After more than two years of research and development, LOLA 55 is ready to make its highly-anticipated debut this Wednesday, August 22. Designed by Bells + Whistles (Campfire, Starlite, Sycamore Den), the 3,200-square-foot restaurant and bar anchors the new IDEA1 building in the East Village, where it will offer room service to upstairs tenants and delivery to locations within its immediate radius.
Calling itself a ‘fine-casual’ restaurant, the all-day eatery is named after founder Frank Vizcarra’s mother and hinges on a core menu of tacos served counter-service style, though Vizacarra says that at LOLA 55, tortillas are merely a vehicle for composed dishes that balance traditional flavor with modern presentations.
Born in Tijuana, Vizcarra came to the U.S. first through professional soccer then entered into a long and successful career as a food industry executive. In 2009, Vizcarra joined Tender Greens as an investor and consultant, advising the company through its merger with Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group.
So it would not be a stretch to say that LOLA 55 aspires to be the ‘Tender Greens of tacos’, with extensive investment going towards positioning the brand in the sweet spot where quality and value meet. Value is paramount to Vizcarra, who has worked to establish vendor relationships that will enable the eatery to keep costs down as the brand scales up.
Its tacos starts at $2.75 for a mesquite-grilled chicken taco with chicharrón, cucumber, coconut rice, and peanut salsa macha and tops out at $4.25 for a riff on carne asada made with ribeye and topped with beef dripping-enhanced mashed potatoes, avocado mousse, pasilla salsa, crispy leeks, and jalapeño toreado. There’s also salads, aguachile, posole, and ceviche tostadas, and sides that include Lola’s secret recipe for beans.
As part of his prep, executive chef/partner Andrew Bent (Chez Panisse, Tender Greens, Puesto, Tiger!Tiger) worked with chef Luis Arellano at Enrique Olvera’s Criollo in Oaxaca and did a stint at Noma’s Tulum pop-up. The kitchen, run with two sous chefs and four lead cooks, is fueled by a wood-fired grill and features non-GMO corn tortillas made throughout the day. Bent is working directly Point Loma Farms and the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, and plans to roll out specials ranging from farm-inspired dishes to traditional mole and whole grilled fish turned into tacos.
Diners will place their orders at a counter, and their tacos will be assembled in time to meet them at the end of the checkout line. But once diners are seated, the experience turns into a full-service one, with waitstaff filling additional food and drink orders and making sure that desserts, including freshly-fried churros and made-to-order ice cream sandwiches, are delivered at the proper time.
A full bar also distinguishes LOLA 55 from other fast-casual spots; diners who want to linger can enjoy cocktails created by bar manager Gareth Moore (Born & Raised), whose menu includes drinks based on agave spirits and seasonal fruit aguas frescas that lean towards the citrus-y, refreshing side as to not overwhelm the flavors in the food. Moore says he plans to incorporate more farm-sourced elements and ingredients from the kitchen into his future menus.