One of Los Angeles’s favorite pop-ups is coming to the Bay Area with events on October 16, 18, and 20. Co-founder Elizabeth Heitner started Malli about two years ago when the COVID-19 pandemic started and her now-business partner (and romantic partner) Nestor Silva has joined her in the endeavor. The two serve Mexican- and Jewish-inspired food and will take over at Bay Area kitchens including Octavia, Slug, and Habibi Bar through the third week of October.
The pop-up just finished a tour through New York, too, where Heitner grew up. Heitner is a New York Jew, as she calls it, and Nestor is a Los Angeles Mexican with an Argentinian father. “We keep up with this Jewish-inspired Mexican idea because I was obsessed with making babka,” Heitner says. “I was like, ‘What if we made Mexican chocolate babka?’ And we thought, ‘Where else can we take this?’”
Coming to the Bay Area was a no-brainer, Heitner says. Silva’s twin brother, Esteban Silva, was the head bread baker at Quince, and he helped arrange all the pop-ups. To Heitner, making the menu for Octavia was a fun, immersive process because of the ability to collaborate with the restaurant’s chef Nico Pena. It’ll be a six-course menu with a total of eight dishes, including a take on Malli’s popular pastrami tacos as a pastrami beef cheek dish, and a tamal using masa from Tierra Vegetables. Heitner has loved designing menus around the Bay’s abundance of fresh produce.
Essam Kardosh, one of the co-owners of wine pop-up Habibi Bar, which took over the Bacchus space in Russian Hill in August 2020, has known Silva’s brother Esteban for years. Kardosh’s wife and Esteban worked together at Quince, and Esteban baked the bread for Kardosh’s wedding. Kardosh says Habibi Bar will provide the space, but he wants the Malli folks to really take over. “We like to make it their space as much as possible,” Kardosh says. “They were down with the funk and the vibes.” The owners may open a fun, rare bottle of wine for the event, but will otherwise let the Malli duo do their thing.
Heitner was a cook at Lucques under Suzanne Goin before being let go, and Silva was a cook at Rustic Canyon. The two knew they were on to something when chef Jeremy Fox was one of their first customers — Heitner says he loved the food. The pastrami taco is their signature item, which debuted right alongside the babka at the beginning. “When he ordered our food that was a ‘wow’ confirming moment,” Heitner says.
The duo initially popped up at Melody wine bar, the owner of which is Mexican and Jewish, and it turned into a two-and-a-half-year residency every weekend. Now, whether it be in Southern California, Northern California, or New York, the two feel comfortable taking their ideas and their craft to new audiences — and to a new level. “It’s evolved from what it was at the beginning,” Heitner says. “At first the dishes needed to be identifiably Mexican or Jewish, but now we’re inspired by concepts or techniques. The flavors are their own thing now.”
Reservations for Malli’s October 20 dinner at Slug Bar ($100 per person) and October 18 dinner at Octavia ($120 per person) are available via OpenTable and Tock. The October 16 dinner at Habibi Bar (a la carte pricing) is open to walk-ins only from 2 to 8 p.m. with information available through Malli’s Instagram page.