The SoCal native, tough-guy actor, and taco titan shares stories and tasty recipes that you'll love.
No one loves Los Angeles more than Danny Trejo. Born in Echo Park and raised in Pacoima, where he still lives, the 76-year-old character actor (Spy Kids, Desperado, Heat) launched his local restaurant chain, Trejo’s Tacos, in 2016. It quickly became a local institution, and his cookbook, Trejo’s Tacos: Recipes and Stories from L.A., came out this spring.
It’s a mouthwatering love letter to his hometown, where he made it big after a decade in and out of prison (including a stint at San Quentin).
“I think tacos are spelled L-O-V-E!” says Trejo. In Trejo’s Tacos, he serves up plenty of that in juicy anecdotes and 75 big-flavor recipes that he describes as “a crazy mash-up of the sometimes healthy, Mexican-adjacent, vegan-ish, always delicious food we serve at Trejo’s.”
We caught up with Trejo to dish about his new book, his favorite taco joints, and how he’ll celebrate Father’s Day.
His culinary inspiration: His mom, Alice Rivera. “I can remember her planning meals,” Trejo recalls. “She’d have these great meals at the first of the month, but going close to the end of the month, when money was running out, we’d have Out of the Cupboard this or Suck It Up and Eat It that. She was inventive!”
On what makes an L.A.-style taco unique: Nothing is off-limits, and while working on Hollywood sets Trejo learned that nearly everyone has a special dietary requirement, from gluten-free to vegan to keto. Both his cookbook and restaurant feature something for everyone at the table, from traditional favorites such as carne asada, carnitas, and barbacoa, to hearty vegan offerings filled with jackfruit, cauliflower, or mushrooms.
His favorites: “Don’t tell anyone,” he chuckles, “but I love a cauliflower taco.” He’s in good company–the late Anthony Bourdain was also a fan. Another favorite: the blackened salmon taco. “It’s delicious,” he boasts. “I never, ever liked salmon until I had one.” (Recipes for both are in the cookbook.)
His secret sauce for success: “The only way a person can reach success is having a great support system, and I thank God for the people I have supporting me,” says Trejo. “I get the credit, but it’s really the staff, the people you see every time you walk into the restaurant.”
Father’s Day fun: Trejo enjoys celebrating with three of his grown children, Danielle, Gilbert, and Danny Boy. “We all just get together, and, ‘Happy Father’s Day!’” he says. “I don’t like presents—from them. You can’t get me anything I need, so I just love having them around. They’ll cook everything and bring it over. Now, this one we might have do on Zoom.”
Favorite local eateries: “I very rarely eat fast food,” says Trejo. “I like to eat healthy.” But when he wants to indulge, he heads to Los Tres Hermanos (9504 Sepulveda Boulevard, North Hills; 818-893-8532; lostreshermanos.com) or La Cocinita (13178 Van Nuys Boulevard, Pacoima; 818-896-6965). He also digs the hot cakes at Du-par’s at the Original Farmers Market (6333 W. Third Street, Los Angeles; 323-933-8446; dupars.net) and chicken potpie at Musso and Frank Grill (6667 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood; 323-467-7788; mussoandfrank.com).
Beloved L.A. landmarks: The Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, Muscle Beach in Venice, and Chubby’s Automotive in Sylmar, which he touts as “one of the best mechanics around.”
Hometown hero: Trejo’s history is so intertwined with Pacoima that he’s featured in a mural by artist Levi Ponce on Mural Mile (13403 Van Nuys Boulevard, Pacoima). “When they unveiled the mural of me [in 2011], there was a ceremony and I brought my mom,” he recalls in the book. “She couldn’t help but remind me that I’d been arrested for selling drugs at the taco stand right across the way.”
Next big project: He’s the subject of the new documentary Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo (streaming digitally July 7). It traces his journey from his tough childhood, drug addiction, and prison to finding new purpose as a drug counselor and, ultimately, movie stardom (“Inmate #1” refers to his early roles).
Must-have membership: “I gotta give a shout-out to AAA. It’s saved my life numerous times. All three of my children have AAA, and their mother has AAA.”