Turns out, street food vendors and industrious abuelitas don't have the market cornered on 'authentic' Mexican food. For San Francisco-based husband-and-wife restauranteurs Sara Deseran and Joe Hargrave, it took a trip to Mexico City—equipped with a well-sourced list of recommendations (thanks, Rick Bayless)—to show them that Mexican food can be evolved and cosmopolitan, and still be real. It's not about gimmicks; it's about a heritage of flavors that can be reimagined a thousand ways and served without a cartoonish side of mariachi band (though I do love a good mariachi band).
The Hargraves have conscientiously channelled this realization into their Tacolicious restaurants, offering traditional dishes like carnitas tacos alongside kale salad and tuna tostadas in a space that's casual but sophisticated, much like the food. Deseran, a food editor and author of three previous cookbooks, shares recipes from the restaurants in her newest book, Tacolicious: Festive Recipes for Tacos, Snacks, and More, written with Hargrave, their executive chef, Antelmo Faria, and their beverage director, Mike Barrow. Giving fans of the restaurants what they've come to expect and love, the book is playful when it can be, but serious when it needs to be, and the tacos will make you friends, point-blank.
Shortly after returning home from that auspicious trip in 2009, the couple opened the first incarnation of Tacolicious, a taco stand in the Ferry Plaza farmers' market. By the beginning of 2010, they'd closed their Spanish restaurant, Laiola, and opened a brick-and-mortar Tacolicious in the revamped space. Now they have four popular Tacolicious restaurants in and around San Francisco, where they crank out a ridiculous amount of well-crafted small bites, tacos and cocktails daily.
I would love to check out the pork pozole and ceviche verde first-hand, if I ever make it out to the West Coast. To bide my time, however, I might take them up on their suggestion and game plan for hosting a momentous taco party. Their recipes are designed for it—many can be made ahead, and everything begs to be shared. The chapters read like a party menu, in fact: Salsas, Pickles + More; Snacks + Sides; Tacos, Tacos + Tacos; and Cocktails, Aguas Frescas + More. True to their philosophy, Mexican Party Mix (spicy, lime-glazed nuts and Chex Mix) and Velveeta-based Chile con Queso share space with Shrimp Cakes with Corn-Basil Salsa and Spicy Tamarind-Glazed Pork Ribs with Jicama Salad. Don't need much more than that for a good time. Except those tacos. Braised short ribs, grilled pork al pastor, beer-battered fish, spring vegetables and fingerling potatoes—there's a filling for every taste, and the DIY nature of taco construction lets each create their own.
Because I've heard they do terrific salsas, we'll start the week with the salsa that meets you at the table when you sit down at a Tacolicious—the Roasted Tomato-Mint Salsa—both familiar and unusual, and my new go-to. Then we'll head straight for the tacos, and try their classic Carnitas Taco, because everyone needs more fried pork in their lives, right? To make up for that bit of gluttony, next we'll try a taco with a decidedly more virtuous, California vibe, and go for their Butternut Squash, Kale, and Crunchy Pepitas Taco—there may be no meat, but it's not short on flavor. We'll wrap up the week with the perfect thing for your weekend morning, the Lone Star Breakfast Taco, which with eggs, cheese, bacon, potatoes and roasted poblanos, might be the most delicious thing I've wrapped up in tortilla all week.
Win a Copy!
Thanks to our friends at Ten Speed Press, we have 5 copies of Tacolicious to give away this week. Just tell us your favorite taco filling in the comments section below.
Reprinted with permission from Tacolicious, by Sara Deseran and Joe Hargrave, copyright © 2014, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC.
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