Nick Olivas is making hard shell tacos at Gonzo. Photo courtesy of Gonzo.
There has never been a better time to find tacos in DC, thanks to the proliferation of new taquerias and pop-ups. But for California native Nick Olivas, Washington still lacks the kind of Mexi-Cali fare he grew up eating from takeout windows in the San Gabriel Valley. So the Little Pearl chef is launching Gonzo, a pop-up specializing in Los Angeles-style tacos and tortas. The first series will be held at Dupont Circle cocktail bar Astoria on Fridays and Saturdays from October 23 to October 31, available for takeout and dine-in.
“Mexican food in Los Angeles, for me, is usually something fried and crispy with cheese,” says Olivas. “It’s basically Taco Bell done right.”
Though Olivas is a former sous chef at two Michelin-star Pineapple and Pearls, you won’t find tweezers here. Hard shell tacos are stuffed with braised beef, “shredduce,” Colby Jack, and salsa rojo. Other comforting dishes include guacamole tostadas and crispy chicken milanesa sandwiches. Expect street food snacks such as Tajín-dusted mango and corn nuts sprinkled with worm salt — a spicy mixture of chilies and ground agave worms.
Drinks are masterminded by another Pineapple and Pearls alum, bartender Alex Davis, who worked with Astoria owner Devin Gong to create Cali-style cocktails. Offerings include a rum-based “I Like Tiki Drinks But I Don’t” made with passionfruit and locally-roasted Small Planes coffee, or classic watermelon margaritas. There are also low-and-no-ABV options like a smoked tepache kombucha, based on the fermented pineapple rind beverage sold by street vendors in Mexico.
Olivas says the pop-up is a deeply personal project—including the name, Gonzo. It’s an homage to Olivas’ brother who passed away last year and counted the father of gonzo journalism, Hunter S. Thompson, among his heroes. For Olivas, this pop-up is an opportunity to practice gonzo cooking, writing himself into the story of the food he creates.
“Comfort food is different for everybody, it’s a personal thing,” says Olivas. “I thought I’d do something that actually came from me—something that was more of a memory instead of a recipe.”
Gonzo at Astoria. 1521 7th St., NW. Open Friday and Saturday until October 31 from 11 AM to 1 PM.