"Hoja happened by default," Orta explains. "We were going to lose the space, and we decided to open a taqueria."
Orta and Zvi had been traveling to Mexico, specifically Oaxaca, for years, and had met corn farmers along the way. Hoja was a way to work with those farmers to showcase their heritage corn. The pair tapped chef Alex Chang, who'd been the chef at Bar Lab's Exchange Restaurant at the Freehand Los Angeles Hotel.
The innovative ingredients, flavor profiles and cocktails on tap proved successful. So successful that the Bar Lab partners are opening a second, larger location at the Generator hotel in Miami Beach. Hoja is expected to open mid-September with limited hours at first, eventually staying open from lunch to late night.
Zvi says that, although the new Hoja will have the same DNA, the menu and cocktail list will grow. "It's going to be a very different Hoja. This one will be bigger, but with the same attention to details. We're going to keep the same recipes and we'll add larger format items like whole fish."
Alex Chang continues his role as menu consultant, but heading up the daily kitchen operations is Coral Gutierrez, another vet of Bar Lab's Los Angeles projects who'd come to Miami during COVID to work on Hoja 1.0. Now, she will oversee the new Miami Beach location.
Orta calls Gutierrez the "soul" of the restaurant. "She's the leader of the kitchen. She's Mexican and really brings a lot of layers to her cooking. She makes badass food."
The bar program will be led by Christine Wiseman, former bar manager at Broken Shaker Los Angeles, who relocated to Miami for this project. The cocktail list is tequila- and mezcal-forward, with a few vodka drinks thrown in as warm weather "crushers." Orta says the drinks will incorporate some of the salsas in the menu — a mole old fashioned, for instance. The bar will also have an extensive list of small-batch tequilas and mezcals.
The space will be decorated with art imported from Mexico. "We want a place that's approachable to everyone," says Orta, adding that he hopes Hoja — like Broken Shaker before it — becomes a spot for fellow industry folk to call a second home. "We want this to be the place for a happy-hour margarita or after-work, late-night tacos," he says.
Though Bar Lab's portfolio is growing, both partners emphasize that their paramount mission is to put patrons and staff first. "It doesn't matter if it's a fast-casual restaurant or a sexy rooftop bar — one of the things I believe in is that a good bar makes you feel like you're in someone's home," Zvi says.
Hoja at the Generator Miami. 3120 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 786-496-5730; hojataqueria.com. Opening mid-September.