My dad’s theory is that the dodgier the hygiene, the more likely the cuisine is to be delicious. (Unfortunately, the gastrointestinal distress is also correlative.) And that Taco Bell’s culinary masterpiece—Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos Supreme—is essentially a sign of the impending apocalypse. Is there nothing in between?
Like a breath of cilantro-scented hope, I was invited to dine at Tocaya Organica’s newest El Segundo location. Founded in Venice in 2016, this fast-casual concept has mushroomed to more than 15 locations in California and Arizona. The design aesthetic of Tocaya—the graphics, the colors, the logo, the website—speaks to a SoCal diner who is as comfortable eating vegan mozzarella as she is on a surfboard.
My dad would roll his eyes at cauliflower rice, ground turkey and quinoa on a Mexican menu, but at the end of the day Tocaya isn’t gunning for authenticity. They’re gunning for delicious.
Conceptually, Tocaya’s mission is noble. They “strive to serve only the highest quality organic and sustainable ingredients while offering healthy and affordable options for our guests. Our food is prepared using meats, fish and produce that are fresh and free of hormones, steroids and antibiotics.”
There’s a disclaimer too, as “all organic, all the time” is impossible for any restaurant to maintain. I took the time to visit their website, where there actually is an ingredients list that is regularly updated and which references specific brands and origins of even the most mundane ingredients. There’s an integrity and an earnestness about Tocaya Organica that I find very appealing.
Experientially, Tocaya is a happy place. The line snaked out the door, which was fortunate because navigating the DIY menu takes a few minutes. With 10 different proteins, choosing isn’t easy. The purists might well discount the “cilantro lime vegan chicken” filling, but then there’s very good USDA Prime carne asada to keep the carnivores happy.
You can get a salad, a bowl, a burrito, something called a “quesalita” or a taco plate, but it’s up to you to put it together. Pricewise, two tacos with one side and a yummy agua fresca is only $9.95; I upgraded to include a house margarita for $14.95. Seriously? For $15 you can get super-delicious tacos of your own design and a little libation? I found myself wondering if this pricing is sustainable, but when a restaurant’s not doing table-side service, its labor costs go down substantially.
At Tocaya, you order, pay and take a number to your table … your tacos will catch up with you quickly, don’t worry. The service was not without flaws, but it was cheerfully executed. A kids chicken burrito that in fact lacked the chicken was replaced quickly, accompanied by some very good complimentary chips and salsa.
(Note: While the virtuous paper straws and compostable takeaway containers made me happy, why they still serve kids drinks in tacky plastic cups baffled me. Just use paper cups—they also don’t break.)
Tocaya is aspirational, but their rapid expansion shows that the market is ready for this kind of modern Mexican. I saw a high school theatre group, many young families, several couples on dates and a group of businesswomen all cheerfully dining (technically devouring) on the same pretty outdoor patio.
Tocaya’s appeal is broad, the salsa is the real deal and its staff is sincerely happy to serve you. Here’s hoping they open one in our neck of the woods and soon. Sometimes formulaic is fantastic.
Tocaya Organica at The Point
850 S. Sepulveda Boulevard in El Segundo | 424-352-0876 | tocayaorganica.com
Camera in hand, a local photographer hits the piers of the South Bay to meet a gamut of men flecking the railings of early morning and late afternoon, when the fish below are plentiful and hungry.