Groovy tunes with Mexican foods


Brittney Taylor

Tucked on the edge of a residential community, the very last business on the street, Rasta Taco is anything but a traditional taco stand. As reggae tunes drift through the air along Camino de Estrella, the tiny but mighty taco joint offers a sense of fun and community.

Saddleback alumni Mario Melendez came up with the idea to mix Jamaican and Mexican cultures during a trip to Jamaica.”I was traveling through Jamaica and I saw this jerk chicken stand and I started jonesing for a taco,” Melendez said. “I thought it would be cool if there was a taco stand there, but I wasn’t going to up and move to Jamaica. So I got online and checked the availability for ‘Rasta Taco’ and purchased the franchise name right then and there.”

His eagerness and business mind led him to long-time friend and Saddleback alum Mike deSimone. Together, the two have propelled Rasta Taco from what started as a mobile catering taco truck into four trucks and a restaurant.

They now have a letter of intent signed to open another store in Costa Mesa, and they are investigating potential locations in Seal Beach.

Down in Capistrano Beach, seagulls fly through the sky, reminding patrons that the ocean is just over the hill from this location and visible from the corner the restaurant sits on.

Offering a traditional Mexican menu with tacos and burritos named things like “Ziggy’s Medley” and “Shabba,” everything down to the napkin dispensers – phrases like Tuff Gong Tacos or JAH loves tacos are emblazoned in big bold letters – scream Rastafarian lifestyle, ideas and music. The portions are hearty, with melt-in-your-mouth Mexican favorites such as carnitas and carne asada.

“We wanted to incorporate quality with price,” Melendez said. “It helps develop a following. Prices are super reasonable and it’s great food. What really sells our food is what you’re getting for the price.”

After only eight months in business, Rasta Taco has already earned a strong reputation. Random passerbys holler compliments to Melendez as they cross the street, and locals stop by to hang out, eat well and groove to the music.

After launching the website for the catering trucks, within half and hour Rasta Taco had its first orders.

While Melendez handles the business end of things, deSimone, with several years under his belt as a caterer and a graduate of the Culinary Institute in San Francisco, runs the kitchen and developed the recipes.

“We are a sort of like Paul McCartney and John Lennon,” Melendez said. “We know each other’s strengths. I certainly didn’t want to pretend like I was a chef, but I know about the advertising and marketing. We both know what the other has done and where we come from.”

Keeping true to their alma mater, Rasta Taco even sponsors Saddleback’s radio station KSBR 88.5 for the reggae showcase that airs from 3-6 p.m. every Sunday. They also employ local students.

To groove with the Rasta Taco sounds and grub, visit 26881 Camino de Estrella in Capistrano Beach.

“Dreaming is the best part of life,” Melendez said. “And right now I’m in love with my business.”

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