Features 1 minute 23 January 2024

Chef Victor Villa Goes From Humble Street Eats to a Bib Gourmand

Taco Tuesday anyone?

Tucked away in the corner of a small, unassuming strip mall in Los Angeles’ Highland Park neighborhood, Villa’s Tacos is quickly making a name for itself.

The spot opened about a year ago, in February 2023, and in less than six months, it received a Michelin Bib Gourmand. It’s not hard to see why.

When I drove up to the restaurant at 3pm the day before New Year’s Eve – a bit late for lunch and early for dinner – there was a line out the door, but the incredible smells and buzzing line indicated that the wait would be worth it.

I quickly felt at home after being greeted by upbeat employees and a bright neon sign featuring a smiling walking taco wearing a Dodgers hat. Under the glowing sign, employees poured homemade cucumber-lime agua fresca, squeezed fresh lemon juice and cut ripe avocados for guacamole.

Chef Victor Villa tied the whole experience together, walking down the line of customers and fist-bumping each and every hungry and eager guest as they anticipated the culinary experience ahead of them.

Memo Torres
Memo Torres

While Villa’s Tacos now has a beloved and thriving storefront, it took Chef Victor four years of street vending – and selling pickup orders from his grandma’s backyard during the pandemic – to get to where he is today, and he doesn’t take it for granted. In fact, he’s gone out of his way to create a unique culture for both his staff and diners, setting the groundwork for a fun and unique environment in a particularly small space that only has outdoor seating.

While you’re waiting in line, be sure to soak in the sights and sounds. As lively music plays through the speakers, you'll spot a collage of beaming customers enjoying their tacos, an impressive salsa and toppings bar, a refrigerator with drinks and a merch section lining the front window.

Memo Torres
Memo Torres

Villa’s Tacos has an impressively simple yet creative menu that includes vegan options like a grilled “soyrizo” taco with pineapple and onion and a signature queso taco with onion, cilantro, guacamole, Cotija cheese and crema Mexicana.

Chef Victor is particularly proud of the ingredients he uses. “It was pretty much like a symphony – different instruments that are even better together than they are individually,” he said, and he knows that every detail matters, including the salsa bar.

“The salsa bar had to be vibrant. It had to be fresh,” Villa said. “My dad would always tell me growing up, if you go to a restaurant and their salsa isn’t good, chances are the tacos aren’t going to be good,” he added. “But if you go to a restaurant, and the salsa is on fire – it's delicious, it's smoky, it’s everything you want in a salsa – then chances are, the food's going to be delicious.”

Chef Victor says he doesn’t believe in shortcuts, and it’s paying off. “I started with the goal to make the best taco I could possibly make – and that’s exactly what I did,” he said, adding that both the food and his staff are improving every day. “Every day, we get a little better and better,” he said. “And thank God, there’s more and more people coming.”

Memo Torres
Memo Torres

Hero image: Memo Torres

Keep Exploring - Stories we think you will enjoy reading