The unique flavors of City Tacos didn’t just happen. They take careful consideration and a strong background and passion for food. Owner Gerry Torres has created a exhilarating experience for customers at his North Park based taco shop that is filled with daring combinations that leave locals and tourists alike wanting more of this tasty stray from traditional Mexican food.
Torres has masterfully incorporated many aspects of his life through City Tacos. He has worked in almost all areas of the food industry from being a busser, bartender, waiter, manager and finally an owner. Taking care of people comes naturally to him; therefore his mind is focused on the customer and how he can perfect his craft to fit their wants and needs. Because of this, City Tacos is constantly adding, subtracting and improving their tacos.
“I don’t let myself think we are good, or we are great. I don’t think we are. I go in thinking everyday is a new challenge, every guest is a new challenge.”
This doesn’t stop Torres and his partner, Chef Eduardo Baeza crank out unique tacos all day and all night. Torres’ passion for food is what fuels his concoctions and perfectly paired combinations. Living half of his life in Mexico City, Torres decided on tacos as his shop speciality because they are protein packed, no fuss, in your face, fresh, fast and when prepared well, they are beautiful.
“I love food, I love food from everywhere. I love to eat and I love to put those flavors together. When I try something that is beautiful, I think what can I do with that? I look at the way something tastes and I try to improve upon it,” he said.
His tacos take a quick turn from the norm, as he offers a Mexican style food base, but with an international flare. There are influences from Italian and French cuisine as well as the freshest fruits and vegetables that give City Tacos an up scale taste compared to the average hole-in-the-wall taco stand.
Not only do the tacos, fresh ingredients, and unique combinations bring people to the door, but the ambiance of the restaurant itself. When you walk in the door, you know that this is different. The entire menu is in Spanish, and purposely too, so that customers are forced to order while speaking the language of this food’s culture. Torres also encourages his Spanish-speaking employees to converse in their native tongue to provide an authentic atmosphere as well as providing customers with a blending of the cultures. Because of these different fusions of food, City Tacos makes some very different styles of tacos. Every bite is special, and therefore important.
“I want to have acidity, I want to have sweetness, I want to have saltiness, I want to have bitterness, I want to have crunch, I want to have temperatures because that is what excites your taste buds. If you have all of that in one bite, you are going to be in heaven,” said Torres.
Although their tacos have always been complex, City Tacos has a surprisingly humble beginning. The taco shop opened with only four tacos originally, causing customers to question how this old-fashioned and developing taco shop would fit into North Park.
“There was a fight within the customer as they were trying to understand the idea through the point of view of traditional tacos. Once we got recognition, people were willing to try something different. The concept itself was a little risky, because there was nothing like it out there,” Torres explains.
Adding new tacos about every two months since their opening, City Tacos has fifteen tacos, each one exceedingly and vibrantly different from the next, making the stand a popular North Park hub for good grub. Torres’ proven tactic for creating splendid new sequences of ingredients depends, like all the things at his shop, on the consumer. When he creates a new taco, his first instinct is to give it away to a guest.
“I say ‘try it, let me know what you think’ and if everybody likes it, it goes on the menu, if not it goes back to the drawing board. I actually have the people that will be eating the tacos decide what’s on the menu,” reveals Torres.
This kitchen-to-customer technique is not the only quality that sets City Tacos apart. The homemade salsa bar sits awaiting customers to scoop up their ideal dip and take to their table, but the chips are bizarre, healthy and different from any other taco shop around. Instead of offering the typical tortilla chips with their mixture of mild, medium, hot sauces, the taqueria substitutes jicama, carrots and cucumbers as chips, a memorable alternative for owner, Gerry Torres.
“All these vegetables are cool snacks. When we were growing up we would lunch on those and munch on those. Instead of potato chips, that is what we got,” Torres said laughing.
Jicama, unknown to Americans as a Mexican food, has actually been utilized in Mexico for almost a decade. Torres suspects that jicama has not been employed in the United States because of people’s perception of Mexican food, but believes that this perception is evolving at an extremely rapid pace. A jicama tortilla, which is a City Tacos alternative for regular tortilla, is also a way to cater to people with gluten allergies or those who are trying to avoid corn. With new combinations to try, customers are becoming more adventurous and trying new flavors, even when they aren’t from the standard “Mexican” food that San Diegans have come to know and love, due to immediate influence from across the border.
Because of this closeness with Mexico and popularity of food from this heritage, it is difficult to really do something one hundred percent original. Torres’ philosophy is defined as not wanting to steal flavors from somewhere else, but sometimes you have to as it is the evolution of food. But even when taste, techniques, and timeliness of the service can differ, the binding factor for all “real” Mexican restaurants is authenticity.
“Authenticity is the common ground between what I do, and what those have done in the past. Everything in City Tacos is made in house and that way you can guarantee quality. You know what you are putting in and your recipe is a proven recipe. What sets you apart is when you do things a bit better or with a twist,” Torres clarifies.
With superior quality ingredients compared to other taco stands, City Tacos can make better combinations of zesty food. The most popular taco, the Camaron taco, has sautéed shrimp in a Serrano Chile egg batter topped with grilled calabacitas and corn in a delicate green tomatillo salsa with cilantro and red onions, while it’s more hearty sister taco, the Puerto Agridulce taco, is stuffed full with tender pork loin in a spicy sweet and sour demi glaze, avocado pulp, diced Serrano peppers, red onions, cilantro and fried rice noodles. No taco is alike, but all are equally daring and bold.
While all tacos are delicately placed on a handmade flour or corn tortilla, there are also fresh made salsas, batters and aguas frescas. Therefore, the taco shop is almost a twenty-hour operation, opening just a few hours after they close. But no hard work is wasted; as people from all over San Diego County have relished every minute the shop has been open, with their exclusive, savory selection of tacos. Definitely not the only one, Tanya Feldman, Encinitas resident, makes quite the trek for her devotion to these terrific tacos.
“There is something uniquely special about City Tacos. Special enough I make a drive from North County all the way to North Park. I love Mexican food, but this is different. From a variety of interesting meats and a plethora of seafood, and affordable prices, this place will not disappoint!”
City Tacos opened up May 5th 2014, and has boomed in the hip, young atmosphere of North Park, San Diego. Torres’ fondest memory of his enterprise is their two-year anniversary celebration, which was this year, in 2016, as most restaurants that are unsuccessful close down within a year of opening. They hosted a fiesta with DJ’s, performers and a live band. Torres got to throw a party for those who made his taco shop successful, and that was North Park.
“I was practically giving food away, to show my appreciation. North Park is fantastic. Everybody is very genuine, they are adventurous when it comes to food, and people are very respectful of property and the place itself. People that are from North Park or in North Park are there to have a good time.”
Throughout the incredible delectable delights produced at City Tacos, even more special is the passion and infatuation that Torres has with food. It is his calling, his love and most importantly his purpose. His North Park taco shop has been a great hit with locals, sightseers and businessmen alike, all in search of the most daring, delicious dunk into Mexican heritage, but with a slight twist. Overall, Torres is happy with his victory in this area, but continues to reach for higher grounds. Every day he wakes up with one goal on his mind.
“I want to give myself the opportunity to make the best tacos, not only in San Diego, but in all the US hopefully one day.”
Torres has recently opened up another restaurant in North Park specializing in fresh, sustainable and nutritious foods: Tostadas. Located just down the street from his taco stand, City Tacos, Tostadas is a healthy lunch spot for those looking for fish and meat tostadas, fresh made juices with local fruits and vegetables and Hispanic style soups. Torres loves the area and saw fit another location in this historic area, furthering his footprint in North Park.