Tacos Las Californias opens birria-fueled restaurant in Tampa

three tacos held over a cup of birria, and a fork pulling ramen noodles dripping with birria
Photos via Tacos La Californias on IG

18 months after the food truck was one of the first to introduce quesabirria tacos to Tampa, the hotspot for California-style Mexican dishes has opened its first permanent brick and mortar restaurant. Instagram sensation Tacos Las Californias is now open six days a week at 5635 Memorial Highway, and all the flavor that made the truck so beloved is along for the ride.

With the truck still in operation at its original location as well, Tacos Las Californias is spreading the love around Tampa and serving up its massively popular birria in a variety of ways. While the quesabirria tacos are what helped them first draw people in, the full menu is an homage to the food the owners grew up on in southern California, replete with creative twists on traditional dishes.

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The California burrito stuffed with fries, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, meat and spices is one of the more beloved (and calorie dense) offerings on the menu, while the massive plates of carne asada nachos and gigantic cups of homemade agua fresca also come through with strong supporting roles.

The birria ramen draws a crowd

However, the real star, the big draw, is a simple yet surprising fusion that became an instant hit on its first day – birria ramen.

“The birria ramen, oh my god,” owner and chef Chris Gracia said, shaking his head and laughing. “As soon as I put that on the menu, it was crazy. I didn’t know it was going to sell out like that. The first day.”

Even still, its listed on the menu with the qualifier, “while supplies last.”

As crazy as the concoction sounds, it’s actually pretty straightforward. Garcia just pours his homemade birria beef broth over ramen noodles, and includes two mini quesabirria tacos for dipping into the savory bowl. Simple as it may be, the dish is a hit.

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“It’s just perfect,” Garcia said.

The birria ramen and the carne asada nachos
The birria ramen (photo courtesy Tacos Las Californias) and the carne asada nachos

Restaurant brings California-style street food to Tampa

The story of Tacos Las Californias, like most new businesses these days, is a bit of a wild one. Garcia was actually studying to be a chef when covid hit, and with the world upended, he left that life behind and became a truck driver to pay the bills for his wife and two sons.

Meanwhile, his wife saw an opportunity at home. No one wanted to go inside of restaurants, so she decided to open a food truck where people could order outside and take it to go. Drawing from their mutual experiences growing up in California – she in San Diego and he in south central LA – the menu came together quickly and easily. And with truck driving paying the bills (and a little help from their oldest son) Tacos Las Californias opened as a food truck in the summer of 2020.

However, as optimistic as they were, the concept didn’t take off quite as quickly as the birria ramen would a year later.

“Her first three days, no customers,” Garcia shared. “It was looking brutal, to be honest. Then there was some person who came and out and put it on social media, and little by little it grew. Social media is what helped us.”

Eventually, the truck was getting so busy that Garcia had to “retire early” from truck driving and stay home permanently to help run the place. So for months, he was the man in the middle running the flat top, and she ran all the management.

Before long, they had to upgrade to a bigger truck. Tacos Las Californias started to get regulars. An offensive lineman for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers discovered the nearby taco joint and spread the news to the team. And eventually, it became clear that they could do a lot more with enough space, so they began the search for a building to house their restaurant.

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The success is a dream come true for the Garcia family

So finally, in mid-December, Tacos Las Californias opened its second location and its first brick and mortar. Open Tuesday-Saturday from 11-9 and Sunday from 11-8, the dining room is a constantly rotating cycle of people coming in and out with plates and boxes full of the Garcias’ fresh, homemade dishes. And keeping it fresh is important to their approach, as everything from the salsas and birria broth to the meats and tortillas are prepared in-house.

At the core of it, Garcia says, is a genuine desire to give people good food.

“It’s just love, man. What we do is just regular street food,” he said. “We want to bring people what we had growing up in California. My story is crazy, and that’s what you see on the plate. Yeah, it’s simple, but it’s really good food. I put a lot of heart into it.”

Follow Tacos Las Californias on Instagram for more updates and specials from the food truck and restaurant.

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