After initial hopes of opening this past summer never materialized, the Long Beach Taco Company is moving forward with plans to break into the Long Beach market, putting the final touches onto its downtown gourmet taco joint at the southeast corner of 1st and Linden.

The brainchild of, and second restaurant from, Armando Velazquez, owner of Placentia’s much-lauded Salt & Ash,  Long Beach Taco Company marks Velazquez’s shift away from Salt & Ash’s bone marrow and French toast fare opting instead for tacos that range from traditional to experimental.

“I am aiming for a dual menu,” Velazquez said. “On one side, we’ll have the tacos I am used to being served in Tijuana: classic, handmade tortillas with carne asada, birria, carnitas … But then, I want to provide my kitchen the chance to experiment.”

Not only does Velazquez wants his kitchen staff to have a chance at creating main menu items, he also wants people to understand that Mexican food should not be defined by cheapness or accessibility. The late Anthony Bourdain famously proclaimed it was ridiculous, and racist, to assume all Mexican food should be cheap; Velazquez echoes those sentiments, calling Mexican food is “the most undervalued, under-appreciated world cuisine with tremendous, tremendous potential.” It’s a sentiment that has turned into culinary gold for joints like Broken Spanish in downtown Los Angeles and Taco María in Costa Mesa.

Armando Valezquez, owner of the soon-to-open Long Beach Taco Company, at his Salt & Ash restaurant in Orange County.
Armando Velazquez, owner of the soon-to-open Long Beach Taco Company, at his Salt & Ash restaurant in Orange County.

“Like all cuisines, the food of Mexico is rich and worthy of attention outside of what everyone thinks it is,” Velazquez said. “There are a lot of presumptions and clichés about Mexican food, even from our own people, and I think the potential to expand Mexican cuisine is huge. We can make a twisted taco and make it great.”

As to what the twist on the twisted tacos is, we’re uncertain because he is leaving that up to his chefs, sous chefs, and kitchen staff. He noted it could be “experimenting with different types of tortillas” or different meats. Up the street at Broadway, Padre serves fried chicken tacos while Pier 76 down the street at Pine serves smoked fish tacos that are some of the most spectacular in the city—no joke—but it’s unlikely that Velazquez will go down either of those roads.

“We’ll be pushing boundaries on the flipside of the menu,” he said.

When it comes to the traditional side, Velazquez will have little competition given the lack of high quality Mexican food in downtown Long Beach. Still, there are potential obstacles: Las Delicias de Michoacan, once home to the best carne asada tacos in the city, closed up shop and became a second location for the worthy-but-not-spectacular Leo’s Mexican Grill, while the original Los Compadres is all the way up at 12th and Pine, making it difficult for residents and workers in the area to accessing it on a regular basis.

Even better? Velazquez is going to have twenty taps dedicated to local beers, with a handful given to Mexico’s growing cerveza artesanal scene. And while one still has to take the day-drive down to Plaza Fiesta in Tijuana to enjoy one of the most accessible concentrations of cerveza artesanal, brands such as Insurgente and Agua Mala are exploding across Los Angeles while bars such as Boyle Heights’ Xelas are becoming epicenters of the Mexican craft beer scene. Still, with these vibes only occurring sparingly in Los Angeles and San Diego, Velazquez is tapping in on the pulse of a growing market and bringing it into Long Beach.

While initial setbacks have pushed back their summer target opening, Velazquez is confident they will be open before the end of the year.

Long Beach Taco Company will be located at 442 E First St.

Brian Addison is a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] on social media at FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.