A New Taco in Town

Tacocita was the next logical step for the Bicos brothers

Chris and John Bicos made a name for themselves with The Original Tops, a circa-1952 quick-serve American diner. With their newest venture, they’re headed south of the border.    

Tacocita is a fast-casual stop for tacos and smoked chicken. Its flavors are taken from regions throughout Mexico and California to provide goodness for lunch and dinner. Currently, due to the coronavirus dictates, the food is available for lunch and dinner takeout.

“Growing up in Southern California and traveling to Mexico often, we have been lucky enough to eat some of the best tacos in the world,” Chris says.

“For us, they are the ultimate comfort food and will always be our go-to on a good day or a bad day. We have all these different concepts in our restaurant family—a cocktail lounge, a barbecue restaurant, a 60-year fast-food restaurant—and we felt that a taco concept was the next logical step to stretch us a bit further, but also aligned with our deep love and respect for the cuisine.”

Curating the Tacocita menu is executive chef Michael Brown, known for his culinary influence on the Patina Group’s famed Pinot Bistro, 5 Dudley, Opaline, Wolfgang Puck Catering, Brasserie Vert and Rick Bayless’s Red O.

Like the Bicos brothers, Brown is inspired by California and Mexican regional flavors. Brown has lived in various parts of the Yucatan Peninsula between Cancun and Tulum, and has extensively traveled throughout many regions, including Mexico City, Oaxaca, Chihuahua, Sonora, Guadalajara and the Baja Peninsula. The brothers have nothing but praise for Brown.

“Michael is so knowledgeable and innovative in his cooking, and it’s his creativity and technique that really helps set the Tacocita menu apart,” Chris says.

Brown’s expertise has set Tacocita apart from the typical taco stand, as every item is made from scratch. Brown keeps the Mexican tradition alive at Tacocita. He can be seen picking tiny rocks out of bags of dried black beans and soaking them overnight to prepare them the ancient Mayan way. He roasts all of Tacocita’s tomatoes, tomatillos and vegetables to prepare each of his housemade salsas.

For the mole, Brown individually prepares each ingredient—which can number in the 30s. Mole can be tedious.

“The trick to making a perfect mole that features so many different ingredients is to be able to combine them all into one perfectly balanced flavor that doesn’t have one or another ingredient standing out,” Brown says.

“This can be very difficult, as you do not want to taste too much chocolate or too much chile, but when it’s prepared correctly, the flavor is so worth it.”

Tacocita’s menu has something for meat lovers and vegetarians. There are nine signature tacos: grilled adobo chicken ($3.49); chipotle ground turkey ($3.49); drunken carnitas ($3.69); cochinita pibil ($3.69); potato and mushroom chorizo ($3.49); Sonoran-style carne asada ($4.29); braised beef birria ($3.99); Baja-style shrimp ($4.69); and grilled ahi ($4.69).

Aside from tacos, Tacocita boasts a, well, “not tacos” menu section that showcases classic Mexican dishes with a modern twist. The “all-day breakfast burrito” is filled with cage-free eggs, crispy house-smoked pork belly, potatoes, jack cheese, smoked poblano chili and onion, and blackened salsa ($6.99).

The Tacocita salad ($7.99) is a bed of baby lettuce piled high with candied pepitas, radish, charred onions, grilled corn, queso mix, toasted guajillo vinaigrette.

Street-cart fried quesadillas ($4.99)—with smoked poblano chile and onion, jack cheese, scallion cabbage slaw, charred jalapeño crema—aren’t found in most Mexican restaurants.

Rounding out the menu is enchiladas ($6.99)—with jack cheese, queso mix, marinated onions, and red and green enchilada sauce.

Pair any of the items with one of Brown’s four salsas at different spice levels.

During the coronavirus shutdown, the restaurant is offering packages to customers. For groups of four people, Tacocita is offering the “Hen House,” including four citrus-marinated and smoked boneless half chickens, black beans and poblano rice, one Tacocita salad, and 12 hand-pressed tortillas for $55.

The “Taco Party” includes eight tacos, two bags of chips and salsa, guacamole, black beans and poblano rice for $40. The “Burrito Bash” is served with two Tacocita burritos, four tacos, one Tacocita salad, and two bags of chips and salsa for $40.

For an increased price, the packages are available for more people.

The Bicos brothers just want to take care of the folks in Pasadena as they have for 60 years with The Original Tops.

“We have been embedded in this neighborhood in East Pasadena for over 60 years because of our first family restaurant, The Original Tops, which is just down the street,” he says. “We have known and loved this community for so long and we saw that it was growing and changing, and we wanted to be at the forefront of that.”