Tacombi was originally born on the sandy beaches of the Yucatan in 2005, serving tacos out of a VW bus. Now, they have restaurants open in five different locations – four of them located in Manhattan (the Empire State Building is one of them) and one restaurant at the East End of Long Island – Montauk. Their story shows that hard work and passion can get you a long, long way. Read about their journey from Yucatan to Manhattan below.
In 2005 Tacombi team purchased a 1963 VW Kombi bus in Mexico and drove it very slowly through the Yucatan to Playa del Carmen. They pulled out the engine, sold the transmission, and began converting it into a taco-slinging machine.
Over the next two years, Tacombi opened two locations in Playa del Carmen, one of which was cozily nestled between the nightclubs on the busy “Calle 12”. The buses were serving traditional tacos, tortas and aguas frescas to tourists and locals.
Tacombi headed to New York City to start searching, street by street, for the perfect parking spot from which to share authentic Mexican taco culture with New York.
With very little more than a dream, some great people and a lot of hard work, Tacombi opened a flagship restaurant, Tacombi Nolita, on Elizabeth Street.
After a year of operation, Tacombi Nolita received its first beer and wine license, helping to bring even more people into the restaurant, allowing us to share our love for Mexican food culture with an ever-growing audience.
In the summer of 2013 Tacombi had the opportunity to bring the band back to its beachside roots and open a new location, La Brisa, in the small fishing, beaching, and surfing community of Montauk, New York. Generations of Montauk fishers have ensured the availability of some of the freshest local fish available to New York. La Brisa takes advantage of this by highlighting the local catch and using it to share the traditional coastal recipes of Mexico.
With a new focus on building a team to deliver old-world “Mexican hospitality,” offer a higher level of food and service, and continue to tell the Tacombi story, we opened Tacombi Flatiron. The restaurant is a traditional Mexico City-style cafe and dining room offering coffee from Veracruz, fresh pastries, made-to-order Mexican juices and our tasty tacos.
Their food philosophy is impressive; Tacombi explores the depth and diversity of traditional Mexican cuisine from the distinct culinary regions of Mexico and serves it in the simplicity of a taco. Travel, research, and discovery keep their flavors authentically Mexican while respect for ingredients and their treatment keeps their sourcing sustainable. They work every day to source fairtrade, organic food that supports farmers who share their values.
Luiz Perez, the general manager of Tacombi, was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.
What is your number one goal for your business?
To share a journey through the rich culture, tradition & history of Mexico through its food and deliver it with warmth, pride & friendliness to the great people of Montauk and New York City.
What do you like the most about Montauk & New York City?
What’s not to love about NYC? It’s the greatest city in the world; you can’t boast enough about NY, it meets every superlative. There is unrestricted access to everything the world has to offer in one place. So, to think you could drive 3 hours and be in one of the most picturesque beaches on the eastern seaboard is really something. Montauk was once a quaint fishing town, that has since been invaded by the super-rich and still manages to maintain that old-world charm. Each summer we get the diversity of life from New York City, and we take them to Mexico at La Brisa while surrounded by the rustic beauty of Montauk. It’s quite a privilege for us to be a part of that experience.
Our primary goal is to inspire people and let them know about hard-working people and their inspirations. Therefore, what three tips would you give someone who wants to open their own restaurant?
To open a restaurant is one thing, to open a restaurant that has a heart and that develops a loyal following is another. You have to be passionate about the food and concept, along with the hospitality you extend to everyone involved, whether they are dining at your establishment or they are an employee. With any business you have to have a plan, something that is well thought out and gains support from those around you, people willing to invest money or time into your operation. Finally, location, location, location…it’s a real thing.
Below I have listed a few items from Tacombi’s Menu. Doesn’t it all sound incredibly delicious?
VISTA HERMOSA – TORTILLAS AND SALSAS
From the Aztecs 2000 years ago to the street stalls of today, tortillas have been the foundation of Mexican culinary culture. A quality tortilla is essential to a quality taco experience. Vista Hermosa is Tacombi’s brand of corn & flour tortillas, totopos, tostadas and salsas that we make in-house every day to exceptional quality.
Corn cooked in lime for 12 hours, then washed and ground in volcanic stones to produce masa or dough which is then pressed, cut and cooked.
NOTABLE INGREDIENTS: 100% Landrace, non-GMO corn from small farms in Oaxaca & Michoacán. Our sourcing helps sustain a fair market that promotes biodiversity, supports small farms in Mexico and produces an exceptional corn masa.
THE STORY: Our sourcing helps sustain a fair market that promotes biodiversity, supports small farms in Mexico and produces a corn masa of exceptional quality.
Rolled, pressed and baked the old-fashioned, traditional way using avocado oil.
NOTABLE INGREDIENTS: As part of our philosophy of using every part of the ingredients we source, we render pork Manteca from our hogs and use it in the production of our flour tortillas.
THE STORY: More common in Mexico’s northern states where corn was difficult to cultivate, flour tortillas are cooked on comals until they blister and puff up perfectly before becoming breakfast tacos & quesadillas.
A selection of all natural arbol, jalapeño, morita and habanero salsas produced in house.
NOTABLE INGREDIENTS: 100% natural salsas free of additives & preservatives. The origins of salsa can be traced to the ancient
THE STORY: Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas. Today, in Mexico, salsa is doused, dolloped & poured liberally on almost everything at every meal and are as varied as the country itself.
CEVICHE (ONLY AVAILABLE AT LA BRISA)
Fresh Atlantic fluke ‘cooked’ in lime and orange juice, with pico de gallo, cucumber, salsa ceniza & pickled red onion served over a small amount of guacamole – served with homemade totopos.
NOTABLE INGREDIENTS: Local Fluke – A firm-fleshed white fish. All our fish is sourced from small-scale sustainable wild fisheries.
THE STORY: Ceviche is best served sitting in the shade of palm trees growing from the sand on the beach where the fish was caught – so we use the freshest fish available to get as close to that experience as we can.
BAJA CRISPY FISH
Beer battered Tile fish fried and served on a bed of spicy pickled cabbage, then topped with roasted poblano mayonnaise on a house- made corn tortilla.
NOTABLE INGREDIENTS: Local Tilefish from Gossman’s
THE STORY: Driving along the Baja desert coast north of Ensenada is a small fishing town that was once home to Japanese immigrants in the 1920s who prepared their daily Pacific catch in a tempura style – over time this was adopted by the locals to create the distinctive Baja Fish Taco.
Beef shoulder slow-cooked in banana leaves topped with salsa ceniza, onion, and cilantro.
NOTABLE INGREDIENTS: Grass-fed beef from Fossil Farms, which is always hormone and antibiotic free.
THE STORY: Like a ritual, on Saturdays and Sundays, the hungover masses in Mexico sit down to warm broth and slowly cooked meat which has been cooked since the night before in the earth seasoned and wrapped in banana leaves. It is beyond a dish; it is a culinary technique and tradition.