Gio Taco Traverses Tasty Taco Terrain Today. Now Open!
December 12, 2013
by James J. Jefferies
It is no secret that Mexican food, above all other foods in the Tucson area, incites the most passionate discussions among gastronauts and hungry Tucsonans alike. When Bill Clinton made a much ballyhooed Presidential excursion to a Mexican restaurant in 1999, he didn’t do it in Phoenix, or Los Angeles – he did it in Tucson. We’re known for the best Mexican food in America, period. And among all the various dishes that people swear by, few are as much of a catalyst for heated arguments as the humble taco.
Everyone that calls Tucson home has some kind of firm opinion on the matter as to what truly constitutes a legitimate taco. Plenty of folks swear on the standard street taco, a soft corn or flour tortilla with a smattering of grilled steak or chicken or pork, with a splash of salsa, cabbage, and diced onions with cilantro. Others in the Old Pueblo stand by the uniquely Sonoran variant which involves a half-moon of raw ground beef formed into a patty on the inside of a corn tortilla, which is then deep-fried and garnished with salsa, cheese, whatever you please. Other folks might think it centers around something served at a national chain which shall not be named. They would, in the opinion of many Tucsonans, be wrong. Horribly, utterly, morally wrong.
Into this ferocious taco tempest leaps Brian Metzger’s new venture, Gio Taco. Known for their well-regarded Tucson eateries The Abbey and Jax Kitchen, Gio Taco will be occupying a brand-new location next to World of Beer and beneath The Cadence student housing development, providing that nightlife-packed corridor of Congress Street and 4th Avenue with yet another intriguing dining option that takes a time-honored classic and improvises wildly. “We built this concept for Tucson,” explained Metzger. “We took a journey that led us down a path of discovery, and it led us to this.”
Gio Taco seems bent on taking what is widely considered the most authentic form of the taco, that being a soft-shelled street taco, and running with it as an experimental canvas for some deliciously unexpected ingredients drawn from a wide range of culinary traditions. “If you really break it down…a taco is a thing that has stuff in it,” said Metzger. “When you look at it at that basic level, it allows you to fill it with creativity.” In coming up with their menu for Gio Taco, they came up with a simple rule to drive their creations: no more than four toppings per taco. “Piling on eighteen items just creates this mess that doesn’t allow you to taste the individual ingredients,” said Metzger.
Examples of this simple-but-complex flavor philosophy include the ‘house taco’, the Gio, which comes served on a homemade corn tortilla, filled with coffee-and-chipotle-rubbed pork belly, and topped with seared butternut squash and pumpkin seed salsa, and the Fishy Pig, which comes on the same corn tortilla, with bacon-wrapped albacore tuna, street vendor corn, fresh avocado and pickled onions. Wilder variants include M’s Veggie, which actually uses a raw shaved beet for a shell, and is topped with chayoti squash ‘steak’, heirloom baby kale slaw and street vendor corn, along with a Shrimp Curry taco that features skewered and fried shrimp served on a homemade corn tortilla, topped with fresh lime, apple and raisin salad and creamy red curry dressing. In a knowing nod to food truck mania, there’s also a Korean BBQ taco, which comes served on a bibb lettuce cup shell featuring beer-marinated short rib, topped with pineapple soda and mango carrot slaw. All told, more than a dozen different species of taco await your exploration at Gio Taco.
The bold experimentation doesn’t stop at the entrees, either, with sides such as yucca fries with Sriracha ketchup and fresh fruit sticks with chili dust and lime juice. There will also be a roster of six cocktails, all served on tap, as well as a sit-down bar. One can see that there’s very much a rolling tip of the hat to a variety of current foodie phenomena, but this menu would seem to inject a much-needed shot of adventure into what can be a relatively predictable staple here in Tucson. You can try plenty of delicious fancier, high-end experimental foods here in Tucson (especially Downtown), and you can certainly find any number of late-night spots to get traditional tacos (just throw a rock, wherever you are), but to be able to get this kind of fare from a window at 2am on the weekend is certainly a brand new fast casual bag worth investigating. Gio Taco is now open at the corner of Congress and 4th Avenue, beneath The Cadence and next to World of Beer. Check them out on the web here.