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  • 12 Taco Concepts Spicing Up Fast Casual

    Emerging Concepts November 20, 2018 By Rachel Taylor
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    Otto’s Tacos

    When it comes to fast-casual taco concepts, established and new brands alike are growing like crazy from coast to coast. Some of these dynamic chains are breaking the molds of what a Tex-Mex taco restaurant should look like. Other chefs are drawing from their heritage, sticking to authentic recipes, and crafting menus full of classic dishes. Either way, these taco brands on the move and expanding without sacrificing the quality of their food.

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    Chronic Tacos

    Chronic Tacos

    Chronic Tacos has been on an expansion trajectory for the past two years. In that time, the chain doubled in size, bringing its total to 51 locations. CEO and president of Chronic Tacos, Michael Mohammed, refined the systems and design before relaunching the franchising initiative in 2014.

    “Chronic Tacos is in full momentum and we don’t see that slowing down anytime soon,” Mohammed said in a statement. “Our marketing coin is 'Live the Taco Life,' and we felt there was a real opportunity in the segment. We’re a very unique brand in that we offer very authentic food but we really embrace the creativity and uniqueness as well. Through art and music, we’re a taco shop with a bit of an edge."

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    Taqueria del Sol

    Taqueria del Sol

    At any one of Taqueria del Sol’s seven locations, long lines form before each opening, with guests waiting to get their hands on Chef Eddie Hernandez’s tacos, queso, and turnip greens. The Atlanta-based chain opened in 2000 and expanded to five locations throughout the city and up north into Nashville with two locations. Hernandez draws inspiration from Southern, Mexican, and Southwestern dishes to create Taqueria del Sol’s from-scratch menu. Even though Hernandez uses high-quality ingredients—one would usually find in a fine-dining establishment—food and drink prices have remained reasonable and on par with other fast-casual Mexican establishments. The core menu at Taqueria del Sol remains constant with a selection of tacos, enchiladas, and sides, but the restaurant also rotates weekly specials, featuring a taco, blue plate, chef's and seafood special.

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    Bubbakoo’s Burritos

    Bubbakoo’s Burritos

    When Paul Altero created a mock business plan for a class assignment at the University of Delaware in 1995, made-to-order burrito concepts were something one dreamed about. Little did Altero know this dream would become a reality a little over a decade later. Altero, along with Bill Hart, left Johnny Rockets in 2008 to open the first Bubbakoo’s Burritos on the Jersey Shore.

    Today, the build-your-own burrito concept has 24 locations operating throughout New Jersey. Franchise expansion ramped up between 2017 and 2018 and Bubbakoo anticipates reaching between 100–200 stores within the next five years.

    Fuzzy's Taco Shop.
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    Fuzzy's Taco Shop

    Fuzzy’s Taco Shop

    The Baja-style taco joint, Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, is one of the fastest growing taco franchises in the country. Fuzzy’s, which just celebrated its 17th anniversary, has grown to 144 restaurants across 12 states with an additional 17 locations in development. QSR recognized Fuzzy’s as a great opportunity for experienced operators and included it as one of the Top 6 “Best Franchise Deals by Franchisee Satisfaction.”

    Fuzzy’s recently brought on industry veteran David Catalano as chief operating officer to help with the growth of the brand. “I’m excited to join a company that is already doing so many things right,” Catalano said in a statement. “I’ve been a fan of the brand for a long time and look forward to using my restaurant and hospitality experience to further the Fuzzy’s Taco Shop success story.”

    Two steak tacos with a side of dipping sauce at Tacodeli.
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    Kevin Marple

    Tacodeli

    Tacodeli’s founder and co-owner Roberto Espinosa’s love of food and Mexican heritage inspired him to open the restaurant in 1999. Almost two decades later, Tacodeli now has 10 locations among Austin, Houston, and Dallas. Along with tacos, Tacodeli fans love the salsa offerings at the restaurant (three of which are available at select Whole Foods). Espinosa said expansion outside of Texas is possible, as long as the company grows at a rate that doesn’t affect the positive culture surrounding Tacodeli. “At the end of the day, we can’t do any of this if we don’t have the right team,” Espinosa told QSR earlier this year. 

