I had the opportunity to sit down with Joe Kahn, the food genius behind Condado Tacos earlier this year and talk food, tacos, margaritas, and where the inspiration for Condado’s came from.
For those of you aren’t familiar with Condado’s, and who’re living here in Columbus, you’ve probably been living under a rock. Kahn’s first foray into the food scene was in Cleveland, with Bario, which then morphed not only into Condado’s, but also moved down to Columbus. Condado’s first location is on High Street, in the Short North Arts District, and has branched out to Columbus Commons as well.
The first time Jeff and I had Condado’s was at the downtown location, this winter before seeing a show at the Ohio Theater, on a night that was below zero. When we walked through the doors we walked into a room full of warmth, laughter, and GREAT smells.Joe Kahn talks tacos. #condadotacos #columbusohio #cookeatexplore Click To Tweet
We’ve been on the hunt for a truly great margarita since we’ve moved East, and finally feel as though we’ve found it. Kahn’s margaritas are just like the tacos. Fresh, inventive, and AMMMMMMAZING. You can always go the traditional route, but I highly recommend going with something more unique.
I’m still slowly working my way through the list, and so far, the prickly pear has been my favorite. Though the Delicioso is not far behind.
For those not quite so tequila inclined, Condado’s is also host to a killer whiskey list, which I have yet to explore.
Once you’ve found your table, you’re faced with what *could* be a slightly overwhelming choice, but ends up being more fun than anything else. You can choose to order from the taco combinations that Kahn and his staff have created, or, you can use the sushi menu like order form to build your own creation.
At first glance, when I picked the create your own menu, I found it slightly odd that it only gave room to order two tacos. Because, really, two tacos? Who eats just two tacos?
With these tacos, two is plenty. They are not small, in any way. But oh man, they sure do pack a whollop of flavor, and it is sooooo good.
Our first time there, I went with a create your own nachos, and a taco off of the suggestions menu, and loved them. LOVED them. The second time, I went with two create your own, and still ended up taking left overs home. I also went with the dirty queso and chips. And a margarita. (duh.)
As Joe and I talked, I asked how the different menu items were developed. Who came up with what, and if there was a process to what went into menu development.
Namely, the stuffed tortillas.
Opening night, which for those of you who’ve never worked in a restaurant kitchen before, is CRAZY. No matter how prepared you are, it’s run around with your hair on fire crazy adrenaline rush that doesn’t quit. During that first night, Kahn’s father walked into the kitchen, pulled someone off the line, and had them put chorizo between a soft flour tortilla a hard corn tortilla with some queso to help them stick. At the time, it seemed crazy, especially the timing of it, but now, it’s the Ju-Ju, and oh man.
Fill that bad boy with toppings, cheese, salsas, and sauces and it is wipe the drool off your chin good.
The rest of the menu? They figure out what works, and go from there. (seriously, you can’t go wrong with anything they serve)
When I asked Kahn what the inspiration for starting his foray into food was, I expected an answer along the lines of “well, I came up in kitchens, and always knew it was what I wanted to do”. Nope. Not at all. The answer was so much better.
I’m going to take a moment and veer off track, to explain why that was a question I asked, and will continue to ask those who are willing to give me some time out of thier incredibly busy schedules to talk food with me.
I have had the opportunity to sit down with some really great chefs, who’ve had a lot of press coverage, and while some may consider what I’m about to say as crazy , I don’t read any of it, or do more than the most cursory research before sitting down with someone.
And here’s why.
I don’t want to sit down with whomever I’m talking with with any preconceived notions, nor do I want to ask the same generic questions that everyone else asks. I want more than that, and in order to do so, I go in with only the experience I’ve had in each respective restaurant, or at the food truck in my mind.
This way, the conversation that’s had is at it’s most genuine, and I get to tell the story that they want to be told, and the conversation is just that, a conversation.
Back to Joe.
His impetus for getting into the restaurant business? He wanted to build a place that he would want to hang out in, somewhere that he could kick back, drink with friends, good tunes pumping out of the speakers, eat good food, and do all of the above in a bad ass space.
Knocked it out of the park.
I asked if he ever thought that it would get this big when he first started, and the answer was a quiet smile, a small shake of his beanie adorned head, and finally the answer, “not at all”.
Columbus Underground’s Jenna Taylor described the atmosphere far more eloquently than I ever could, so rather than reinvent the wheel, here’s what they had to say ::
The atmosphere here has a personality unlike any eatery that has dared to dance its’ feet in this highly competitive part of High Street. Artwork resemblant to the Mexican holiday, the Day of the Dead, is hand-painted and stenciled throughout the walls of Condado by the Finko Creative group. Dim lighting and aged wooden church pews balances the need to be contemporary without losing that sense of home feel.” – Columbus Underground
You can read thier take on Condado Taco’s here.
Kahn has expanded Condado Taco’s into Pittsburg this year, taking his unique brand hospitality to a whole new city, and I’m not sure that they yet know just how lucky they are.