As outdoor dining reopens and local restaurants begin the road to recovery the Daily Press is highlighting one excellent eatery a week sharing their history, pandemic struggles, and signature dishes.

This week the spotlight is on Lanea — a taco bar serving authentic family recipes from Puebla Mexico and what the owners claim are the best spicy margaritas in all of Santa Monica.

The story behind Lanea

Lanea was created in July 2019 by local restaurateur Peter Trinh and taco chef extraordinaire Petra Zavaleta.

Zavaleta grew up in Puebla and used her traditional cooking skills to launch Barbakush, a lamb barbacoa business, out of her family’s East LA home in 2018. The business became so popular that Zavaleta opened a food truck in under a month and a brick and mortar location in under a year.

When Trinh was looking for a culinary partner to help transform the former Copa d’Oro bar in Downtown Santa Monica he was connected with Zavaleta by one of his partners and the two clicked right away.

“There is nothing derivative about Lanea; it is authentic Mexican food generated and invigorated by a genuine and amazing Mexican family,” said Trinh. “I couldn’t be more honored to have them as partners.”

The bright and airy Lanea bar took off right away, offering over 400 hand-selected mezcals and tequilas and selling thousands of tacos a week — until the pandemic hit.

Surviving the pandemic

As was the case for most restaurants, the outbreak of Covid-19 sent Lanea’s finances reeling, but the team got scrappy and resourceful to stay afloat.

“The pandemic hit us pretty hard. We lost a lot of our events and money,” said Zavaleta. “But Lanea we’re a family, we help each other out, we give each other ideas, we make sure none of us are left in the dirt.”

The team began a takeout service for the first time, invested in an expansive outdoor dining, and worked rapidly to develop a cost-effective way to can their cocktails which they began selling directly through as well as other third party apps.

During the two rounds of dining shutdowns the restaurant attracted to-go customers through special drink deals — like four canned cocktails for $20 — and different holiday themed meal packages.

“We’re not corporately structured, we’re a small business owned by several entrepreneurs , so the idea has always been just to try and survive this,” said Trinh. “Luckily with local support and really resilient and hardworking partners, we’ve been able to weather the storm so far.”

What to order right now

Diners would be amiss to visit Lanea and not try a taco made with Zavaleta’s legendary lamb barbacoa.

The Zavaleta family hand pick the lamb in Chino Hills and season it with cilantro, garbanzo, onions, and chipotle at their home. It is then wrapped in agave leaves and roasted in an underground pit for 36 hours to maximize the lamb’s flavor and succulence. The juice that falls off the meat is used to make a special consomme served with chipotle chickpeas.

Other top selling tacos are the asada, pollo, pescado con mango, and camaron con mango, which are all seasoned with Zavaleta’s distinctive spices.

“You’re going to need to order more than one taco, because you’re going to want more than one,” said Trinh. “I think it’s the same for the margarita, whether you like spicy one or not, you’ve got to try them because they’re pretty top notch.”

Lanea’s craft cocktails are flavored with inventive recipes curated by bar directors John Neumueller and Connor McRaith. The margarita is sweetened with a unique dry Curacao and has much less sugar than a typical margarita.

Food is available for take-out on Toast, Grubhub, Doordash, Postmates, UberEats and the team looks forward to welcoming back outdoor diners this weekend with extensive safety precautions in place.

“If it wasn’t for local support and people making an effort to come to the restaurant and bar to purchase food and beverages we’d be permanently closed,” said Trinh. “I see nothing but brighter days ahead and I look forward to seeing the smiles on people’s faces like when they have a great taco or love the cocktail they try.”