Line up! In its first few weeks, Tacovore, the new taquería at 5th and Blair, has already attracted quite the following with its menu of tacos, tortas, desserts and drinks.
“I felt like Eugene needed another place that was a quick-service restaurant that served relatively healthy food in a fun environment,” says owner Steve Mertz, longtime general manager of Laughing Planet.
Mertz says that people on the West Coast seem to have a special affinity for Mexican food, especially tacos. “But I think that where a lot of Mexican-based eateries fall short is that they don’t worry about the quality of their core ingredients,” he continues. “There’s a lot of great tasting taquerías here, but you kind of know what you’re getting when you spend a dollar for a taco.”
At Tacovore, it costs $2.50-$3.50 per taco. The menu balances different diet preferences — in addition to meat options like grilled chicken, carnitas and carne asada, there are gluten-free, paleo-friendly, vegan and vegetarian options, such as crispy tofu, bean and cheese and mushroom tacos. Tortas include carne asada, carnitas, eggplant and grilled chicken. A flourless chocolate cake and a margarita flan are on the menu for dessert.
Mertz says he was lucky to hire Tacovore’s head chef, Gabriel Gil, who diners may remember from Soubise, Rabbit and Red Agave. “That was not planned whatsoever,” Mertz says. “Actually, Gabriel lives across the street from me, and I’ve known him for a while.”
When Mertz began remodeling the building, formerly home to the Pizza Research Institute, Gil offered to consult on the project, and after Soubise closed, Mertz hired Gil, bar manager Amy Hand and some of Soubise’s staff.
Hand’s influence on Tacovore is already evident — Mertz says they’ve worked to perfect a margarita recipe that’s getting rave reviews. “I was going to start with a little more simplified bar program, but Amy convinced me that we could make it a little bit more fun,” he adds.
Like most brand new restaurants, Mertz says Tacovore is still refining its systems and putting some finishing touches on the space. He’s planning to add colorful art on the walls. While the primary menu is pretty much set for a while, “I have plenty of room on the wall for special boards, and I plan on using the wall space for that,” Mertz says. “We want to be able to switch it up with the seasons.”
And then there’s the matter of the unused space that PRI utilized as an entryway. Mertz says that it won’t necessarily be part of Tacovore, and for now he’s keeping his plans a secret. “I have a couple of different options,” he says. “I’m going to keep the space myself, and I’m trying to determine exactly what is the best need for the neighborhood — not necessarily for me but what the neighborhood needs.”
Tacovore is open 11 am to 10 pm every day at 530 Blair Blvd., tacovorepnw.com.