Growing up in a family with a background in entertainment, and following that in many aspects of his life currently, being a partner in an increasingly popular Mexican restaurant in New York City’s East Village neighborhood may not have been the expected route for Frank Billini.
We stopped by La Lucha to chat with our friend Frank, to get the lowdown on the story behind the eatery, and what we can expect in the not-too-distant future.
Tell us about the story behind La Lucha, and the wrestling theme of the restaurant.
My dad was a wrestler, and from the age of eight years old he used to lie to his family to be in this wrestling league. He really loved it and was really good at it. He used to fight older people. Imagine being 8 and fighting 13-year olds?
He recently got re-married, and we opened La Lucha in 2008. His wife is from Mexico City, so she has this very rich Mexican culture, and this appetite for Mexican food that didn’t exist in New York [at the time]. For her, there is a flavor that she is expecting when it comes to Mexican food, so we really tried to touch that and keep it semi-traditional, and cool…it’s just a reintroduction to Mexican food.
What are some plates that set La Lucha apart from its counterparts?
Honestly, I don’t think there is a plate that separates us from other restaurants. I think what makes us different is the experience when you come to our restaurant. We want to create intangible experiences where people can come here and be like, “Wow! I don’t remember where this sh*t was located…I was really drunk, whatever, but I remember that they brought that ring when they brought the check. That was magical for me. I took a photo, and I remember that.”
We have some very good vegetable options, that’s something we are trying to highlight more now along with gluten-free options, because people are becoming more health-conscious. I think there is no other Mexican restaurant with as many vegetable tacos as we have. Like the Hibiscus Taco; amazing.
What are some of your favorite plates on the menu?
I really enjoy our signature tacos. They come in threes; it kind of feels like I am up-selling you, but I’m not. A lot of those tacos are mixtures of other tacos on the menu. We have a vegetable signature taco on the menu, which is poblano peppers mixed with mushroom; the Huracán. That one is really good, but my favorite has to be the El Santo, or the Mil Máscaras. The Mil Máscaras, I love to talk about because it has bacon. I love bacon, and it has bits of bacon, not big strips. You have an option of chicken or steak, and it is mixed with roasted poblano peppers, corn, onions; it’s delicious. And then we put the queso chihuahua on top; it is one of my favorites. The El Santo is the meat-lovers taco. It has our red salsa mixed with salted steak that we cure ourselves, it also has chicarron; it’s really a delicious taco man, I’ve never tasted anything like that before.
Tell us about the future of La Lucha, and your newest food truck output in the works in Brooklyn.
We just got a trailer, it’s an extended trailer and we put a banner on it. We are still getting equipment, but by summer it will be up and running. It will be called “La Lucha”, but we may give it a nickname. We are working with some artists right now so we can do something that doesn’t feel too corporate. We want it to feel artsy, like the aesthetic of Brooklyn. I want it to feel “real”. You know what I mean?
As La Lucha prepares to open their mobile output this summer, be sure to stop by their brick and mortar location in the East Village for delicious, no nonsense Mexican food!
147 Avenue A ( Between 9th & 10th Street)
New York, New York 10009
*Photos by Andrea K. Castillo