Maybe Danny Trejo’s name doesn’t ring a bell. But you might recognize him — as Machete in the “Spy Kids” movies, Razor Charlie in “From Dusk Until Dawn,” or characters listed in film credits as “bad guy #1`,” “scary guy #2 or “tough guy #3.”
In recent years, the prolific actor’s craggy, mustached visage has also become the face of a successful Los Angeles restaurant group that specializes in California-inspired tacos and doughnuts. “Trejo’s Tacos is no vanity project,” he insists in the introduction to his new cookbook, “Trejo’s Tacos: Recipes and Stories from L.A.” (Clarkson Potter, $26). “It’s a love letter to L.A.,” he writes.
Trejo’s life story of growing up in a working-class Latino family in Los Angeles seems made for Hollywood. After doing prison time for drugs and armed robbery in the 1960s, he got clean, became a drug and Alcoholics Anonymous counselor, and went on to win some boxing championships. A gig training actor Eric Roberts to punch landed Trejo a role as a fighter in the 1980s movie “Runaway Train.”
Some 300 films later, he got to talking food with a producer, who suggested he start a restaurant. Trejo’s Tacos is rooted in his mom’s traditional Mexican cooking, but geared to a health-seeking Hollywood crowd who’d find nothing weird about wrapping falafel in a tortilla.
I didn’t miss the meat in Mushroom Asada Tacos with Salsa Verde and Pepita Pesto. Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Red Chimichurri was another hit. And Blackened Salmon Bowls provided fixings for several meals.
Sauces, fillings and sides are broken down into simple components for mixing and matching, while splurges such as Margarita Donuts and Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies stand on their own.
In cooking, as in acting, Trejo notes that “sometimes you need to stick to the script and sometimes you can improvise.” In these pages, there is ample opportunity to do both.
Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.
Mushroom Asada Tacos
These tacos are a vegan variation of the classic Carne Asada, also included in “Trejos Tacos.” The multi-layered filling is meaty-tasting, well-balanced, and deeply satisfying. Leftover Pepita Pesto is great tossed in rice or roasted potatoes, or as a topping for most any plain protein. To save time, I used store-bought green salsa instead of the Salsa Verde presented here.
All three recipes are reprinted from “Trejos Tacos: Recipes and Stories from L.A.” by Danny Trejo and Larchmont Hospitality Group LLC (Potter, $26).
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