Barba Kush, a new restaurant in Boyle Heights, has gained the hearts of foodies because of its tender, juicy and mouthwatering barbacoa made in the traditional style of Tepeaca, in the central Mexican state of Puebla.
In a short time, the family-run eatery with an inspiring back-story has gone from an underground business in the owners’ East Los Angeles backyard to an Eastside hub for barbacoa lovers. Every weekend, meat enthusiasts –including many from Boyle Heights’ large poblano community– head over to savor the business’ delicious menu at its Whittier Boulevard location, the former home of a popular mole restaurant.
Following the Puebla tradition, Barba Kush roasts lamb in a fire pit for up to 10 hours. The recipe belongs to Petra Zavaleta, who began cooking barbacoa as a child for her father’s restaurant in Tepeaca. In 2017, Zavaleta began a catering business in Los Angeles, and soon after she and her husband, José Félix Rodríguez, began selling the barbacoa and its complements out of the family’s backyard in East LA.
When word spread to neighbors and friends, the family began seating their customers at tables set up in their driveway..
“People would come from all sorts of places of California,” says Delfino Rodríguez, the youngest of the family’s eight boys and a Roosevelt High School alumnus. “They [heard] East LA was where they had the best barbacoa, and it was coming from my backyard.”
Rodríguez says that at one time his parents were selling more than 1,000 pounds of barbacoa in just four hours. “I don’t even think a butcher would sell that amount of meat in a whole day,” he says.
Delfino came up with the business’ name, meant to attract attention on social media. “Kush is the best kind of cannabis plant out there, and I believe barbacoa is the best meat, so I merged the name together, and it brought a lot of attention to it,” he says.
Looking to expand, the family first opened a food truck, but found that to be a hassle without a permanent space. Finally, in April, they opened their first official sit-down restaurant on the corner of Mott Street and Whittier Boulevard, the former site of Las Molenderas.
The restaurant is open only from Thursday through Sunday; the rest of the week, the family prepares orders for its catering business. Every afternoon, the family begins by marinating the lamb for an hour. They wrap the meat in agave leaves to add its unique flavor and then slowly cook it overnight over firewood.
The lamb barbacoa is served in cemitas, tacos and delicious quesadillas along with consommé, a soup made with the broth produced by the roasting meat. Other items on the menu include mole verde and carne asada. A house specialty is the mole de panza, Puebla’s version of menudo, made with lamb tripe.
That’s Lorena Flores’ favorite dish. The 38-year-old has been a frequent customer since the restaurant opened.
“My dad would always cook barbacoa for us every Sunday,” Flores explains. “And when I came to Barba Kush, I found a place where I felt like I was home eating barbacoa with my dad.”
Barba Kush’s success has spread beyond the Eastside. In July, the family began preparing their barbacoa tacos for Lanea, a new restaurant in Santa Monica.
Rodríguez says the family wants to open more restaurants, while still incorporating the rich culture of the original restaurant.
“We’re not going to sell out. We’re just gonna keep it in the family,” Rodríguez says, insisting that Barba Kush will always be a family-run business.
“Barba Kush is not just a business,” he says. “It’s a family that believes in hard work that pays off.”
2635 Whittier Boulevard
Open Thursdays and Fridays, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.