Taco Bamba’s original store might come off as a simple taqueria—tucked into the corner of a strip mall, founder Victor Albisu says—but when customers walk in the doors, they are greeted with striking murals, a full-service cocktail bar, and a bold soundtrack of hip-hop and rock. 

The chef opened Taco Bamba in 2013 in Falls Church, Virginia. Prior to this, he had a fine-dining restaurant called Del Campo in Chinatown and had no plans to cross over into the takeout taqueria space. 

HEADQUARTERS: Northern Virginia





His mother, however, had eyed a space for a taqueria for a long time. Her Latin market had a competing dollar store next door, and when the space went up for sale, she called Albisu to build a restaurant. 

“It was very puzzling because I was a fine-dining chef, and I had just started building my career,” Albisu says. “It was totally unexpected for all of us and it’s still unbelievable.” 

The vision was to create a hole-in-the-wall concept with a spunk that supersedes the norm for a taqueria. Albisu’s fine-dining background elevates the experience through customized menus for each location, but the overall vibe is approachable. 

Albisu describes the journey as a “fruitful learning experience,” with the brand growing alongside its founder and team members. After its 2013 opening in Falls Church, Taco Bamba scaled to 11 stores over 10 years in the DMV area and most recently Raleigh, North Carolina. 

While staple dishes are served on every menu, each location has headliners exclusive to the local flavor profile; Albisu says he “could never imagine scaling one menu.” 

Items include the Taco Bamba (skirt steak, chorizo, grilled guacamole, chicharrónes) and the Torta Bamba, which is described as a “big-as-your-head sandwich.” 

The Raleigh-based menu includes the Sir Walter Raleigh (Carolina-style beef Frank, spiced ground beef, chili sauce, queso, and chipotle mustard) and the Big Fat Mexican, a vegetarian quesadilla with a roasted walnut mushroom “chorizo” and grilled corn. 

Cocktail bars are found at each taqueria, with mezcal-focused drinks like the Pink Pantera, a spin on the classic Paloma. The Disco Diablo mule mixes cherry basil syrup, lime, and ginger beer with the guest’s choice of tequila, vodka, or bourbon. 

“We do not shy away from the challenge of different menus, creating new artwork for every store, or trying new locations. We are different because we are constantly evolving,” Albisu says. “For a typical fast casual, [difficult] is usually not in the playbook. We don’t want to be typical.” 

The obstacle of constant creative evolution is not for everyone, Albisu admits. However, he finds that his company attracts the right workers: “In this challenge, you find great people … who can help you grow and scale. Our people are bonded to us, and within that you find connection.” 

While the ever-changing product is tricky to a certain extent and challenging to execute at an elevated level, he believes his employees are there because they believe in the concept. They match Albisu’s culture of openness and creativity. 

The Raleigh restaurant, which opened on August 28, is a prime example of Taco Bamba’s development. It is the first space outside of the Washington, D.C., metro area and the first standalone location. 

Albisu partnered with Raleigh-based New City Design Group to brainstorm the interior and exterior with local touches and Taco Bamba’s signature black and red artwork. The 2,500-square-foot space seats 54 inside and 10 at the bar. 

Unique to this restaurant is the covered and raised deck, which will provide additional outdoor seating and a picturesque view of the Carolina hillside. 

Albisu’s goal with Taco Bamba is to provide guests with an experience of growth. The rotating menus invite customers to go outside of their comfort zones and try something new. Each location is like walking into a new restaurant, the chef says. 

The glue holding the taquerias together is the same high-energy atmosphere, overstuffed tacos and tortas, yearly promotions, and events.

 Every Wednesday in September, the Raleigh location participated in the restaurant’s annual “bar crawl” with cocktail specials and collectible glassware. Additionally, as part of the grand opening celebrations, Taco Bamba gave away a free taco a week for a year to the first 100 guests. 

At the Shirlington, Virginia, taqueria, which opened in June, the first 50 customers received a free travel mug that could be used for the complimentary coffee offered at all Taco Bambas until mid-afternoon with any purchase. 

“We have people go to all the restaurants and try all the unique items once a year and give us their feedback,” Albisu says. “This is how we connect a lot of the dots [with promotions and events].” 

While franchising is certainly not off the table, Albisu is focused on company-wide growth first and keeping the brand’s ethos intact. 

“How do you maintain the flow of creativity and customer engagement? There is so much to it, and we know Bamba will show us the way,” Albisu says. “Hopefully franchising will be a challenge I can take on, but I don’t know when that’s going to be.” 

Albisu believes the brand has potential to grow everywhere, although he enjoys finding “Taco Towns” and markets with an interest in having fun. He looks for a connection to the people and creative potential, which he says is hard to quantify. He can just intuitively feel it. 

“We want to be able to thrive where people will find us,” Albisu says. “We are a company very much in service of a product and guardians of it … We want to be something people can really relate to in their neighborhoods.” 

Emerging Concepts, Fast Casual, Growth, Story, Taco Bamba