By Frier McCollister

Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer

The abrupt closure of Christine Moore’s Lincoln in April 2020 represented the first, stunning shock of the looming pandemic’s harsh reality and its potential consequences on the dining scene.

Happily, the building has been reactivated by Briana “Breezy” Valdez with her popular, local chain, HomeState. 

HomeState is known for mindful turns on Tex-Mex staples like breakfast tacos, queso, migas and brisket. The established stores in Los Feliz and Highland Park also create neighborhood community hubs, where friends and families of loyal regulars gather to meet and eat.

“We have been in (our) other neighborhoods, a really good community binder, a community center of sorts,” Valdez noted.

Valdez is speaking from the restaurant’s lovely outdoor patio space, festooned with umbrellas. It was the morning following HomeState’s official opening in Pasadena on June 21, and there was already a gentle buzz of happy activity in the dining room and a line of guests forming to order at the front counter.

“(It’s) just a place for the neighborhood to pop in,” she said. “It’s family oriented. If you have to take a meeting here, you can have an interview on the patio if you want. I’ve always thought HomeState is exactly whatever you need it to be. And it’s a really good complement for a neighborhood.”

As if to illustrate the point, Valdez paused to wave to her friend, Randy Clement, from Silverlake Wine, escorting his twin sons, Everson and Royce, to the parking lot.

Across the patio, in a pool of shade, was Cmdr. Jason Clawson of the Pasadena Police Department sitting with a distinguished gentleman in a suit and tie: Police Chief John Perez. (By the way, Clawson is a serious amateur chef and a roving lunchtime gourmand, whose “beat” occasionally intersects with those of certain local food writers.) “We couldn’t wait for this place to open,” Perez said with a smile.

One day in, and HomeState on Lincoln is already a community hub, apparently.

For Valdez, landing at the Lincoln Avenue location was a part of a series of pandemic pivots that began last March.

“During that time, our (team) was in the middle of figuring out how to survive and pivoting every week, launching a new business model,” Valdez recalled.

“We were launching our own delivery service. We cut off all of our third-party deliveries for safety reasons. So, we launched our own driver delivery fleet to keep people employed and to keep our deliveries safe. That was a crazy moment. We were also launching a grocery store within the restaurant.”

The menu’s options were reduced, and no substitutions were allowed to minimize movement in the kitchen. The locations also never opened for outdoor seating.

“It was a hard line that we took, a difficult line because we had never operated like that. That was tough,” Valdez admitted. “We really tried to keep the business as stable as possible for everybody. So that meant change as little as possible, once we figured out what worked.”

Valdez lives in nearby Mount Washington with her husband and 7-year-old son. She was a fan of Lincoln and Moore’s other café and candy line, Little Flower, which has remained open on West Colorado Boulevard.

Like many other locals, she had heard of Lincoln’s closure via social media.

“I followed Lincoln on Instagram and I saw, just like everybody else, that Christine announced that she would not be reopening. I immediately reached out to give her my condolences and also to let her know that if she needed anybody to take over the lease, I think HomeState would be a really good fit,” Valdez said.

Valdez was not the only interested party for the expansive and well-equipped space.

“It really came down to Christine and her partners making a choice based on what they felt would best serve the neighborhood,” Valdez said.

“So, I feel really honored that they chose HomeState for the same reason I thought HomeState would be a good fit.

“Throughout this whole time, we were also really looking at new opportunities. We knew that opportunities would potentially become available, so we tried to stay open minded and nimble enough to be open to those opportunities. So, when this presented itself, it felt like a leap, but it also felt like a window that was important to take a leap through.”

Incidentally, while the Pasadena location was under construction, Valdez opened a HomeState takeout outlet in LA’s West Adams neighborhood to serve the USC community.

Take a quick pass at HomeState’s menu and Tex-Mex might come to mind. However, Valdez doesn’t embrace it. “I never use the term Tex-Mex to (refer) to HomeState. The state, as a whole, has so many influences,” she noted.

She also tries to avoid the sense of exclusivity and superiority that native Texans sometimes assume about their “home state” and its cuisine.

That said, Valdez is happy to speculate on the origin story of the breakfast taco: San Antonio or Austin? “I think Austin gets most of the credit (for the breakfast taco). It’s a heated debate.”

An eavesdropping guest at a nearby table — Evan Dickson, an Austin native — interjected.

“I don’t know if it started there (in Austin), but over the past 20 years, it’s gotten nuts with all of these exotic breakfast tacos everywhere,” Dickson said. “But these are really good, too!”

Breakfast tacos come in nine varieties at HomeState, including three vegetarian options, all priced at $3.50.

The Don’t Mess with Texas breakfast taco is stuffed with bacon, potatoes, refried charro beans and cheddar cheese. It began as one of HomeState’s Band Tacos.

Band Tacos are specials advertised at the counter and inspired by popular bands, and proceeds benefit local charities. At the moment, the Band Taco is The Love Song, with black beans, avocado, potatoes, sour cream and jack cheese. The special tacos are $5, and $3.50 from each sale is donated to the Los Angeles Downtown Women’s Center.

There are five anytime tacos, including Emo’s ($3.50), a vegan turn with black beans, cabbage slaw, pickled red onions and guacamole on a corn tortilla, which also started as a Band Taco before landing as a permanent fixture on the menu. By the way, corn tortillas are only used at HomeState for its vegan options. Flour tortillas are the mainstay for Texas tacos. HomeState’s tortillas are made fresh daily on site.

In 2020, they were also awarded Best Tortilla in Southern California in 2020, in the highly competitive KCRW Great Tortilla Tournament, founded by Gustavo Arellano. It’s the highest honor possible for any tortilla. “It’s such a joy to be on their radar and to be honored by them. And for the flour tortilla to be given respect,” Valdez said proudly.

Ingredients at HomeState are sourced organically for freshness. Queso is typically made from processed cheese, but at HomeState, it’s a whole food made with actual cheese.

“It’s usually made with Velveeta, but we use real cheese here, so I’m really proud of that. I worked with 15 chefs and none of them could figure it out,” Valdez laughed. “It took five years.”

It should also be noted that HomeState has a full-bar service with housemade margaritas and spicy palomas, available frozen or “on the rocks” ($10/$13). Each batch takes 27 hours to produce with artisanal tequila and freshly squeezed fruit juice.

With high-quality ingredients, accessible price points and Texas hospitality, HomeState is truly a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

“The city (of Pasadena) was really very kind to us and supportive. Especially (Councilman) Tyrone Hampton’s office,” Valdez said.

“I feel very grateful. We had a lot of support. Our landlords have been incredibly helpful. Everybody felt invested to make this reality. Everybody knew the neighborhood needed something like this,” Valdez mused. “We’ve only been here since yesterday, and it feels like we’ve always been here. It’s just amazing. It feels so good.”