Steven Arroyo has been a recognizable name in the Los Angeles restaurant landscape ever since he opened Cobras & Matadors, a popular Spanish tapas bar on Beverly, over ten years ago. Cobras' popularity has arguably waned over the years, but Arroyo has continued to open restaurants like the tequila-slinging Malo in Silverlake and downtown's eclectic bistro, Church & State. Arroyo has since sold stake in the latter two restaurants, but maintains control of Potato Chips, an adequate, low-key sandwich shop occupying the space adjacent to Cobras. The sandwich shop now fills the space that used to house a wine shop (owned by Arroyo), which made a convenient companion to Cobras' B.Y.O.B. policy.
Now Arroyo brings his third restaurant to the Beverly / Stanley block with Escuela Taqueira. Just around the corner from the original tapas outpost, this tiny taqueria serves a tiny menu of upscale tacos in an even tinier space.
Counting outdoor seating, the restaurant hosts maybe thirty seats. For additional seating one might glance towards the ceiling, which is decorated with dozens of chairs dangling overhead. There seems to be little tying together the artwork, photography and unusual adornment of ceiling chairs, but the space is certainly charming. The servers are sweet, attentive, and quick to offer refills of the delicious fresh-from-the-fryer chips (below). They're also quick to direct you to a nearby ATM, as the taqueria is cash only.
Tacos are served two per order with the prices ranging from $6 to $8. Additionally, you can get a large side of guacamole to go with your chips or tacos for $6. The lack of liquor license may mean no booze, but you can either bring in your own or sip on Mexican Cokes or Agua Frescas.
We decided to supplement our tacos with a side each of rice and beans ($3 each). Both were fine - decently executed and seasoned.
Our first batch of tacos soon arrived, the carne asade (below, $7), house-marinated beef with onions, avocado and cilantro. The meat was supremely juicy (which makes sense since I hear the meats are coming from our favorite butcher shop down the street, Lindy & Grundy), though in retrospect the avocado was nowhere to be seen. The most disappointing - in fact, the only disappointing - aspect of the tasty tacos was how small they were. We're talking two, maybe three bites, each with but a few kernels of tender meat.
Next came the pork belly (below, $6) with pickled red onion. This was easily our favorite, but with only a few little strips of the perfectly crispy belly, it turned us even quicker to disappointment. The tortillas are roughly three inches in diameter and add to the savory explosion of flavor. We just wanted there to be more of it.
Finally, the pork chuluta (below, $6) arrived, stuffed with grilled pork chops and slices of avocado dusted with sea salt. The verdict was the same: more tender meats paired with flavorful ingredients and even more disappointment in the portion size. Sure, we could've ordered more, but it would've taken at least three more orders of tacos to fill us up (at minimum, $18).
Escuela gets many things right, but I think there's a serious disconnect between the restaurant and a few cardinal rules of street food. A few miles east, tacos are served out of any street-side stand for just a dollar or two. Even considering the West Hollywood real estate and the gourmet ingredients, the cost of increasing the serving size ever so slightly seems like it could be miniscule. Tinga Buena is another local taqueria with inflated prices and gourmet ingredients, but I at least leave Tinga feeling full and satisfied. We couldn't help leaving Escuela feeling somewhat fleeced.
I read on Grub Street about Arroyo wanting to serve market-sourced and house-made pickled nopales, habanero cole slaw and pumpkin seed gremolta, but we found nothing more exotic than cilantro on our offerings. I also read about desserts the likes of churros, raspados and paletes. I would've loved to finish the meal with some churros, but none were listed on the menu (or if they did have them, they weren't offered).
Following through on some of the above promise along with providing a better overall value could make Escuela a place I'd frequent. As it stands, it's difficult to justify coming back. If you find yourself craving gourmet tacos in mid-city you might be better suited to head to Tinga where the prices are comparable but the portion-size leaves less to be desired.