“If you can think it up, I’ll turn it into a taco,” says Greg Lukasiewicz. He’s talking to a customer in line at Máquina Taco, his 6-week-old taqueria in north Pasadena.
Not that there aren’t plenty of options already. The enormous menu that dangles from the ceiling bears 19 different tacos, handwritten across its face.
“I grew up in L.A. just totally taco-obsessed,” he says, recalling the tortilla-wrapped snacks his abuelita made for him at her Bunker Hill home when he was a kid. He refers to himself as “a white guy who’s half-Nicaraguan but probably should have been Mexican.”
As a self-described “skateboarder/surfer/waiter” entrenched in art school and the local punk rock scene, Lukasiewicz jumped from the service side of restaurants to creating his own after his first daughter was born in the ‘90s.
He cites early praise from Jonathan Gold for his Monrovia restaurant, Devon, as inspiration for a career that eventually saw him opening 17 restaurants in 22 years.
Last year Lukasiewicz, who now splits his time between Oceanside and Pasadena, shuttered the last location of Bull Taco, his proudly “inauthentic” San Diego chain that became infamous for exotic meat fillings (elk bacon, sand crab and bull penis) and a stunt involving a fake Banksy on its walls.
At Máquina, a slim blue room with an exposed kitchen and little else other than a few blown-up surf shots, where Lukasiewicz’s dad may be running the register, there are tacos with asada, pastor and cabeza.
The majority of the menu, however, is dedicated to more unusual inventions.
There are tacos stuffed with mole-glazed pork belly with griddled rice; mint-spiced lamb; Spanish octopus with finely chopped peppers; and pairings like oxtail and lengua, ribeye and lobster and a tripas-chicharron blend with Tapatío mayo wrapped in crisp, burnt-cheese.
Save for the rare moments he has time to press his own tortillas, Lukasiewicz uses Kernel of Truth Organics, the Boyle Heights-based tortilla maker, for all of his tacos.
“I love small businesses and support them even if it means I lose money,” Lukasiewicz says. “I’ve been in the trenches a long time and see how hard Ricardo [Ortega] works.”
Máquina’s menu includes the option to order tacos, particularly those with vegan ingredients, in the form of a burrito, torta or rice bowl.
There are also breakfast burritos, including one with duck, cabbage, hoisin and egg and another packed with smoked salmon, egg, potato and dill that might speak for Lukasiewicz’s Polish half.
In time, Lukasiewicz hopes to open another L.A. location, eyeing the Arts District for a more seafood-centric Máquina he envisions as his “next-level masterpiece.”