In the history of Jerusalem — and all of Israel, for that matter — there has never been a true, kosher Mexican restaurant, according to Yittie Lawson. Until now.
With the help of a recently launched Kickstarter campaign, Lawson, her sister Leah Stoffer, and Stoffer’s husband, native Mexican chef Luis Cruz, plan to open Tacos Luis, a taqueria on Jerusalem’s Shlomzion Hamalka Street. There they’ll serve homemade corn tortillas piled high with meat and vegetarian options, drizzled with authentic mole sauces and served with homemade soft drinks and mezcal-based cocktails.
“In Mexico, it would be a little stand on the street. Ours is a little bigger than that,” said Lawson, who has been catering in Jerusalem for the last six years. “It’s supposed to be fast food, but slow-made, and tacos are the main event.”
They hope to raise NIS 140,000 (about $40,000) in the Kickstarter campaign, which is only a portion of the funds they need to rent and renovate space, said Lawson.
In return for relatively small donations that range from NIS 18 to NIS 250 ($5 to $71), donors will receive single, couple or family size meals, respectively; and for NIS 500 to NIS 10,000 ($143 to $2,800) they will receive such gifts as takeout for ten, tasting meals, workshops and catering for crowds of 30 to 50 people.
The taqueria menu will be gluten-free, which is important to Lawson as one of her children has celiac disease.
“Gluten-free happens naturally with Mexican food,” said Lawson. “Wheat isn’t a big parameter of the menu; corn is the base.”
Accordingly, the tortillas served will be made from corn kernels ground by the owners and baked regularly.
“It’s essentially slow food in terms of the process,” said Lawson, “but fast food in that you’ll get your food in ten minutes.”
The taqueria concept came by way of the two sisters, who always loved Mexican food and spent many hours eating at “a dinky Mexican restaurant” in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood.
Stoffer met Cruz when she traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico, to learn Spanish, and, participating in a home hospitality program, stayed in his family’s home.
Cruz came from “a foodie family,” said Lawson, and eventually went to culinary school after several false professional starts. After he and Stoffer met, he converted to Judaism in a two-year process, and they moved to Israel two years ago, joining Lawson and her family.
The two sisters always planned to open something together, and it became clear that Mexican food was the direction when Stoffer and Cruz ended up together.
“Luis walked into the plans so perfectly,” said Lawson.
The three first launched a series of Mexican cooking workshops to test drive the idea and see if Jerusalemites would be interested.
“The workshops were a big part of the process in terms of exposing it to other people,” said Lawson. “We kept on trying new things and it’s made the food ten times better than it already was.”