Yo quiero Howdy’s Taqueria

Howdy says, “Eat salmon tacos,” and when Howdy speaks, people often listen. “Hey, Brad,” he shouts from a table on the outside patio of his new taqueria, “go have two salmon tacos on me.”

He is a hand-shaking, back-slapping kind of guy who dotes on his employees and treats them like family.

His name is Howdy Kabrins, and he has been called the man “who brought healthy, authentic Mexican food to the United States.”

His love of Mexico and its cuisine goes back to the time when he was a young boy.

Growing up in West Los Angeles, he made frequent visits to his godfather’s shrimp boat on the Sea of Cortez. There, he fell in love with the flavor and tradition of Mexico. “It was spectacular to see all of the pride and the expression,” he says, “in the music, in the dance, in the food.” He also learned that authentic Mexican food was nothing like the often greasy tacos and refried beans that Americans were eating back home. “Real Mexican tacos,” he says “are served on real tortillas with real meats.”

Out of his Mexican experience came La Salsa. Kabrins opened his first restaurant at Pico and Sepulveda boulevards 20 years ago. Today, there are more than 100 La Salsa eateries throughout the country. In 1992, investors joined Kabrins and expanded the operation. But the restaurateur had problems with the corporate approach, and now Kabrins and the company have gone their separate ways.

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Three weeks ago, Kabrins took over the La Salsa location at Cross Creek. He put his own authentic touches on the place — corrugated iron, rough adobe texture, Mexican artwork — and reopened as Howdy’s Taqueria. While the look is different from the old place, so is the food. In addition to the usual tacos al carbon, he is offering fresh salmon, shrimp burritos and chopped salads, as well as organic rice and beans.

Kabrins is more than happy to share the food philosophy he developed while living in Mexico. “When you live in a village, you are only eating only the freshest ingredients, great salsa, fresh tortillas and chili — the spice of life.” His dedication to authenticity is a point not lost on his employees. “I feel like I am still working in Mexico,” says Patricio “Pato” Palacios, “the food, the ingredients. I feel very proud.”

Howdy pauses to greet another friend and offers to buy some tacos. He says he hopes his new place will soon become a neighborhood favorite. With the operation just starting out, another trip to his beloved Mexico might have to wait awhile. In the meantime, Howdy’s has brought a little bit of Mexico to Malibu.

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