Father and son sell slow cooked, quick serve tacos at taco meseta
“If you asked Niko where he wanted to go for his birthday, he would say, ‘I want to go to the best restaurant out there,’” said his father, chef Evan Calderon. “Most of the other kids would say, ‘I want to go to Disneyland or Chuck. E. Cheese, “No, he wanted to go to a restaurant, an upscale restaurant. He’s always had a passion for food.”
Food was important to Niko as it was important to his father. Evan is the founder of Taco Mesa and Taco Rosa, and Nico often spent time at his father’s restaurants.
“I loved coming over and helping my dad out on the weekends,” Nico said. “I always wanted to share what we were creating with others.”
Father and son have partnered with childhood friend Niko and celebrity designer Max Moriyama, to create Taco Mesita, a concept that looks to redefine fast food.
“We wanted to create a brand that enhances what’s available in the automotive industry,” said Evan. “No sophisticated driving methods, so to speak, with slow-cooked fast food.”
Niko said he and his father wanted to fill that void.
“I’ve always been puzzled as to why we can’t get really good food in a fast food environment with a drive-through,” Nico said. “There was no place so I would ask my dad, ‘Why don’t we do that?'” “”
Taco Mesita opened in Old Town Tustin at 765 El Camino Real in February in a space formerly occupied by Alberta Mexican Food. Taco Mesita isn’t a smaller version of Taco Mesa as its name suggests but it’s a completely new concept from the beloved Orange County brand.
Small but focused menu offering high quality burritos, tacos, snacks and drinks at competitive prices.
“Instead of dealing with 100 items, you deal with less than half so you can level up the technique,” Evan said.
The Steak Taco ($6), for example, takes skirt steak over the kitchen’s wood-burning grill before placing it in a homemade corn tortilla and topping it with cilantro-pickled onions.
Blue corn tamaletos ($6) are made using a recipe heirloom from mole, passed down through generations in the Calderón family, and filled with hellacochi, a delicate, mushroom-like growth on corn husks, sometimes referred to as a “Mexican truffle.”
“White Gold” horchata ($5) is made the original way using superfood tiger nuts, and Modelo beers ($6) and Lost Coast’s Great White ($7) are available on draft.
Made with homemade tortilla flour, the Bean and Cheese Burrito ($3.75) is packed with just two ingredients: delicious pinto beans and crunchy Oaxaca cheese. It’s then gently grilled flat on top, making a portable, crispy pocket of cheesy goodness. Manageable size is intended.
“It’s not your standard burrito, it’s a mini burrito, but the tortillas are just great, fresh and finished on a tray,” Evan said. “When you bite into it, you want to have two — or you want to have a burrito and a taco.”
Ordering at Taco Mesita is supposed to be similar to how you might order multiple items at a fast food restaurant, and the low price point helps make that possible.
“We want to offer that diversity,” Nico continues. “We don’t want you to come in and fill up a burrito and not be able to eat anything else.”
The intention in the food carries through the restaurant space, thanks to Moriyama.
“They originally brought me into architecture,” said Moriyama, who spent time working at Taco Rosa before pursuing a design career that led him to work with firms such as Bjarke Ingels Group. “As things kind of evolve and morph, I’ve taken on more of the brand and the vision and the look and feel of everything.”
The building felt very disjointed, with things added to the structure as needs arose, but Moriyama actually created a space that felt more connected.
“Immediately the design ambition was to clean everything up and bring coherence to everything,” said Moriyama. “This is where the breeze wall came from.”
A breezeway wall, in stark white, flanks the courtyard creating an oasis in a strip mall, but also driving cars roaming through the space into drive-thru.
Instead of emulating the highly sensitive design and bright colors of most fast food restaurants, Taco Mesita uses lush landscaping and simple lattice seating with a two-tone finish: orange and white.
A wood-burning grill and grill can both be seen through the wide windows that look into the kitchen, another purposeful design move.
“We wanted to show off the company’s operations because we cook everything from scratch,” Nico said. “We have nothing to hide.”
Misita’s taco is a family business, and on a recent weekday afternoon, Evan himself placed half-sheet bowls of food on the tables while Niko greeted customers.
“I love being here with him,” Niko said, looking at his father, “I love serving people and helping them to have a great experience.”
Evan said he’s happy to continue working with his son as well, just like he did in the good old days when he helped Niko as a kid.
Evan said: “The most satisfying thing is that I get to work here with my son, and not just with him but with Max, who I’ve known since he was a baby, and now seeing them grow up and get involved in the work… That’s really the best.”
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