Ten years and nine D.C.-area locations in, Taco Bamba chef-founder Victor Albisu let a legendary rocker help him decide where to open next.
The casual, counter-service taqueria will plant a 2,800-square-foot location in Nashville, Tennessee’s Green Hills neighborhood later this year (4017 Hillsboro Pike). The fast-casual chain makes unexpected tortilla toppers like ramen noodles, Ethiopian berbere spices, Lebanese shawarma, and chicken nuggets work, served alongside a steady stream of margaritas, sangrias, palomas, and beers in loud and lively settings across Northern Virginia and Maryland.
Turns out Taco Bamba’s James Beard-nominated chef is friends with ZZ Top’s bearded guitarist-vocalist Billy Gibbons, who first tried Taco Bamba in 2018 while in town on tour—and took time on stage to gush over his meal at the Falls Church, Virginia original. The rest is history.
“We got in contact and talk all the time,” says Albisu. “He’s a huge supporter of ours.”
Candid topics of conversation over the years have included everything from their shared love for hot sauce (Gibbons co-owns the brand Whisker Bomb) to expansion advice. “He’s like, ‘you got to go to Nashville.’ He was very adamant about it,” says Albisu.
After taking a few trips there to see for himself, Albisu was sold on the city.
“The brand could have almost been born in Nashville,” he says. “It’s got that kind of energy and welcoming community that’s very proud of their growing food scene.”
Bamba’s pop culture-referencing tacos with irreverent, cheffed-up touches and portable capabilities proved to pretty pandemic-proof, and Nashville is one of at least five fresh locations slated to pop this year. This summer’s debut in Raleigh, North Carolina will mark Taco Bamba’s first foray outside of the DMV area.
The 2023 opening list also includes a pair of Northern Virginia locations—Shirlington this spring and Fair Oaks in the fall—and an anticipated comeback to D.C. proper this summer. The latest opened in Herndon, Virginia last week with consistently long lines, says Albisu. To help maneuver its fast-moving expansion, he recently recruited chefs with fine-dining backgrounds like himself to try Taco Bamba T-Shirts on for size.
All-day menus also loop in breakfast tacos, empanadas, tortas, ceviches, quesadillas, sopes, nachos, and Mexican street foods, joined by full-service bars slinging agave cocktails. Think: a smoked “Meen in the Morning” with mezcal, amaro, coffee liqueur, Carpano Antica, banana liqueur, and chocolate mole bitters or “El Rey Del Pop” that blends reposado tequila with vanilla, chocolate bitters, and absinthe.
A lineup of “nuestros tacos” at every Bamba location packs in references to individual neighborhoods and its nostalgic surroundings, and Nashville will be no different.
“From barbecue to Nashville hot to all the expansive palates of the region, Nashville is super in sync with us and we can speak their language,” he says. He likens the chosen Green Hills neighborhood to Northern Virginia and its shopping center location with a seasonal patio isn’t too far from Vanderbilt University.
“There’s nothing like Taco Bamba in that whole area,” he says. “I think there will be opportunities for others [in Nashville].”
A blaring soundtrack at each outpost swings from hip-hop to alternative to hard rock, which means ZZ Top hits were already in the mix long before Albisu got to know the celebrity fan.
“It’s literally like meeting your hero—since I was a kid, Billy’s been one of my favorites,” says Albisu.