Four Restaurants Housed Inside Garages

At El Vilsito, HK BBQ Master, Garage and Toyose, garage settings fuel the food.

WORDS Naomi Tomky
December 2019
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Photography by Julie Cope Photograph

Each night as the sun goes down on Mexico City, the awning of an auto shop pops open and trompos—rotating layers of spiced meat the size of an engine block—replace the jack lifts. With the wrenches tucked away, oversized knives are the only tools needed at El Vilsito, where blue-aproned professionals deftly slice the pork al pastor with one hand and catch the pieces on a warm tortilla with the other. With a final flick of their wrists, the taqueros garnish them with slivers from the pineapple roasting slowly atop the vertical spit and hand over the food to the pre- and post-bar crowd standing under signs for suspensión, lubricación, eléctrico.

Oil-stained concrete floors and bare-bones decor serve as badges of pride for restaurateurs who set up shop inside garages of various types. This month, as part of a generational transition of leadership at the acclaimed HK BBQ Master in Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia, Anson Leung reopens the doors to his family’s restaurant—updated, expanded and still very much in the parking structure of a Real Canadian Superstore. “It was convenient, with plenty of parking,” says Leung when asked why his father opened 19 years ago inside the garage. At first, the Leungs’ odd location and traditional Hong Kong-style meat hanging in the window turned off Western guests unaccustomed to greeting their food face-to-face, but these days people are more likely to express anger about them being out of duck than disgust at the setup. Lines have long streamed into the shop for the simple menu of crispy-skinned pork and gleaming soy-sauce-cooked chicken. The restaurant’s second expansion has almost doubled the kitchen size which should help accommodate the fanatic crowds who saw the shop on David Chang’s Netflix show Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner.

Paul Finn, the general manager of Garage, an Austin cocktail bar that occupies an old valet room inside the parking structure of a mid-century-modern building, pinpoints the draw of such quirky locations: “It’s about surprise,” the feeling of transitioning so suddenly from one space to another, and “a sense of adventure.” For San Francisco-based food writer Virginia Miller, it’s just about fun. In the Bay Area, late-night kimchi fried rice and brightly colored carafes of drinks made with soju cover the tables at Toyose, in the converted garage of an Outer Sunset home. “It feels subterranean, covert, intimate,” she says. “Like someone just outfitted their home garage with a few lights.” As groups of young Koreans crowd around plates of corn cheese and large bottles of Hite beer, the generic tables and chairs and decidedly unhip building reflect the ultimate hipster aspiration: being cool without trying too hard.

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