When restaurateur Briana Valdez was slinging Tex-Mex tacos at pop-up shops around Los Angeles in the early 2010s, music was already a big part of the process. Her sister, Andy Valdez, was co-managing Little Dragon at the time, and the band would DJ backyard events, bringing together friends, music fans and foodies. By 2013, Briana had opened a Tex-Mex joint of her own, HomeState, in L.A.’s hip Los Feliz neighborhood, its creative community reminding her of Austin, where the sisters went to college.
“The neighborhood people that come in every day were artists, managers, musicians and creatives,” she says. “We were like, ‘What can we do with this that’s not exploitative, that can allow us to have a charitable component?'”
Two years later, Andy floated the idea of collaborating with artists and illustrators on custom-designed tacos with “album art” covers for each, based largely on relationships they had built with artist customers. Spoon frontman Britt Daniel, who would visit the restaurant for a taste of home, went first. The day his Austin-style migas taco, “The Ranchero,” came on the menu, he created a playlist of ranchera music and hung out, taking pictures and signing autographs for customers. Within six months, Questlove of The Roots, Fitz & The Tantrums, Cold War Kids, Silversun Pickups and Cherry Glazerr also had their own tacos.
“We’re building community with that element of charity that expands outside the walls of HomeState,” says Andy.
The custom eats sell for $5 ($1.50 more than the standard tacos), and all profits go to local charities chosen by HomeState. Since it started forging these partnerships in 2015, the restaurant has raised roughly $25,000 for People Assisting The Homeless (PATH), the American Civil Liberties Union and the Silverlake Conservatory of Music. Currently, diners can try Vampire Weekend’s “Vegetarian Weekend” –– a veggie fajita taco with cotija cheese that’s available through October.
In May, Local Natives transformed HomeState’s second location in Highland Park into “Café Amarillo,” the title of the first single off their fourth album, Violet Street, and performed a stripped-back concert on the outside patio. Between the event and sales of the band’s eponymous taco (filled with potato, cheddar, eggs, bacon, pico de gallo and jalapeños), they raised $6,000 for PATH.
“Working with the women who run HomeState was incredible,” says the band’s Taylor Rice. “They make my favorite breakfast tacos in L.A., are huge music lovers and turn out to be extremely generous humans.”
Questlove (“The Paesano,” a Philadelphia cheesesteak-style taco) and Fred Armisen (“The Emo’s,” a vegan breakfast taco) even DJ’d there to promote their seasonal fare.
“People are always asking, ‘How do you convince these artists to work with you? Do you pay them?’ ” says Andy. “It’s a fun, effortless partnership. We’re like, ‘OK, what’s your dream taco?'”