Life and tacos
Zoe Coffee and Tacos nourishes with Salvadoran flavors and customs
Whether during the early mornings as he got ready for school, or in the evenings after dinner, Josue Acosta says his dad always had a fresh pot of coffee brewing. Coffee was a comforting aroma throughout his childhood that fueled conversations and relaxed the family.
For Acosta, growing up Salvadoran meant coffee was an anytime beverage. “Its culturally been passed down that after your meal you start smelling coffee,” he says. “That’s been my family since I grew up.”
Inspired by his cultural connection to coffee and an insatiable taste for flavorful tacos, Acosta launched Zoe Coffee and Tacos in January 2018, popping up at weddings, breweries and fundraisers to pair what he says are a match made in culinary heaven.
“One of the biggest memories I have is cooking with my dad. He would explain to us what he was doing and he would always talk about how he learned from his grandma,” Acosta says. “That idea always stuck with me. Him seeing his grandma and me seeing him. I don’t need to know the exact recipe, I just need to observe, see him and remember the flavors.”
Those flavors are rich with spices such as paprika, garlic and cumin that are in many of Acosta’s rubs and marinades for his taco fillings. He also uses dashes of vinegar to give a typical chimol (similar to pico de gallo) a little kick.
He blends his Salvadoran roots with his love for Mexican dishes—the taco an edible vessel for customers to experience the flavors of his childhood. Besides his grilled red potato, pork, chicken and steak tacos served on fresh, hand-pressed corn tortillas, Acosta also makes a Salvadoran staple: pupusas con curtido (a bright cabbage relish).
On a recent Tuesday evening, the spacious back patio at SacYard Community Tap House was filled with patrons who gathered at communal tables to knock back a few craft pints as little kids tinkered with a life-sized Connect 4 game. Zoe Coffee and Tacos set up on the side of the East Sacramento beer garden as a steady line of customers waited patiently for their orders to be called.
Each taco comes with melted cheese on the inside of the tortilla, unless ordered without. That detail was inspired by Acosta’s trip to Ensenada, Mexico, where he first tried a queso taco. A crowd favorite at Sac Yard’s Taco Tuesday was the pork taco, similar to al pastor, but with Acosta’s twists on flavor and experience. He marinades a whole pineapple in apple and pineapple juice before grilling it with pork. He then finely chops everything and blends it all together before serving it hot off the grill. What followed was the perfect bite: A warm, soft corn tortilla held a generous portion of filling with moments of sweet, slightly charred pineapple bits and savory, crispy pork.
For the plant-based crowd, Acosta says he always has vegetarian and vegan options and his tortillas are naturally gluten-free. At SacYard, the potato taco was another popular choice. Small, diced red potatoes gave off a smoky and herbaceous aroma with its paprika, cumin and garlic blend tamed by hints of rosemary.
A self-serve condiments bar with cilantro, onions, limes and a variety of salsas let customers dress their tacos to taste. But with such delicious and satisfying grilled options, the tacos are plenty flavorful on their own.
Next to the condiments table, an espresso machine and coffee grinder sat atop a wooden table, and a barista stood ready to make everything from a flat white to a cappuccino.
When Acosta first began his business journey, he often spent time at local coffee shops such as Broadway Coffee in Oak Park where co-owner Jimmy Gayaldo gave him advice about running a small business while fellow barista Ayana Moore taught Acosta how to pull shots and make popular coffee drinks behind the espresso machine.
“He would come in all the time and he was obsessed with lattes,” Moore says. “I thought his business was a great idea. There’s not a lot of people, especially people of color, who are booming into this industry. I just had to support it.”
Acosta serves Temple Coffee when he’s out selling tacos; he also worked with a Temple barista, who gave him and two members of his staff more specialty coffee education.
He has aspirations to open up a brick-and-mortar restaurant, and eventually, a nonprofit that helps young boys in underserved communities. But for now, he says Zoe Coffee and Tacos is meant to give people an experience—whether it’s at a wedding, a brewery or an early morning pick-me-up—with a cup of coffee and a tasty breakfast taco.
“Zoe means ’life’ in Greek and I want what I do to exemplify that,” Acosta says. “My whole life, my whole concept is I want to help bring people to life whether that’s through food, whether that’s through a program, or sobering you up with a taco at a brewery. That’s always been my life’s purpose is to help people come to life.”