Tacos Oscar has been roaming Oakland’s art and music scene for almost five years now, selling tacos and quesadillas from a propane-fueled plancha in alleys, at bars, and just about anywhere. Now, founders Oscar Michel and Jake Weiss have found themselves a permanent taco haven at 420 40th Street in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood.
Like its path to restauranthood, Tacos Oscar’s new home is not a traditional restaurant: It’s a brightly colored shipping container with outdoor seating only and several well-placed cacti, many of which have been hand-carved with art by Michel. The walls are painted in bright colors, inspired by Mexican architect Luis Barragán and meticulously chosen. (“Oscar spent months debating the colors,” says Weiss.)
“There’s been a weird restaurant trend for years, where it’s just kind of cold and minimalist,” says Michel. “Someone recently told me they felt like they were in Mexico [at Tacos Oscar]. It feels like you’re somewhere different, and it’s kinda cool that we can provide that to people.”
Diners order at the front of the shipping container on 40th Street, then find their way to the back with a number to wait for their order. The custom-built wooden seating is from Eric Peterson of EP Building, an Oakland-based contractor also behind woodwork at places like the Rake at Admiral Maltings and Drake’s Dealership. He was tasked with creating the wooden benches and modular tables that can be removed to create more space for events and parties. At the moment, the dining area — which is all outdoors — is partially covered, with plans to add infrared heaters down the line.
Since opening, Michel says the biggest challenge is adapting to a tight space. One benefit: Everything is made fresh every day, since limited fridge space won’t allow much bulk preparation. It’s also a boon for sustainability, almost eliminating food waste since there’s little opportunity for ingredients to wane from peak freshness.
The goal is to the change the menu once a week, based on what produce is showing up at the markets. There’s always a vegan option, alongside meaty fillings like pork chile verde with cilantro, onions, and chicharrones, and chorizo con papa frittata tacos with roasted tomato and puya chile salsa, shredded lettuce, queso fresco, and pickled onions. Local beer and wine, Topochico, and Mexican Coca Cola are available, too.
And, now that there is less moving around and more time to hone the menu, Weiss and Michel have plans to expand it with items like ceviches and the vegan tortas that have already been making appearances.
Michel, a Mexican-American from Southern California, has worked at restaurants like nearby Doña Tomas, and other seminal East Bay restaurants through the years, while playing music in bands and working at Urban Ore. He and Weiss became friends in the kitchen of one of those restaurants before joining up to turn Michel’s taco dreams into reality.
Joining the 40th Street corridor has been a seamless transition, without protest from neighbors, many of whom were vocal opponents of other businesses like the proposed (and now-cancelled) Golden Road taproom. “Everyone told us that we’d have someone protest when we put up our liquor license signage,” says Michel. “But we really didn’t.”
It could be because the tacos are so good, or that Michel and Weiss are longtime friends of most of their neighbors like Oakland Wineyard (which allows Tacos Oscar patrons to dine-in when the weather is less than agreeable) and 1-2-3-4-Go Records. Or it could be because unlike Golden Road, it’s clear that Michel and Weiss are deeply embedded in and committed to Oakland’s food scene.
Tacos Oscar is open at 420 40th Street from 5-10 p.m., Thursday through Monday. It’s closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays; stay tuned for brunch hours in the coming weeks.
- Tacos Oscar Has Found a Home for Its Cult-Favorite Tortillas [ESF]
- Tacos Oscar [Instagram]