Thursday, May 30, 2024

ISM Brewing launches ‘tacotarian’ menu with massive, over-the-top tacos diverting from the basics


ISM Brewing certainly offers some of the city’s best beers—beautifully brewed, consistently clean, downright down-able—but its underrated food (which is shockingly affordable) deserves an uplift, especially its newly minted “Tacotarian” menu that features hefty, hulky iterations of the Mexican dish that are refreshingly different from pretty much anything in the city.

From Cali burrito tacos to chile relleno tacos, ISM Brewing has a new dedication to tacotarians

“Yeah, even for me, I eat that thing and I am like, ‘That is a meal in and of itself.'”

These are the words of Chef Alfonso “Fonzy” De Zuniga, pointing toward his “Carnefornia” burrito that is an ode to the mighty California burrito: layers of carne asada chunks gone guisado-style, French fries, guacamole, and queso fresco sit atop a quesadilla that has a corn tortilla on the bottom and a flour tortilla on top with melted cheese in between. Excessive and excessively awesome, this hefty bad boy joins, well, other hefty bad boys.

Fonzy, who previous led Descanso’s kitchen in Costa Mesa before becoming the main man behind the food operation at ISM Brewing, has an approach in creating food for ISM Brewing that pairs well with beer but doesn’t lack quality—something heavily reflected in his decadent taco offerings.

And also, given his own Mexican heritage—his family hails from the culinary rich region of Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s most definitive cultures—he wanted to simultaneously step away from the basic while also harnessing what makes people comfortable in the hopes that he’ll be entrusted to work with other proteins.

“Eventually, I would love to have pulpo or tripas or things like that on the menu—but for now, it is about showcasing how a taco has very few limits while also being accessible,” Chef said.

Take, for example, his “Stuff of Dreams” taco, a playful celebration of the mighty-but-humble chile relleno: Eschewing its popular, fried egg mixture encasing, he stuffed a whole, charred’n’peeled poblano with the space’s (rightfully, already much loved) smoked tri-tip and cheese before laying it across a corn tortilla with onion, cilantro, and barbecue sauce.

Yes, barbecue sauce—something initially eyebrow-raising before you taste it, where it pairs wonderfully with the smoke of the protein and saltiness of the cheese and the earthiness of the chile. It’s a genuinely beautiful thing—and something one would be hard pressed not to return back to.

Then there’s the “Decapod Delight,” where chile de arbol-dusted shrimp are layered with a (surprisingly good) apricot chamoy and toasted almonds; a crunchy, hint-of-sweet, umami-filled take on a seafood taco if there was one.

There’s the (quite pretty) “Mushie Mania,” a play on the mushroom taco that layers oyster mushrooms with rajas and corn; a vegetarian (or vegan if you remove the cheese)’s dream.

ISM Brewing’s food is part of its draw—but it still needs customers to know that

“ISM, from the get-go, has been about the community,” McCall said back when the space first launched their lunch menu. “At first, I wasn’t sold entirely on the idea of having food because I wanted to focus on the beer but the beer will always be on lock; that is my responsibility. And it just made sense that we have to food for our patrons and our brand.”

And that includes an introduction of lunch specials back at the start of the year that offers a choice of some five sandwiches and fries or two salads with a beer starting at $15, give a buck or two for other items. From tri-tip and braised beef to salmon with smoked gouda and veggie sandwiches, the offer is not only beautifully affordable but a vocal “Come on in” from McCall and the crew.

That has since included a Wing Wednesday special and a newly minted Taco Tuesday special that gives you six tacos—two chicken, two carnitas, two asada—for $15 and $2 off all pitchers.

“I can’t just open my business and expect people to come by default,” McCall said. “I have to welcome them in and I hope this not only brings in the lunch crowd and Taco Tuesday crowd and Wing Crowd… I really hope it also encourages other businesses in Downtown to follow the lead with making our neighborhood the best.”

ISM Brewing is located at 210 E. 3rd St.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.


  1. A chile relleno without eggs isn’t a chile relleno as far as I’m concerned. Mixing a corn tortilla and a flour tortilla in the same dish sounds like some kind of Mexican garbage plate. Chef has a different concept of food than I do. I wasn’t impressed by Descanso so I’m going to give this a pass too.


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