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12 Taquerias, 25 Tacos, 2 Boxes of Kleenex: The Story Behind the Saveur Story

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The fantastic tacos at Chando’s in Sacramento.

Much of modern-day food media revels in exalted tales of gluttony—entertaining stories in the vein of “Eight hours in Tokyo: 12 bowls of ramen, 20 shots of whiskey, and one drunk-ass encounter with Anthony Bourdain.” Though it’s often a guy behind this kind of story, regardless of gender, there’s an element of caveman preening attached to one’s ability to consume, in less than a savory period of time, obscene amounts of pork belly, or foie gras, or burgers.

This isn’t to say that a woman doesn’t want to test her mettle from time to time. We can’t all sit around writing about bone broth like Gwyneth or go Giada and bend over steaming pots of pasta in a tight scoopneck. We don’t always want to be Alice Waters (sustainability—so limiting) or Gabrielle Hamilton (memoirs—so emotionally draining). Sometimes a woman just wants (or thinks she wants) to spend 48-hours eating copious amounts of commodity meat tacos and raise her hands in victory.

Of course, I’m speaking about myself. I’m the one who pitched a story on a taco trail through the Central Valley of California. This whole idea came to pass on an icy winter morning in New York over coffee with Yaran Noti, the friendly, easy-going deputy editor of Saveur. Yaran asked me if I had any ideas for their May road trip issue, maybe something to do with Mexican food. In the competitive world of food writing, you always say yes.

Joe, who grew up in Modesto, suggested we head down Highway 99—forgoing the well-reported taco path of the less gritty Highway 1. So a month later, I found myself Google-mapping a group of recommended taco joints (narrowed down after hours of research) and coordinating with our accompanying photographers Dylan and Jeni before embarking on a 276-mile, two-day journey from Sacramento to Bakersfield. Despite some trepidation, I figured I could swing this—I had extra mouths after all, including Joe who drove while I scribbled notes. I gave ourselves an hour per place.

The big day arrived and the last bit of a vicious flu that I’d contracted the week prior was still haunting me. I had Kleenex shoved in every pocket and a full box in the car. My upper lip was chafed from incessant nose blowing. I had circles under my eyes from nights of mouth-breathing sleep. Unfortunately Saveur shoots do not come with makeup artists and wind machines.

However, you know you’re in love with tacos when you can fall for them again and again, against the odds … [continue to the whole blog at].

Read the “On the California Taco Trail” Saveur story here or buy the May issue for glossy photos! 

Tacolicious School Project Raises Over $500,000!

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 12.18.41 PMIn February 2012, my boys were 10 and 6. As a family, we were six years deep into the world of San Francisco public education, we had opened two Tacolicious restaurants, and I had two wishes:

1. I wanted to help our kids’ school, San Francisco Community. Like all the public schools in this city, it needed funding then as much as it does now.
2. But selfishly—after heading a laborious fundraiser that yielded pretty pathetic results—I never wanted to work full-time and organize anything again.

Watching me wring my hands, Joe looked at me and, without a second thought, said: “Well, why don’t we just give public schools some of the proceeds from Tacolicious?” Thus, a few months later, shortly after opening Tacolicious on Valencia Street, we formed the Tacolicious School Project, a program that today benefits 45 neighboring public schools—as many as we can squeeze into a school year. In order to give an amount that has some weight, each of our five restaurants (including Chino) donates 15 percent of a month’s worth of its Monday proceeds to its partner school.

Marshall Elementary kids participate in Ocean Month.

Marshall Elementary kids participate in Ocean Month.

Since then, the first day of the week has become a scene of kids running around our servers’ legs, weary parents relieved to be able to call eating tacos fundraising, and teachers in dark sunglasses huddled around shots of tequila. On these days, our restaurants truly feel like a place of community and I feel so grateful that Joe and I have been able to plant roots in the town we love, make a career out of what we are passionate about, and use the results to give back to the city that has nurtured us. It was in this town that Joe grew from waiter to restaurant owner and I grew from CD-ROM cookbook editorial assistant (we’re talking 1994) to food writer. I mean if San Franciscans weren’t so obsessed with food—specifically tacos—who knows where we’d be?

Galileo: One of TSP's high schools.

Galileo High School’s ball.

Three years later, almost to the month we launched, we’ve raised over $500,000. (Ok, so it’s not $5 million a la Marc Benioff, but I like to fantasize that he was inspired by us.) It all seems a little dreamy, but when we hear back from the schools, it makes it very real. Over at Marshall Elementary in inner Mission, the TSP helped fund their Oceans Month wherein students studied local marine habitats first-hand. The TSP has contributed to K–8 Creative Arts Charter School’s  performance and visual arts activities (which includes rock band, theater and photography), and Bryant Elementary used the money to help pay for tutors and develop their garden program.

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Yes we can eat tacos.

I’d like to thank both the schools and our customers for coming in to support public education on Mondays. And I’d like to really thank Joe for not letting his man-crush Obama, whose taco-eating portrait graces our restaurant walls, be the only guy who has the guts to say, “Yes we can” to pretty much everything.

To learn more about the Tacolicious School Project, including which schools are our beneficiaries, read more here. Come in on Mondays and eat for a cause!

Taco-fueled kids from Garfield Elementary outside of Tacolicious North Beach.

Crazy kids from Garfield Elementary outside of Tacolicious North Beach.


Two-Can Tuna Tacos

IMG_1404I’m a lover of canned tuna. It’s like a reliable friend, always there for you in your cupboard. I like it in a sandwich (add gherkins, cucumbers, and dill), on pizza (add sliced onions and basil), tossed with spaghetti (add tomatoes, capers, anchovies, and parsley), and, maybe most of all, in a taco.

The first time I had a tuna taco was when we took a family vacation to Sayulita years back. Joe was inspired by watching Rick Bayless make tacos filled with nothing much more than canned tuna and canned escabeche and he served it up for our lunch. The combination of oily tuna with bracing, spicy pickled jalapenos and carrots was addictive. And all it took was chopping an onion and opening two cans.

Since then, this quick and easy taco has become a go-to when we vacation in Mexico. I’m in Tulum right now with some friends and family, so I made it for lunch yesterday with the addition of chopped crunchy raw onions, cilantro, and radish, plus slices of buttery avocado and a smear of a morita chile salsa (I’m into making dried chile salsas right now). I served it all up with flour tortillas. Paired with margaritas made with fresh lime juice, fresh mango, Triple Sec, and tequila, plus a nice ocean breeze, it was everything.

For the recipe, go to