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Quesabirria Conquers

Taco & Co. thriving

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If it weren't for Gypsy's Trattoria Italiana, Daniel Castro might not have opened Taco & Co. in the Durant Food Court. He and his brother Israel were eating at Gypsy's this past August when they noticed an open storefront across the courtyard. By the following week, Castro had signed a formal agreement to move in. After rearranging and remodelling the space, Taco & Co. officially opened on Sept. 15.

Israel, the company spokesman, said that this Mexican American family-owned business really started at the beginning of the year. For the past two years, Daniel had been working as a taquero in Antioch at Los Originales, a.k.a. OG Tacos. While serving their famous quesabirrias and learning how to run a business, he realized that he wanted to open his own taqueria. Daniel decided to start catering in February as a launching pad. With support from friends and family, he continued to get enough referrals and recommendations to see the fledgling company through the summer.

"We took a huge risk when we opened in Berkeley during Covid-19," Israel says. "Half of the students aren't here. Regardless, when it comes to night time, you already know that it's alive in this place." The biggest adjustment hasn't been adapting to the pandemic. Israel explains that, personally, he underestimated the time commitment it takes to get a new business going. Daniel has a family to take care of and Israel also has another job.

But the Castros have a team of committed employees in place—with beverage support coming from their cousin Bernie Noguera. The "Bernie's" brand of bottled aguas frescas are on sale in the refrigerator behind the front counter. At the beginning of the year, Noguera had already started a cold brew delivery service when the Castros suggested they form a partnership. Noguera makes jamaica, horchata and strawberry horchata. And the team is also exploring the idea of adding seasonal beverages to the menu in the future.

Along with burritos, bowls and quesadillas, Daniel's menu includes the now ubiquitous—because it's both trendy and delicious—quesabirria. But the Castros have an inclusive attitude towards everybody's highly personal preferences for what goes into the making of a good taco. "People asked if we had hard shells, like Taco Bell," he says. "Or, 'Could you add sour cream and cheese?' That's, arguably, not the authentic Mexican way of making a taco." Determined to keep a range of customers' varied tastes in mind, Taco & Co. sells street tacos and an item that they call a super taco.

You can add or subtract any of the ingredients on either version of the tacos, but Israel says, "Big appetite, the super taco is the way to go." It's made with two tortillas; the outer one is crunchy to give it texture (The "dorado" at La Taqueria in San Francisco is a variation of this taco). The way that he describes it, it is a messy, and therefore worthwhile, experience. "When you grab it, everything is falling off, dripping. It's saturated with delicious tastes," he says.

Daniel also serves a mulita, which Israel likens to a "taco sandwich." It's made with their fresh, handmade corn tortillas, melted cheese and a protein. Only the corn tortilla and the smaller portion size distinguish it from a quesadilla. I tried one with nopales. The cactus held the pleasant crunch and snap of a green bean.

The Castros grew up eating tuna, the edible purple fruit that comes from the nopal plant, which Israel claims is "underrated." They also ate nopales in various ways, with, for example, chorizo or eggs. "In our family, we've always had nopales. We wanted to bring that to the world to showcase our heritage," he says. Their slogan—Taco State of Mind—ties in directly to the name Taco & Co. "When you're eating with a loved one or a friend, it makes the experience that much more memorable."

Taco & Co., open 11am to 11pm Monday to Thursday and 11am to 12am Friday and Saturday, 2521 Durant Ave, Suite B, Berkeley. 510.767.2680. facebook.com/officialtacoandcompany.

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