Food

A Little Pearl Chef Is Launching an LA-Style Mexican Food Pop-Up in DC

Gonzo pops up with crunchy tacos and watermelon margs at Astoria this weekend.

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.”

Chicken milanesa torta with avocado and crema. Photo courtesy of Gonzo.
Chicken milanesa torta with avocado and crema. Photo courtesy of Gonzo.

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.

Hominy and pork pozole rojo. Photo courtesy of Gonzo.
Hominy and pork pozole rojo. Photo courtesy of Gonzo.

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.

The menu features street food snacks like these corn nuts with worm salt. Photo courtesy of Gonzo.
The menu features street food snacks like these corn nuts with worm salt. Photo courtesy of Gonzo.

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.”

Tuna and snapper ceviche. Photo courtesy of Gonzo.
Tuna and snapper ceviche. Photo courtesy of Gonzo.

Gonzo at Astoria. 1521 17th St., NW. Open Friday and Saturday until October 31 from 11 AM to 1 PM. 

Sample menus:

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Assistant Editor

Daniella Byck joined Washingtonian in August 2018. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she studied journalism and digital culture. Originally from Rockville, she lives in Logan Circle.