Sky’s Gourmet Tacos now open at 5200 Century
Boulevard in the former Bizzy B’s café
“I hate the word fusion,” says Barbara “Sky” Burrell with a smile, sitting at a patio table in a hidden garden behind a row of tidy Pico Boulevard storefronts. “That word doesn’t mean anything to me.”
Fusion doesn’t begin to describe the menu at Sky’s Gourmet Tacos, Barbara’s nickname-eponymous restaurant that has been serving Mid-City customers for 25 years (it’ll be 26 in a week). Despite the name and much of the menu Sky’s isn’t an upscale restaurant, nor is it really Mexican by any stretch. There’s a soul food backbone to the place, with a menu that dances around ribs and lemonade and ground turkey and grilled shrimp, but this isn’t a modern soul food spot, either. Sky’s is none of the above, and a whole lot more as a result. “I just try to do my own thing,” Burrell adds. That sounds about right.
The classic joint has opened its newest location at 5200 Century Boulevard, in the former Bizzy B’s Cafe location.
“Sky has had marinated lobster with shredded lettuce and sassy sauce for a quarter-century”
A Midwestern native whose father is a legendary musician, Burrell spent formative years in and around Chicago. Tacos were far from a staple, but even all those decades ago it was possible to reach into the more Mexican enclaves of the city for a taste of tortilla, meat, and cheese. Rather than fixating on the purity of any one menu item, Burrell found herself drawn to the expansive opportunities that a taco offers. Wes Avila has his sweet potato and feta cheese taco at Guerrilla; Sky has had marinated lobster with shredded lettuce and sassy sauce for a quarter-century.
Burrell’s restaurant journey isn’t the traditional one by any stretch, and it never even weaves through a traditional commercial kitchen. “I had been an executive with McDonald’s Corporation, but I knew I had to do something else,” she says of her time in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “So I quit my job, and I just partied for nine months straight. At the end, I knew I needed to find something for me, something different, so I prayed a novena for nine days straight, and at the end, I said ‘I’m going to do tacos.’ But all I had was $2,000 and a vision.”
She opened Sky’s Gourmet Tacos on March 5, 1992, and the rest is, well, history. Burrell recently cut the ribbon on a new taco and market space at 5200 Century Boulevard. The opening in February held 200 people, with Burrell in the middle of it all, smiling and shaking hands in a chef’s coat she clearly never wears. Appearances aren’t everything, attitude is.
The old adage keeps humming true: It’s what’s inside that counts. That’s where authenticity lives. Everything else is just fusion.