I really gravitate towards are people that understand that. We’re no different.
I wasn’t sure what I was in for. Restaurant openings and events can be bedlam, and you wouldn’t blame somebody in that position — wearing at least two hats, more like five — for trying to budget their time. But Trejo is more than down-to-earth, he’s rooted in it. It’s given me a lot to think about, in the hours and days since.
You have to fight, sometimes very hard, to love yourself that much: Enough to save yourself, enough to have the kind of generosity with others that I saw. Danny Trejo may not think he’s a movie star — much less a hero — but that doesn’t mean we can’t. He’s both.