Taqado is a unique restaurant concept in the United Arab Emirates; it serves healthy Mexican food in a modern environment that is technically fast food, but still fancy enough to draw a wide base of customers. Taqado is one of several new locally-owned chain restaurants in the region, illustrating a growing entrepreneurial creativity in the culinary world of the UAE.
The concept at Taqado is simple: well-prepared Mexican cuisine meets the authenticity and flavor of roadside taqueria in a place like Guadalajara.
“We want to recreate the atmosphere of the street,” said Isaac Mendoza, the manager of Taqado. “In Mexico, you can go to small restaurants on a street corner, eat tacos on the hand, standing up. This is what we want.”
The Mexican restauranteur moved to the United Arab Emirates from Playa del Carmen in Mexico to help build the Taqado brand. Mendoza certainly has enough experience to run this type of concept; he’s worked at several Mexican restaurants as well as at the American chain restaurant Chipotle.
Everything at Taqado is authentically Mexican, from corn tortillas to the mariachi music coming from speakers above the kitchen. Taqado sells the Mexican hot sauce Cholula and even Jarritos, a popular Mexican brightly-colored soda with flavors like tamarind and pineapple.
Same with the salsa, which is chopped fresh daily. Taqado serves three different types of salsa: a pico de gallo (chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic and cilantro), a mild green tomatillo sauce, and a spicier red roja made of smoked chili peppers and pureed tomatoes. It’s not very spicy, despite the fact that it’s the ‘hottest’ of the three.
Taqado does, however, have some of the spiciest food in Abu Dhabi – but only if you ask for it. Cooks will bring out a tray of fresh red habaneros that they will gladly dice up and add to whatever you want (this fact alone is what gives Taqado a solid 5-pepper Camels Fire ranking).
“Most of our customers don’t want the heat,” Mendoza said. “But it’s important for us to be ready for those who do.”
There are three branches across the UAE, with plans to open seven more outlets by the end of the year, according to staff. It’s only been open for a few months in Abu Dhabi, but there’s a constant rush for tacos during weekday lunch hours.
Mendoza says it comes down to the fresh ingredients that he and his staff handpick from local markets.
“The best products make the best taco,” he said. “In Mexico, when we go to the supermarket, we would always choose the freshest tomatoes and produce. It may be very expensive, but we have to do it like this.”