Taqo is set in the former Happy All Chinese Restaurant in the Heights.

It took longer than its partners wanted, but Taqo Mexican Kitchen y Tequileria is now open at 1343 Yale St. in the Heights, serving up a bevy of craft tacos and bowls for lunch and dinner with big plans ahead.

"It was in pretty bad shape," said partner Hector de Los Santos about the property that previously housed Happy All Chinese Restaurant. "Every time we unturned a stone there was something else that we had to take care of." His team changed the entire foundation and redid the building's plumbing, electrical, and air-conditioning systems. After all that, plus some coats of brick red and teal paint, Taqo looks quite different from the restaurant that once occupied the space.

As for the food, it's tacos, something that the Heights has plenty of between—among others—Fusion Taco, Superica, Eight Row Flint, La Vibra, Chilosos, and Torchy's. But the partners, who also run the meal prep company My Protein Grill, say the difference with Taqo is with the ingredients: the restaurant promises tacos that work in tandem with a clean-eating lifestyle (high-protein and low-carb eaters ... rejoice).

"We're keeping the integrity of Mexican cuisine but also catering to the community of the Heights," says Marcela Perez, head chef at Taqo, who developed the menu with the five partners behind the restaurant. 

From left, buffalo crunchy cauliflower, portobello mushroom fajita, and Mexican squash tacos at Taqo.

Her menu includes the expected tacos like pork carnitas, brisket barbacoa, shrimp with chipotle aioli, and beef fajita, plus twists like a chicken al pastor taco starring a citrus-pineapple marinated chicken breast. Also, Taqo goes big on vegetable proteins, offering portobello mushrooms with onions and peppers in a house-made pesto; crunchy cauliflower marinated in buffalo sauce and topped with crumbled blue cheese, carrots, and celery; and calabacita (Mexican squash) with seared panela cheese, crema, onions, and peppers.

Diners can go with a taco on a homemade blue corn, flour, or cactus tortilla (Perez has developed her own grocery line of cactus tortillas), or they can opt for putting their meal in a bowl for about twice as much as the taco. Prices are on high for a single taco ($3.50–5.25), but the bowls are well portioned and seem to be a good deal ($6.95–8.95). Price aside, after a tasting, I recommend visiting and trying these tacos (especially the meatless offerings), as the flavor combinations work really well.

Taqo also has a variety of solid sides, from baby potatoes with spicy cilantro pesto (a recipe Perez took from her mother) to a rich, thick yellow queso with chorizo. All the sides are affordable, anywhere between $1 and $3.50.

By next week the partners are planning to open a full bar with tequila drinks, including margaritas and other house cocktails. Locker service will be available, where customers can store tequila bottles at the restaurant. Down the line, they'll roll out a proprietary tequila made for them in Mexico. They also hope to launch breakfast service as early as next week.

And that's not all. De Los Santos and partner Ed Lomeli say a second Taqo is planned to open by May at I-45 and Cypresswood Drive in Spring. That location will have a drive-thru and be more streamlined, as the partners hope to expand the concept as a chain that can grow nationally.

Whether Taqo will become a favorite of residents in the Heights and beyond is yet to be seen, but with considerable heft behind it and a clear vision for expansion, the restaurant will give it a strong try.

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