Photo courtesy of Taco Angeleno/Facebook
When Vanessa Jerolmack first moved to West Philly from Los Angeles six years ago, she was a fish out of water. The 32-year-old California native and owner of the local Mexican food truck, Taco Angeleno, admittedly had no friends in the city—but worse, “didn’t have any Mexican food to eat.”
So, to remedy the situation, Jerolmack, who comes from a Mexican family that ate “lots of Mexican food,” started to cook a vegan version of the cuisine for her and her husband. That then morphed into a weekly Sunday brunch, which she used as a way to get to know her neighbors by handing out invitations to random people she met.
“This is how I definitely made friends,” she said. “It started with eight of us, and then it would turn into 12, and then sometimes be 20 of us. Every Sunday, I would just cook this huge brunch. Everyone’s favorite started to be all the Mexican stuff I made.”
While it was “just regular Mexican food” to Jerolmack, her friends were amazed by its deliciousness—to them, she said, it was a bar above what was already offered in West Philly. It was an encouraging reaction for someone who already wanted to open a café of sorts.
That dream of opening her own joint, though, didn’t cement itself until last year. When she and her husband first bought the vacant lot behind her house two years ago, it was just transformed into her personal garden. But she began to think about what Los Angeles had that West Philly lacked, and how she could turn the lot into something more than just a horticultural space. So after an accidental trip to the Memphis Taproom, a light bulb went off: why not turn her swath of land into an outdoor restaurant?
Thus, Taco Angeleno was born. With help from the Center for Culinary Enterprises and a nine-month stint as a cook at Fishtown’s Loco Pez, Jerolmack was able to garner the resources and knowledge needed to develop her Mexican bistro, which she hopes to open on the lot at 5019 Baltimore Avenue this July (she debuted the truck at this year’s Go West Craft Fest, and held a preview picnic at the space on May 17). Much like the Taproom’s beer garden, Taco Angeleno will serve as a take-out outdoor eatery, complete with a food truck, four to six 6-foot picnic style tables, and an upbeat, friendly atmosphere to match Jerolmack’s personality.
Once launched, Taco Angeleno will offer an all taco menu with three meat (chicken, beef, and pork) and three vegan-based (seitan, soy miso, and soy-free) options that can also be made into burritos. (While Jerolmack is no longer vegan, she wants to make sure her menu is evenly split so her vegan friends can also enjoy the food.) The menu will also feature a rotating daily platter special, like enchiladas, taquitos, and tamales, that will come with a side of rice and beans. It will operate from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, and only during the warm seasons (possibly April to the end of October.)
As for the future, Jerolmack would like to build a shack that’ll house a full kitchen and some counter seating, depending on the success of the first two years. But she said she has no plans of taking Taco Angeleno beyond the neighborhood because “for this whole vision I have, it’s all about this block because it’s right behind my house. It’s my neighborhood. It’s my friends and that’s what makes me so happy.”
- Annamarya Scaccia