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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Let’s taco ’bout new restaurant

    Steve Nguyen
    Steve Nguyen/ The Daily Wildcat Gio Tacos, a new restaurant downtown, serves a variety of different tacos including The Tarheel and Duck Mole.

    Normally, a blend of coffee, pork and butternut squash wouldn’t be someone’s first choice for taco ingredients, but new restaurant Gio Taco makes it work. Now a member of the ever-expanding downtown Tucson, Gio Taco embodies the unique spirit that the other storefronts lining Congress Street and Broadway Boulevard have come to be known for.

    Gio Taco was founded with a no-rules approach. It isn’t trying to Americanize or modernize Mexican cuisine, and it doesn’t have a cookie-cutter consumer in mind. Instead of attempting to compete with the countless other Mexican restaurants in Tucson, it wants to provide customers with a new dining experience.

    Gio Taco, which opened last month, has an upbeat, informal atmosphere. Owner Brian Metzger said his goal was to create a casual dining restaurant with full service that is less expensive and more fun than other eateries, but with food that is “at the same level, if not better.”

    The space is large and open with vibrant pink wallpaper lining the back wall where the bar is located — think modern interpretations of Mexican patterns meet graphic design. You order at the counter and sit and relax until a waiter brings your food.

    Despite the restaurant’s relaxed atmosphere, Metzger was clear about one thing: Each taco must have four items or less. This idea forced staff to carefully consider what ingredients would go into each dish.

    “If there’s only going to be four items on a taco, and they can be any four items that you want, they’d better be damn good,” Metzger said.

    The ingredients they’ve chosen and the combinations they’ve created challenge traditional notions of Mexican cuisine, which is known for piling on toppings from a set selection. The pairings are so unique that Metzger said he believes Gio Taco defies being labeled as any one type of cuisine.

    The Korean BBQ taco, composed of beef short rib, mango and carrot slaw and pineapple soda, served in a bibb lettuce cup, is a must. The meat is perfectly prepared and the vegetables add a sweet tang and a nice crunch. The Gio taco, made of coffee and chipotle-rubbed smoked pork belly, seared butternut squash and pumpkin seed salsa served on a homemade corn tortilla, appears to be the crown jewel — but is actually not as tasty as the Korean BBQ taco.

    One of the many creative snacks on the menu is the plantain crisps, which are best described as the lighter, baked version of barbecue chips, shaped like bacon. They come with chive and lime crema on the side, which adds a refreshing flavor and balances out the spice dust.

    “It’s all freaking delicious,” said Andrea Medina, a customer at Gio Taco.

    Any “outstanding” taco will cost $3, a “mind blowing” one will cost $4, a side is $2.50 and snacks are around $4. For the most part, only a burrito, burrito bowl or liquor will cost you anything above $6.

    The only downside is the taco portion size, which is about the size of a fist. As a snack or lighter meal, the tacos and side dishes are flavorful and unique, especially when bought late at night at the take away window, which offers a few popular menu options. But if you’re hungry and looking for serious grub, I’d recommend going elsewhere.

    Still, Metzger is passionate about Gio Taco being for everyone.
    “If you have a gluten allergy, you should come, because we’ve really thought through that,” Metzger said. “If you’re a vegetarian you should come, we’ve thought through that. If you’re a sheltered eater, you should come, we’ve thought through that. If you’re adventurous and you want to just take a ride, we’re gonna give you a ride.”

    Gio Taco, like most of the places downtown, is worth checking out.

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