Esdras Ochoa, Executive Chef of 11 Westside | Yes, Chef!
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Yes, Chef! Esdras Ochoa, 'The Taco King' and Executive Chef of 11 Westside

Yes Chef Esdras Ochoa The Taco King and Excecutive Chef of 11 Westside

Asia is one food-crazy continent! We take great care to pick restaurants based on culinary vibes, rankings on international gourmand guides, mentions in magazines, Instagramability, and added hunger. Yes, Chef! features the region’s chefs' stories of love and labour in kitchens, which has made some of our restaurants the next big thing in Asia.

Mexican cuisine has quickly gained a steady foothold in the Hong Kong’s food scene, and it can be attributed to the efforts of chefs like Esdras Ochoa, also known as 'The Taco King'. Ochoa is the executive chef of 11 Westside, a modern Mexican restaurant in Hong Kong.

Founding Los Angeles-famed Mexicali Taco & Co. stateside, Ochoa's passion for cooking began at a young age. He honed his skills in some of the best kitchens in Los Angeles, before bringing great taco culture to Hong Kong.

His unique approach to Mexican cuisine, blending traditional flavors with modern techniques, has garnered loyal foodies in Hong Kong. We spoke with him at 11 Westside after the legendary figure landed in the city for more work to chat about his ambassadorial work promoting Mexican fare.

Hey Esdras, thanks for coming to chat with us. Tell me this. What first brought you to Hong Kong?

It was accidentally to open a restaurant [laughs]. I became friends with F&B restaurateurs Daniel Eun and Jon Chan in Los Angeles (responsible for opening OBP, Wilshire, and Dam:a Noodle Bar), ages before seeing them in Hong Kong.

I wanted to hang out with them for a week in Hong Kong, and that turned out to them handing me a lease and showing me a space for 11 Westside they wanted to purchase, to bring tacos to Hong Kong.

Have you always wanted to work with people to deliver good food and vibes? Or was it about the people you want to work with in F&B?

I began my career in my early twenties in Los Angeles’ casinos. Asians love to gamble, I saw everyone from Vietnamese, Koreans, Chinese to Filipinos, and it was a big culture shock. I fell in love with the diversity of what I grew up with.

This made me want to see the real Asia one day. When the opportunity came to open 11 Westside, I wanted to be a part of it.

What is it about the relationship between Los Angeles and Mexican-California you wanted to bridge with Hong Kong?

We have a great big market [for Mexican culture] in the States. Half of the United States used to belong to Mexico. It’s our second home. Thinking outside the box, I wanted to bring this culture to Hong Kong, the Middle East, India!

I grew up in Mexicali, the capital of Baja, Mexico. The city of Mexicali was founded by Chinese people in the 1800s. They built the railroad tracks and eventually became pioneers of the city. I’ve always been exposed to Chinese culture, but in a different way. Mexicanized-Chinese culture if you may. I want to see how I can experience importing my Mexican culture to China.

In bringing Baja cuisine to the creation of 11 Westside, did you want to emulate Mexicali Taco & Co.’s success with the same recipes and flavours?

No, there is inspiration always because of my roots, but I wanted there to be a unique identity here in 11 Westside. I’m an Angelino, so I wanted to bring Mexico via Los Angeles to 11 Westside.

The story of Mexicali tacos is a Chinese one. 90 percent of tacos from the city have soya sauce used in the marinades. There are many similarities coming to play, which we imported to 11 Westside.

Why does Hong Kong need good representation for Mexican food?

I think Hong Kong was ready for proper LA-style Mexican food. There were many Mexican restaurants in Hong Kong, and I learned that when I barely arrived here, they were all very into the TexMex theme. We deliver Californian-Mexican fare.

When we opened, we started a little rough, because people didn’t know how to identify what we were trying to do. They presumed we would be doing Tex-Mex or fine-dining Mexican food.

In Hong Kong and globally, how did your feature on Netflix’s The Final Table help spread the good word of the taco?

Starring on The Final Table helped with a big PR push for us to get to the next level and show people what we wanted to try.

Are you happy with the crowned title ‘The Taco King’?

It’s a big responsibility, because there are many taco places that I look up to. Many people that I respect, that are talented, that make some of my favourite tacos. It humbles me.

I want to bring great taco culture, not only to 11 Westside, but worldwide. It’s one of those things that we want to offer the world from Mexico. Anyone can eat a taco.

What brings you to Hong Kong this time around, after a year since not visiting?

Our focus is opening 1st & Beaudry, our newest restaurant\ housed in The Arca Hotel in Wong Chuk Hang, in late May; an ambitious project delivering a modern American restaurant. The diversity of LA celebrated with great pancakes, great French toast for brunch, good tacos, Korean bowls, healthy eating, and lots of vegetarian options.

1st & Beaudry is the sacred corner downtown LA where I started selling tacos back in 2009. It is a beautiful project, and we cannot wait to open in hopefully late May!

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