BLUE ASH, Ohio -- Tahona Kitchen and Bar will soon make it "a walk in the park" to get street-style tacos, with the restaurant scheduled to open on March 28 at Summit Park in Blue Ash.
Tahona will offer Mexican street food-inspired fare in a space that has "an urban feel, kind of industrial-meets-California fresh," said Scott Schmidt, a 30-year veteran of the hospitality industry and founder of Looking Glass Hospitality Group (LGHG), which owns the restaurant.
A quirky coincidence brought Tahona to Summit Park, he said.
"This site was a Post-it note on my realtor's wall," Schmidt said. "She was leasing spaces out for Summit Park."
Kathleen Norris, owner of Urban Fast Forward, remembers the moment well.
"It was an oversized 5-inch-by-7-inch bright orange Post-it note with the word 'tacos' on it," she said.
When she told Schmidt she was looking for a Mexican restaurant concept, he replied, "I've got a Mexican concept." Schmidt signed the lease in September 2016 and began construction in December.
The limited-service restaurant is designed for customers to order and pay at the counter and then seat themselves.
"There aren't really any servers, but the service staff brings the food out to you. They pre-bus the table and clean everything up for you," Schmidt said.
The service crew also will have iPad minis to process any additional orders tableside.
Tahona's signature item, the walking taco, is designed with portability in mind. Schmidt is turning this Super Bowl snack item -- an open bag of Fritos chips laced with chili and other toppings -- into a culinary experience. Tahona's version comprises a deep-fried tortilla cone in a cup filled with the customer's choice of taco ingredients.
"You walk out with a fork and a cup," Schmidt said.
The menu also includes a variety of salads such as baby kale and pineapple mango citrus salads, tacos and tortas (sandwiches built on traditional Mexican bread called telera).
Sandwich options include torta Cubana (pork confit, pickled vegetables, chipotle mustard, apple with smoked bacon and Monterey jack cheese), torta pollo (pulled chicken, black bean puree, tomatillo and avocado sauce, and pickled vegetables) and torta hongos (vegetarian, with portabella mushroom, corn, Monterey jack cheese and rainbow microgreens).
There also will be an assortment of open-faced tacos, such as pork carnitas (with corn, pico de gallo and cotija cheese), chicken (with avocado tomatillo sauce, crema and rainbow microgreens), mahi mahi (with pineapple mango pico de gallo and crema) and vegetarian (tofu, portabella mushroom, microgreens, queso fresco and crema).
The tacos are available on corn or flour tortillas as well as lettuce leaves for those wishing to skip the carbs. The salsa bar offers four varieties of condiments, from mild to very hot, made fresh daily.
Paul Dagenbach, another hospitality veteran and former corporate chef for Tavern Restaurant Group, is Tahona's concept chef. Although the restaurant is built for the contemporary crowd, the food is steeped in handcrafted traditions.
"We do all preparation in-house; we slow-roast all our meats," Schmidt said. "Everything is fresh. We don't even have a freezer."
The commitment to making food from scratch even extends to corn.
"We shave corn (kernels) off fresh corn on the cob and roast the kernels in a cast-iron skillet," Schmidt said. "We dry-brine chicken for 24 hours, slow roast them and break them down. Then we use the bones to make stock for our soup."
The restaurant's name, Tahona, refers to the traditional two-ton wheel made of volcanic rock used to express juice from the agave plant to make tequila.
"There are seven distilleries in Mexico that still use this process," Schmidt said. "It's a sign of high-end tequila."
Schmidt has subtly incorporated this artisanal homage in the restaurant's decor. The restaurant logo is an image of the agave plant, and the curved bar that hugs the open kitchen is designed to resemble a tahona pit. Not surprisingly, Tahona's full bar focuses on tequila and mezcal.
"All beverages are hand-crafted, and the margarita mix is my own recipe," said Schmidt, who is also a seasoned bartender and certified sommelier.
Tahona won't accept reservations. The restaurant has seating for 38 inside and room for 52 more outside. Half of the outside seating will be enclosed and available year-round. A reclaimed church pew from Taft's Ale House, along with other custom fabricated furnishings, will grace the outdoor patio.
Schmidt has park-goers in mind with Tahona's basket of blankets. Customers can get a carry-out box and borrow a blanket to sit on in the park.
"He understands the park is a tremendous asset and he knows he's going to be feeding children, crowds and families," Norris said.
Tahona Kitchen and Bar (Summit Park)
1100 Summit Place, Blue Ash
Hours (tentative): 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Grace Yek writes about food for WCPO.com. She is a certified chef-de-cuisine with the American Culinary Federation, and a former chemical engineer. Questions or comments? Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek.