Over the past 20 years, Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co. owner Mike Rangel has been immersed in the world of, well, pizza and brewing. But in the back of his mind, another idea has been marinating, fueled in large part by flavors that have often washed over his tastebuds. “I’m kind of a taco fiend,” Rangel says.
This insatiable craving for Mexican food had the pizza and brew man dreaming every so often of the satisfying crunch of a hard-shelled taco. And with each passing year, as businesses came and went at the nearby drive-thru at 705 Merrimon Ave., Rangel’s vision of owning his own taco business grew.
In April, Rangel took the leap. His taco venture is scheduled to open in mid-August as Tacos and Taps. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” he says of the space, which previously housed Bratburger, VegHeads and, originally, Back Yard Burger, all within seven years. “It doesn’t have a great track record.”
Beyond location, Rangel is aware that he’ll be competing with some “incredible places.” Unlike, say, White Duck, however, Rangel won’t be focused on gourmet-style tacos. “We’re not going to be overly fancy,” he says. “We like a good, hearty taco. …. And being that it’s going to be a drive-thru, we’ll definitely be focused on speed as well.”
The menu will start out with an exclusive focus on tacos, and Rangel has made it a point to avoid looking to other local venues for inspiration. Instead, he’s researched and sampled over 50 menus from around the country. His primary sources have been shops in Southern California and Texas. Of particular interest and influence is a growing chain based out of Austin called Torchy’s Tacos. “We like the spirit of what they’re doing,” he says. “They’ve got an irreverent but fun attitude about tacos.”
Torchy’s has a taco of the month, and Rangel plans to incorporate his own version of this by way of soliciting community input. “We’ll be asking a lot of our customers for taco suggestions,” he says.
The menu will include “unpretentious tacos” like ground beef, house-seasoned lean turkey and a slow-cooked, chopped chicken option. With these choices, guests can build their own meal, with such toppings as Monterey Jack cheese, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, pickled vegetable medley, cilantro, baja sauce, pico de gallo and lime wedges.
Speciality tacos will also be available. With names like Ahi El Rey (a salt and pepper-encrusted, sushi-grade ahi tuna with a zesty blend of cabbage, pico de gallo, wasabi mayo and cilantro in a flour tortilla) and El Diablo (seitan blended with spices, chopped cilantro and white onion in a soft corn tortilla), these tacos highlight another component of Tacos and Taps: lucha libre, a form of wrestling in Mexico.
“It’s much more dramatic and has better storylines than American wrestling,” says Rangel, who’s been a fan of lucha libre for years. He adds that the side of the building is going to look like a wrestling ring. “And our menu and our to-go items will have Mexican wrestler stickers and temporary tattoos for the kids.”
Rangel says that once the restaurant nails down its taco options, it will explore other menu items such as quesadillas and taco bowls. There are also plans, in time, to make tortillas in-house.
The other half of the equation is beer. Guests will be able to buy and refill growlers through the drive-thru at Tacos and Taps. “By law it’s considered the same as a convenience store,” says Rangel. “A growler,” he adds, “is considered a closed container.”
Patrons will have 16 taps to choose from. Six will be reserved for Asheville Brewing Co. beers, and the other 10 will be guest taps. Wicked Weed, Burial Beer Co. and Green Man will be among the local features. Rangel is also looking to include brews from outside Asheville — Fauna Flora, Foothills, NoDa, Green Flash and Founders are among the breweries he’s considering.
The beer options, though, will change. Rangel says Tacos and Taps will offer new brews regularly. Beer suggestions will come not only from Asheville Pizza and Brewing’s brewmasters, but from patrons. “Asheville has a tendency to nudge you in the right way,” Rangel says. Suggestions can be made online, once the company website is up and running.
“We want it to be very convenient, fresh, affordable [and] supertasty,” Rangel says. “You’ll be able to get a great, classic hard shell taco — the taco you grew up on.”