One of the Country's Best BBQ Joints Is Opening Its First Restaurant
Andrew and Michelle Muñoz of L.A. pop-up sensation Moo's Craft Barbecue meld Texas-style barbecue with Mexican-American flavors.
The best barbecue in California is getting its own brick-and-mortar restaurant, which is slated to debut in June. Los Angeles might want to start lining up for brisket right now.
Andrew and Michelle Muñoz's Moo's Craft Barbecue, which started as a backyard pop-up in February 2017 before becoming a sensation at breweries and the Smorgasburg food market, will open at the site of what was Lincoln Kitchen & Tap in Lincoln Heights.
"It was meant to be," said Michelle, who grew up a couple blocks away. "We saw a lot of different places that didn't feel right. Andrew would make fun of me because I would tell him that, for me, it's going to be like the wedding dress. I'm going to try it on and I'm going to walk in, and it's just going to feel right. From the moment we drove by, it caught my eye."
The space, which has indoor dining, a bar with beer and wine taps, TVs for sporting events, a long patio, and a back lot where Andrew will put his offset smokers, is nicely suited for a casual counter-service barbecue experience. There's also lots of public parking nearby.
"I want Moo's to always be recognized as the place where you can come and get traditional, real Texas-style barbecue," Michelle said. "I want people to know that if they're craving real Texas barbecue, they don't have to go to Austin. They can go to L.A. and have that brisket, those ribs, those sausages."
It's true. Moo's has become the standard-bearer for Texas-style smoked meat in California. But what also sets the Muñozes apart is that Moo's is a distinctly L.A. experience. There are wonderful Mexican-American and Angeleno references in a lot of their food, including a riff on street corn, a tres leches croissant bread pudding, and a pork verde sausage that's inspired by a chile relleno.
"When we pull that sausage off the menu, people ask about it the most," said Andrew, who kept Moo's alive as a curbside-pickup sensation at Crafted Kitchen after the pandemic hit. "It's got fire-roasted poblanos, Oaxaca cheese, and our blend of spices."
Having their own restaurant kitchen will allow the Muñozes to get even more playful and creative. In addition to Texas-style specials including weekend beef ribs, Moo's plans to serve a smoked burger and beef-cheek tacos as it gradually expands its offerings. Michelle's grandmother has been visiting from Guadalajara, and her pozole recipe is the basis for what could become Moo's smoked pozole.
"A lot of the things on the menu are representations of who we are and our culture," said Michelle, who also mentions a birria sausage and a Mexican-American version of boudin.
In the beginning, Moo's will open for daytime service until the barbecue sells out. The Muñozes see potential for Moo's to eventually become a dinner destination and a place where guests can drink craft beers while they watch Dodgers games. So Moo's might put together an evening menu with sandwiches, pork belly burnt ends, tacos, and wings that are smoked before they're fried. The restaurant wants to attract a broad audience, so the Muñozes plan to smoke seasonal vegetables for those who don't want an intense spread of meat.
Once the restaurant is allowed to operate at full capacity, there's space for about 75 to 80 guests inside along with eight patio tables. Judging by the demand that Moo's saw at Smorgasburg, where there were regularly hour-plus-long waits for barbecue, this place could be packed day and night.
"I still trip out when I walk into the space," said Michelle, who often thinks about how wild it is that Andrew's smoked-meat hobby has turned into all this.
"I was just someone who traveled to Texas and ate barbecue and was like, 'Wow, this is really good,'" Andrew said. "I also remember walking into the pit room at Bludso's in Compton over 10 years ago and wondering how they did this. It's kind of full circle for us. I was just cooking for our friends and family at first. Whenever there was a party, I was like, 'Oh, I'm going to make some ribs, or a pork butt, or a brisket.'"
Then Michelle, who noticed that Andrew had an itch to smoke meat even when there wasn't a party, encouraged him to turn Moo's into an underground pop-up.
'I needed an escape,'' said Michelle, who makes side dishes for Moo's and originated the pork verde sausage. "I was a stay-at-home mom for a really long time. I have always enjoyed cooking for the masses. When you're Mexican and with the whole familia, a simple dinner is like 15 to 20 people sometimes. I was always raised on making a large amount of food. For me, doing something like a random underground popup was no big deal."
Sometimes you start a hobby and it's a fun diversion. But if you're Andrew Muñoz, you start smoking meat and then discover you're so extraordinary at it that you have to turn it into more than a hobby. You have to see if you can really become one of the all-time greats. So Andrew quit his full-time job as a commercial insurance underwriter at the end of October 2018. It was time to bet it all on Moo's.
What Andrew knew then and knows now is that he's building something with his family and also that he's part of a close-knit pitmaster community in California and beyond. Moo's is very much a DIY project: The Muñozes, who've raised money on GoFundMe, have been painting, installing doors, cleaning bathrooms, and hanging plants. Andrew's dad has worked on the tiling in the restaurant and sanded tables. Local pitmaster pals Burt Bakman of Slab, Danny Castillo of Heritage Barbecue, and Logan Sandoval of Zef BBQ have offered to come help cook for Moo's Craft Barbecue's opening weekend. Castillo has already said he's ready to camp out overnight.
"Everything we have has involved a contribution from some really generous people," Michelle said. "Sometimes it's even baffling to me. How is it possible that this is being given to us? People are so generous in wanting to help."
Pitmasters from Texas such as Bryan Bingham, who cooked at Bodacious B-B-Q and is about to open Sunbird, have expressed interest in collaborating with Moo's. So Andrew and Michelle are thinking about occasionally using their back lot for different barbecue pop-ups with chefs from all over the country.
"We're going to create some nice memories here," Michelle said. "Maybe it will be our own little mini form of Avenue 26 with just barbecue."
Avenue 26 is a lively Los Angeles night market with a diverse group of food vendors. Texas is a huge reference point for Moo's Craft Barbecue, but the Muñozes will always also be influenced by the streets of L.A.
Moo's Craft Barbecue, 2118 N. Broadway, Los Angeles