Is there a better food than the taco? So easily eaten by hand, so versatile with its fillings, and so many delicious accompaniments: salsas, pickled onions, avocado, lime, a spunky tequila cocktail ... if there is a more perfect thing to eat, don't tell that to the patrons of Tacolicious.
Since its humble beginnings as a taco stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market five years ago, Tacolicious has expanded to three San Francisco locations and a fourth in Palo Alto. And owners Joe Hargrave and Sara Deseran are the first to say they could not have predicted its success.
It was a fateful trip to Mexico City that sealed Tacolicious' fate. Armed with a list of recommended restaurants from Mexican food champion and chef Rick Bayless, who had eaten in their Spanish restaurant a few nights before, the couple had a few tacos they found life-changing. These were so simple yet perfectly executed, they found themselves asking, "How can we bring these flavors back home?"
Of course, it's not like San Francisco was lacking in Mexican food before Tacolicious came along. But the couple was onto something. As Deseran, restauranteur and editor-at-large for San Francisco magazine, explains, "Mexican cooking, done well, is something that crosses borders. People get hooked on it — all sorts of people."
That idea is explored in Tacolicious: Festive Recipes for Tacos, Snacks, Cocktails and More, the new cookbook by Deseran, with help from Hargrave, Antelmo Faria, and Mike Barrow, and photographed by Alex Farnum. In the introduction, Deseran warns, "Start making a list now, because after mastering a few recipes, I promise that you're going to want to host a party." It's that kind of book.
The book starts out with a chapter on salsas, pickles, and more ("You shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but we think you should judge a cook by his or her salsa," Deseran writes). The snacks and sides chapter includes various ceviches, Tacolicious' famous tuna tostadas, tortas, quesadillas, empanadas, tamales, and Mexican versions of hamburgers and hot dogs. The taco chapter features at least 20 different variations, ranging from the obvious, like carnitas and lengua, to surprising, like a breakfast taco with eggs or a vegetarian one heaped with butternut squash, kale, and pepitas.
There is a comprehensive cocktail chapter, too, which has a "tequila for beginners" section, and includes various salts and infusions, and a "G-rated" section for the agua frescas.
Now make that list, and have that party.
Sara Deseran and Joe Hargrave will be celebrating the release of their Tacolicious cookbook at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 4, at Omnivore Books. Drinks and snacks will be served.