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    Anna’s Taqueria / Brian Samuels

    Anna's Taqueria

    Inspired by the authentic Mexican food of San Francisco’s Mission District, founder Mike Kamio opened Anna’s Taqueria in Boston in 1995 to bring this iconic style of food to the East Coast. Anna’s Taqueria founder Mike Kamio realized Boston was lacking this type of restaurant and seized the opportunity to open the Mission-style burrito restaurant. Over the past two and a half decades, the company grew and opened locations across Boston, Cambridge, Newton, and Somerville that are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. From day one, Kamio stressed the importance of fresh ingredients, authentic recipes, and expert rolling and assembly.

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    Torchy’s Tacos

    Torchy’s Tacos

    Known for spicy, “Damn, good” tacos, Torchy’s Tacos is an Austin staple that’s grown and expanded in and out of the Lone Star state. Taking advantage of the growing popularity of street food, founder Mike Rypka started the company in a food truck. The original location closed earlier this year, but the brand is still going strong with 72 locations in Texas, Colorado, and Oklahoma.

    Tacos at Antique Taco in Chicago.
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    Antique Taco

    Antique Taco

    Husband and wife founders Rick and Ashley Ortiz are changing the fast-casual taco game in Chicago. Across the company’s three locations, diners will find a welcoming, cozy vibe decorated with antiques. Rick’s cooking blends his Mexican heritage with Midwestern flavors to create a menu of elevated Mexican fare. Taco options include the Sweet & Spicy Chicken with chicken, yogurt, cucumber, jalapeno, pink onion, and mint, and the Potato & Poblano with potatoes, queso, chipotle crema, scallions, and potato skins. There’s also the Fried Chicken Burrito, the Antique Taco Salad, and desserts like the Horchata Milkshake and the Abuelita Poptart.

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    Greg Powers

    Taco Bamba

    Chef Victor Albisu, a James Beard semifinalist for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic, took a detour from his fine-dining career at his restaurant Del Campo in Washington, D.C. a few years ago to open a new fast-casual concept, Taco Bamba. Albisu grew up in kitchen learning from cooks across Latin America. Drawing from inspiration of his Cuban and Peruvian roots, Albisu puts his own touch on Mexican fare at Taco Bamba. Since opening, the restaurant has expanded to four locations in the D.C. area. Later this year, another location is expected to open in Fairfax, Virginia. Earlier this year, Albisu decided to close Del Campo and transform the space into two new concepts. The former Del Campo space now houses Taco Bamba, which is open all day, and Poca Madre, a high-end Mexican restaurant.

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    Überrito

    Überrito

    The fast-casual burrito brand currently operates five Houston-area locations and one Phoenix store. Earlier this year, Überrito signed a Master Franchise Agreement opening the potential of 100 new franchise locations—just in Texas. This new expansion plan will boost the brands footprint in Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. Überrito’s expansion isn’t limited to the Lone Star State. In June 2017, the company launched a nationwide franchising program allowing potential franchisees to enter into single- or multi-unit deals.  

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    Otto’s Tacos

    Otto's Tacos

    When Otto Cedeno opened New York City-based Otto’s Tacos, he wanted to bring some California flavor—flavors of his home—to the East Coast. The core menu features tacos topped with chicken, carnitas, and carne asada tacos. The menu at this taqueria can get a little weird with tacos sometimes topped with buffalo chicken or eggplant parmesan. "Almost everyone can get down with a good taco," Cedeno told QSR.  "They're almost demographic-breaking, in a sense. We see every walk of life in our shops enjoying them, and that's always really attracted us to the cuisine. I'm a big fan of bringing people together." There are four locations that are currently open across New York City and if guests can’t make it into a store, all locations offer online ordering and delivery.

    A trio of tacos at Velvet Taco fast casual.
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    Velvet Taco / Kevin Marple

    Velvet Taco

    The Dallas-based, self-proclaimed “funky, fast-casual” restaurant uses the freshest ingredients to create interesting tacos each day. Across its 10 locations, the chain takes a multi-cultural approach when coming up with flavors. Even though it is based in Texas, this taco chain doesn’t stick to Tex-Mex flavors in its tacos. Some of the tacos diners will find on the Velvet Taco menu include: Shrimp and Grits, Cuban Pig, Spicy Tikka Chicken, and Ahi Poke. Earlier this fall, four new brunch tacos were added to the menu and are available to order all day.