This Punk Rock Cholo Doesn’t Care What You Think About His Mexican-North African Food
“Finding the right spices for my ras el hanout is kind of like buying drugs. You always have to look a little harder to find the guy who has the good stuff.”
Chef Mario Christerna is standing outside of his restaurant The Briks, located a block away from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Clippers are playing against the Pacers and a small congregation of looky-loos walking to the arena has formed around the preparation of his discada, a traditional dish native to Northern Mexican states like Monterrey and Durango.
It consists of bits of chorizo, bacon, carne asada, wieners, ham, chipotle, beer, tequila, and what Christerna refers to as his “secrets,” some of which may or may not include some of those spices in his confidential ras el hanout spice mix. It’s all cooked inside a disk-shaped vessel. “I sleep with this spice mix by my side and no other person in the restaurant knows what is inside it because I stash it in my office,” he says in a very serious tone. “Don’t trust anybody, right?”
The meaty fumes wafting from the discada have the power to stop people walking to the venue right in their tracks, and surprisingly, it is the first time a discada has ever made a public appearance in a Los Angeles restaurant.
Some people come in and some say they will come back after the game. Nonetheless, Christerna hugs, high-fives, and shakes the hand of everybody as they leave. “At some point, restaurants forgot the hospitality side of this industry, and it became all about moving tables as fast as possible. I just want everyone to feel as warm as they did when I ate at my grandma’s house.”
It’s considered the ninth best restaurant in LA according to Yelp, a few slots behind Providence, Republique, Animal, and Wolvesmouth; a notable accolade whether you like the website or not. This is probably because just like how a discada remains to be one of the most underrated dishes in all of Mexico, Christerna is one of the most underappreciated chefs in the city. He credits a lot of his talent and passion to his mentor from culinary school, Farid Zadi, and working under Martin Berasategui at the two Michelin-starred Restaurante Lasarte in Spain.