Tostadas at Tacolicious

It started with a stand at the Ferry Building Farmers Market in San Francisco. Now, a little more than three years later, the idea of simple and fresh Mexican food with local, sustainable and organic ingredients has expanded to two popular brick-and-mortar Tacolicious locations and a brand-new Palo Alto site opening on Feb. 19.

Tacolicious owner Joe Hargrave says that the journey has not always been easy, despite the success of his restaurants in San Francisco’s Marina and Mission districts. He never imagined that a redesign and new concept at his first restaurant, Laiola, would take off, but in his own words, he’s been fortunate to pick neighborhoods that really fit the overall concept of Tacolicious.

“There was some trepidation when we first started the design on Chestnut Street [in the Marina],” Hargrave says of the restaurant’s first location. “Then, when we had ideas for a second restaurant, there were a lot of different locations I thought would work. When I was approached about the Valencia Street spot, a lot of people thought we were crazy for doing tacos in the Mission.”

Like the Latino neighborhoods of San Jose, San Francisco’s Mission District is packed with taquerias with a loyal following. But Tacolicious does things a little differently than a lot of traditional taco joints. It serves Mexican food with a California cuisine sensibility that uses the freshest ingredients possible. Items like butternut squash, roasted beet salad and beef short-rib are paired with traditional Mexican flavors and proteins for a hybrid not usually found at other restaurants.

As Palo Alto’s dining scene grows, Hargrave is testing the market outside of San Francisco for the first time.

“Palo Alto has been on my radar for a while,” he says. “When I visited a friend’s restaurant [Evvia Estiatorio], I thought, Wow, this really is a self-sufficient market in the heart of Silicon Valley. I had some investors from the area, and they started to ask me why I didn’t bring a restaurant down to Palo Alto. So that’s where the idea sprouted from. There are a lot of families in Palo Alto, downtown is really starting to boom and we have a boutique hotel going in down the street. We’re really excited about the location and the space.”

Under the guidance of Tacolicious executive chef Telmo Faria, the Palo Alto kitchen will be headed by chef Charlie Cardona and sous chef Mike Roon. Hargrave said the one major difference for the Palo Alto location will be more vegetarian options, which he thinks will better fit the expected clientele. There will also be a full bar and cocktail program, with plenty of beers on tap and an expansive tequila list.

In the building that formerly housed Indian restaurant Mantra on Emerson Street, the Tacolicious team is deploying the same formula as at its other locations. Cedar wood is being used for the walls and homemade tiles for flooring, a feature Hargrave fell in love with during his many trips to Mexico.

Continuing the theme of the other two Tacolicious restaurants, the space had to be reconfigured to make for an open kitchen, which will also feature a small chef’s counter. Hargrave said he expects the restaurant to be able to accommodate about 90 people, including more than 30 seats at the bar and outdoor patio.

The design qualities, paired with the unique menu, has opened a debate about authenticity that has followed Tacolicious since its debut, but Hargrave is quick to retort:

“Honestly, I think people have a misunderstanding of what ‘authentic’ means,” Hargrave says. “I’ve been making trips—five and six times a year—to Mexico for a long time. The idea of grabbing a burrito in a hole-in-the-wall spot being authentic is a California thing. When I think of Mexican restaurants, I think about the atmosphere: music playing, large groups gathering together, food with the freshest possible ingredients. That’s what we’re about.”

Tacolicious
632 Emerson St
Palo Alto, CA

Looking for more restaurant options in Palo Alto? Visit SanJose.com’s Palo Alto Dining Guide.