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Talking tacos with Los Angeles star Danny Trejo

Danny Trejo at his restaurant Danny Trejo at Trejo’s Tacos. | Photo by Ed Anderson

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.”

Carne Asada

Yield: 8 servings

“Carne asada is one of my all-time favorite dishes,” writes Trejo in his cookbook. “It’s easy to make, it uses affordable cuts of meat, and it’s delicious.” The marinade includes his secret ingredient: soy sauce. While not a traditional Mexican ingredient, it adds deep flavor. At Trejo’s Tacos, it is served on tacos (as shown here), in burritos, and in bowls with rice and black beans. Trejo also uses this delicious marinade to make sautéed mushrooms for a vegan version.

Danny Trejo's carne asada tacos. | Photo by Ed Anderson

Danny Trejo's carne asada tacos. | Photo by Ed Anderson

Ingredients

  • ½ large white onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, plus 2 tablespoons sauce
  • 2 medium jalapeños, roughly chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
  • ¾ cup orange juice (preferably fresh)
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 3 pounds flank, flap, or skirt steak

Directions

Combine all ingredients except steak in a food processor or blender; puree. Transfer marinade to a large zip-top plastic bag or airtight container. Add steak, turning to coat. Seal bag or cover container. Refrigerate overnight.

Remove steak from marinade, letting excess drip back into bag or bowl. Place steak on a platter. Set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Preheat a gas or charcoal grill to medium-high.

Grill steak 5 minutes or until charred. Turn and grill 5 minutes or until charred. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest 5 minutes before slicing crosswise and across the grain.

Download the recipe.

Guacamole

Yield: 6 servings 

Trejo’s guacamole plays on textures with a combo of smooth and chunky avocado, plus crunchy pistachios. 

Danny Trejo's guacamole. | Photo by Ed Anderson

Danny Trejo's guacamole. | Photo by Ed Anderson

Ingredients

  • 3 ripe medium avocados, halved and pitted, divided
  • ½ small white onion, finely chopped
  • ½ serrano or jalapeño chile, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, divided
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lime, plus extra to taste
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped salted roasted pistachios

Directions

Use a spoon to scoop half of avocado flesh into a medium bowl. Smash with a fork or potato masher until mostly smooth.

In a separate medium bowl, lightly mash remaining avocado so it’s more chunky than smooth. Add smashed avocado, onion, chile, 2 tablespoons cilantro, olive oil, lime juice, and salt. Gently fold to combine. Taste and add more lime juice or salt, if desired. Serve sprinkled with pistachios and remaining 2 tablespoons cilantro.

Download the recipe.

Cucumber Cilantro Margarita

Yield: 1 serving 

This is Trejo’s summery spin on the classic Mexican cocktail.

Cucumber cilantro margarita by Danny Trejo

Danny Trejo's cucumber cilantro margarita. | Photo by Ed Anderson

Ingredients

  • Kosher salt (optional)
  • 4 thin slices cucumber, plus 1 (¼-inch) slice for garnish
  • 2 sprigs fresh cilantro, divided 
  • ½ cup ice cubes
  • 2 ounces (1/4 cup) silver tequila
  • 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) fresh lime juice
  • ½ ounce (1 tablespoon) agave syrup
  • ½ ounce (1 tablespoon) Bols Triple Sec

Directions

If desired, to salt rim of a glass, fill a shallow bowl with water. On a small plate, pour a circle of salt. Dip rim of a rocks glass or margarita glass in water, then dip it into salt. Set aside.

In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, muddle 4 thin cucumber slices with 1 cilantro sprig until cucumber releases most of its juices and cilantro is smashed and fragrant. Add ice, tequila, lime juice, agave syrup, and triple sec. Cover and shake vigorously for 4 seconds. Pour, including ice, into glass. Garnish with remaining (¼-inch) cucumber slice and cilantro sprig.

Download the recipe.

Reprinted with permission from Trejo’s Tacos: Recipes and Stories from L.A. Copyright © 2020 by Danny Trejo and Larchmont Hospitality Group LLC. Photographs copyright © 2020 by Ed Anderson. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House.

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