Photo By Rush Varela
It seems that 510 South Broadway has always housed a Mexican restaurant, or at least a restaurant serving Mexican-like food. It was once home to El Huarache Veloz, a local chain known as much for its authentic antojitos as for its sluggish service. Before that, it was a Taco Bell, a fast-food empire built around cheap eats that taste even cheaper. But with Mezcalero, 5th and Broadway finally has the taqueria – and mezcaleria – it deserves.
Mezcalero opened its doors in December 2016, bringing a cornucopia of mezcals, tequilas, inspired cocktails, and elevated Mexican street fare to Downtown’s historic core. It’s helmed by Jay Krymis, a serial restaurateur whose frenetic energy and irrepressible enthusiasm for food and drink are contagious.
Krymis has been a fixture of the Southern California restaurant scene for the better part of 18 years, and he’s proven himself an adventurous entrepreneur. He owns Padre, a Latin American gastropub in Downtown Long Beach, as well as the decadent but appropriately named Fubar in West Hollywood. (If you’re unfamiliar with the WeHo bar, or if WWII-era military slang isn’t your forte, look it up. You’ll see what I mean). He also co-founded the Hollywood hotspots Saint Felix, the Powder Room, and the now defunct 66. Mezcalero represents his first foray into Downtown LA.
“I wanted to get into Downtown for a long time,” says Krymis. “With the success of the place [Padre] in Long Beach, I knew I wanted to do a Latin American place. I love the cuisine and I have a passion for it.”
But the challenge for Krymis was finding a way to bring a unique spin to LA’s most iconic cuisine. “There’s a million taco joints in Downtown LA, I wanted to do something unique.
Enter Iian Walling, Mezcalero’s most welcoming manager and his inventive beverage director, Nathan McCullough who Krymis describes as “a geek when it comes to tequila and mezcal.” The two met when Krymis recruited McCullough to overhaul Padre’s bar program. McCullough, a passionate advocate of craft cocktails and agave spirits, had to convince a skeptical Krymis to venture into unfamiliar territory.
“I’ve always kind of hemmed and hawed about all of it,” says Krymis of the craft cocktail movement. “Until I met Nathan. He’s just so passionate about it, he got me passionate it about it.”
So when McCullough suggested a bar focused around agave spirits and cocktails that incorporate savory Mexican flavors, Krymis was quick to give his stamp of approval. “I wanted to do Mexican cuisine and Nathan wanted to do this mezcal concept, so together we decided ‘let’s just do this.”
And Mezcalero delivers brilliantly on both fronts. The agave theme is on full display behind the bar, where a towering wall of mezcal and tequila occupies most of the back-bar. The menu lists upwards of eighty agave spirits, but Krymis says it’s in the hundreds, with tasting flights available to agave-enthusiasts eager to sample them all.
For those who prefer their libations shaken or stirred, Mezcalero’s specialty cocktails are not to be missed. The savory flavors of Mexican cuisine figure prominently in these agave-forward drinks. Corn-infused mezcal, burnt tortilla syrup, and tinctures made from hoja santa (an aromatic herb frequently found in Oaxacan moles), are just a few of the imaginative ingredients that find their way into McCullough’s artfully assembled, compulsively drinkable concoctions.
More adventurous tipplers can ask the bartender for the farm-to-glass cocktail, an ever-changing melange of fresh ingredients gathered from Mexican bodegas and the local farmer’s market. This might include cactus and chipotle syrup one day, huitlacoche-infused mezcal the next.
Krymis is quick to point out that Mezcalero’s drink menu has something for everyone. “We’re not pigeonholing ourselves,” he notes. “It’s not only mezcal and tequila. We have everything.” For the agave-weary, the menu includes a tiki-inspired rum drink along with an assortment of gin, whiskey, and vodka cocktails. There’s also a respectable selection of beer and wine.
And then there’s the food.
“I had to keep it simple,” says Krymis of Mezcalero’s food menu, which is limited to a medley of tacos and a small handful of antojitos. “There are times I’ll have to close the kitchen down, so it was out of necessity. It’s the challenge of opening up in a building that’s still under construction.” Opting for quality over quantity, Krymis instructed his kitchen to “just make them the most kick ass tacos that you can.” And the kitchen complied. From tender, juicy carne asada to succulent nopalitos, Mezcalero offers the meat-minded and the meat-averse a range of options guaranteed to delight the palate.
So what’s next for Krymis and company? There are immediate plans to expand Mezcalero’s food menu. “I didn’t know if we’d be more cocktail heavy or if people would want eat here. People want eat, so we have to expand the menu,” explains Krymis. “We’re constantly trying new tacos and encouraging the chef Hector Garcia, to be creative with it. We haven’t taken a lot of chances yet, but we will be.”
Krymis and McCullough are also bringing Mezcalero to Long Beach. “I have this upstairs at Padre that’s underutilized,” explains Krymis. “We use it for parties and special events, but there are times when it’s not utilized.” This second floor space is currently being renovated to meet the unique demands of Mezcalero’s bar program.
And with restaurant space already secured on 7th and Los Angeles, Mezcalero might be Krymis’s first DTLA venture, but if all goes according to plan it won’t be his last. 510 S. Broadway, LA, CA 90013.