The taco is the bedrock of Mexican cuisine, from its humble beginnings in Mexican silver mines to its never-ending reinvention in the American Southwest and beyond. At Puesto Mexican Artisan Kitchen in La Jolla, the taco is both how the restaurant brings its community together and how it pushes the envelope.
Developing innovative spins on a classic – from chicharones (also known as “crackling pork magic”) to local line-caught fish tacos fried with a beer-batter from their own Puesto Cerveceria beer – Puesto is both a vital community space and a game-changer in the taco world.
Growing up in southern California, brothers Eric, Alan and Alexander Adler and their cousins Isi and Moy Lombrozo always wanted to create an environment whose food brought back the flavors of their family. The family met Chef Luisteen Gonzalez at parties he was catering for the Jewish American community. After trying his food, they fell in love with it and approached him about opening a restaurant. (Fun fact: Chef Luisteen was also a hairstylist at the time. Eric and his mom actually went down to Luisteen’s salon in Chula Vista to propose the idea for the restaurant.)
The rest is more or less history. Pulling their collective experiences – along with the talents of Chef Gonzalez – they opened Puesto in La Jolla.
Growing up as first-generation Mexican-Americans, the Puesto group prides itself on bringing their childhood memories and treasured family traditions to each dish. In 10 years, they have served more than 18.3 million tacos. We chatted with Eric Adler, co-founder (aka the “Tacoteur”) to see where he gets his inspiration and what the future holds for Puesto.
What is the origin story for a favorite dish on the current menu?
Puesto Perfecto Guacamole is a staple and also a great representation of my family and its Mexican and European backgrounds. It encompasses that completely by including Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese. Charcuterie and guacamole were on the table at every meal growing up.
I love how Puesto can be loosely translated to “market stall” or “post.” It brings a feeling of a community and meeting place. What went into the thinking of this name?
When we first started Puesto 10 years ago, it really was a taco stall, a fast-casual walk-up window in La Jolla. We always thought the best places to find tacos were at a puesto or market stall in Mexico City. In trying to bring that to San Diego, it only made sense for Puesto to be the name. Now with nine full-service restaurants and two sports stadium locations spanning from San Diego to Orange County to the Bay Area, the name reminds us of why we started this in the first place – to bring never-before-seen, contemporary and innovative flair to traditional Mexico City-style cuisine.
Supply chains and seasonal changes have really affected the food industry in the last two years. Have you found any creative solutions to maintaining quality and seasonality in your dishes?
In the restaurant and food industry, you always have to be adaptable, especially in the last two years. We’re always looking for the freshest ingredients and in-season ingredients, and that can be hard to do with supply shortages, etc. We source locally so our chefs have access to the best in-season ingredients which ends up helping us overcome a lot of those obstacles in the supply chain.
Recently, we’ve had difficulty sourcing lobster and decided it wasn’t worth making our customers pay for a crazy mark-up. So we waited it out and instead highlighted other in-season ingredients. A great example of this would be our seasonal ceviche, just launching for spring, made with local fish, cucumber, Serrano, radish, avocado and Japanese peanuts.
Can you detail how Puesto’s unique business model has been so successful?
Since the beginning, we brought a different experience to Mexican dining, elevating the taco by wrapping it in a layer of crispy melted cheese and using the best ingredients and flavor profiles to make each taco unique and different.
We continue to push the envelope by prioritizing quality and scratch-made ingredients: organic blue corn masa from Oaxaca to hand press each tortilla, nine different salsas daily from scratch, fresh limes for every margarita. We recently introduced an additive-free tequila program created by Beau Du Bois Bar and Spirits, and in 2020 we launched Puesto Cervecería, a craft brewery based in San Diego led by veteran brewer Doug Hasker that, in its first year of operation ,won a silver medal at the 2021 Great American Beer Festival.
From an environmental perspective, we implemented a partnership for Recycled Plastic Collapsible (RPC) for our produce deliveries, which saved 15,000 cardboard boxes in just five months, and the team is looking at ways to compost food waste and is committed to making each of our nine locations a zero-waste establishment. Most importantly, we want to make sure every guest can experience high-quality Mexican cuisine every time they visit us, giving them quality and service they can count on.
How has Puesto worked in the community this past year?
We are always looking for ways to stay involved, whether it’s with local charities, schools, little leagues or hospitals. We strive to be as close as possible to the communities that we are in, giving us a neighborhood feel unique to each location.
What Puesto giving opportunity has meant the most to you?
In the early days of COVID-19 when the restaurant industry and my team in particular had really taken a hit, we looked for ways to make a direct impact. It was incredible to see our staff work together to prep meal kits for the hospitality industry – for those who were still working and those that had lost their jobs. It was a small initiative, but for me it was hugely rewarding knowing that I could make a direct impact on my staff and industry who were directly affected by this crisis.
What makes Puesto’s tacos Mexico-City style?
Puesto tacos are Mexico-City style because we bring that vibrance of Mexico City’s bustling street-food culture to our locations. We align with Mexico-City as innovators, wrapping our tacos in crispy cheese or ‘costra’ and giving people a place that they can count on for unique and evolutionary ingredients and flavors. You’ll never find two tacos with the same toppings. Each is created to complement the protein and paired with its own salsa and toppings.
How has your upbringing influenced Puesto’s cooking style and taste?
Puesto is fully encompassing the food my family and I ate growing up, an elevated take on Mexican food always using the freshest ingredients. We always knew that the flavors from our childhood should be the basis of what we offer at Puesto, shaped by our Mexican and European influences.
What’s in your personal fridge currently?
My wife is big on grass-fed, so a lot of raw milk, raw cheese, organic produce, kombucha and sauerkraut. The fridge is most reflective of my wife’s tastes, more than my own.
What do you hope to see in Puesto’s future?
We want to keep growing the brand, which means opening more restaurants in different areas and continuing to offer the same reliable quality dining experience.
Puesto Cervecería, our craft brewery, is also very important to us and we look forward to expanding. Additionally, we look forward to expanding our green initiatives, looking at ways to compost food waste and being committed to making each of the nine locations a zero-waste establishment.
NEXT ON THE DISH