This story is featured in CityBeat's Oct. 18 print edition.
Think fresh and juicy produce, laid-back vibes, “sensational” margaritas — and octopus. That’s just a dash of what you’ll find at Golden State Tacos, a new east side restaurant that’s serving California-Mexican cuisine in an inviting, neighborhood atmosphere. The eatery, which opened in early September, is located on Wooster Pike in Terrace Park near the border of Indian Hill.
Golden State Tacos is the latest establishment from restaurateur power couple Daniel and Lana Wright, owners of Queen City Hospitality Group. The restaurant joins the company’s roster of well-known Cincinnati spots like Senate Blue Ash, Abigail Street and Holiday Liquor Bar in Over-the-Rhine. Daniel Wright says Golden State Tacos is a casual, family-friendly restaurant with a “fun and bright” menu that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The menu features various takes on Southern California staples like fish tacos, fresh and crunchy salads, hand-squeezed juice, esquites (street corn), nachos and carne asada. Wright calls the cuisine California-influenced Mexican food. “There’s really an emphasis on the freshness of the produce that’s coming in,” he says.
Head chef Charlie Gerhardt says the menu offers seafood, seasonal food and lighter flavors. He adds, “The ensalada magnifico is just absolutely delicious and unlike pretty much anything I’ve had around here.”
That salad includes mango, jicama, cucumber, torn herbs, carrot, jalapeño, toasted peanuts and salsa macha, according to the restaurant’s menu on their website.
Gerhardt is a Cincinnati native who was previously head chef at Council Oak Steaks & Seafood at Hard Rock Casino and at Forty Thieves, another Queen City Hospitality Group restaurant (currently on a hiatus). With Golden State Tacos, he says he’s hyped to introduce new dishes to the city. “Most people think of Tex-Mex, but we’re doing something different,” Gerhardt says.
Take, for example, the wood-grilled octopus taco. The octopus is artfully, carefully prepared through a rather intricate process. We can’t divulge the details here — Gerhardt holds those close to the vest — but let’s just say it’s a culinary labor of love. The octopus is assembled in a corn tortilla and complemented by habanero salsa, pico de gallo and chorizo. (This writer can attest: It’s delicious).
Alongside the baja fish taco and the tuna tostada, Wright says the octopus taco has become a swift, and surprising, restaurant favorite.
“The reason we did an octopus taco is we wanted to do a funny little riff, a kind of dedication to the octopus dish at Abigail Street. The octopus taco is becoming by far one of the top-sellers,” Wright says. “We always thought it would be an addition to the menu, but we never thought we would sell as much octopus as we do.”
The octopus taco might be a wildcard menu item, but it’s revealed a lot about local foodie culture. “From my time in town, the palette of the diners in Cincinnati has changed,” Wright says. “It’s a very good thing that it’s changed in the way that it has because they’re far more adventurous eaters now and far more educated eaters than they have been in the past.”
Wright arrived in Cincinnati in 2008. He relocated from his hometown of Chicago with his wife, Lana, and they opened Senate in Over-the-Rhine. (Senate, by the way, has since moved from its original space into the pub at Holiday Liquor Bar. Its Blue Ash location is thriving). Wright says the Queen City back then was really a “steak-and-potato town,” with far fewer creative culinary options than there are today.
“A night on the town, celebrating an event or any big milestone in life, you were going to Montgomery Inn or you were going to Jeff Ruby’s. Obviously, Jean-Robert [de Cavel] had his hand on the pulse of the finer cuisine in town, but I think, for the most part, those were the places that everybody went to,” Wright explains. “When we had opened places, when Jose Salazar had opened places, it became a little bit more casual. You didn’t have to dress to the nines to go out. You could still experience that same caliber of meal and not feel like you had to take out a second mortgage to do it.”
The way Wright sees it, the rise of casual restaurants with creatively inspired menus has given local diners a chance to expand their palettes and enjoy different cuisines in unique settings. At the same time, they can easily indulge in “foodie” content on social media, experiment with new recipes found online and binge-watch their favorite cooking shows. These influences have altogether changed the way people eat and have paved the way for diners to become more adventurous. It’s created a balance of casual vibes and serious food, Wright describes.
That’s great news for Queen City Hospitality Group. Wright says personal creativity and community need drive the concept development of their restaurants. That approach seems to align organically with diners’ more adventurous culinary desires. It also gives Wright the chance to turn life experiences into various dining excursions. Abigail Street, which serves Mediterranean cuisine, grew out of Wright’s and his wife’s experiences working at a Mediterranean restaurant. Golden State Tacos is inspired by Wright’s first job as a head chef when he was 24 years old and living in Los Angeles.
Reflective of Wright’s So-Cal chapter, the atmosphere of Golden State Tacos is warm, genial and easygoing. The space is decorated with natural elements and vibrant greenery. A garage door, when open, allows for seamless indoor-outdoor seating. Combined with effortlessly cool mid-century modern furniture, it’s certainly an environment where you’re welcome to relax and enjoy yourself. Patrons shouldn’t feel the need to dress up to be there, either; if you have any doubts about that, know that many of the restaurant’s closest patrons commute via golf cart, and there are parking spaces reserved specifically for them.
Wright says Golden State Tacos is certainly family-friendly. The main menu satisfies adult tastes, and the kids’ menu offers common favorites. There’s also a retro Spartanette camper on the patio that will soon offer s’more kits for kids (and perhaps nostalgic adults as well). A parent himself, Wright says they didn’t want to make parents choose between going out to dinner as a family and high-quality food and cocktails with great service. Here, you can do both.
Be advised, Wright says Friday has become their busiest day of the week so far, so parking in their corner lot might be a challenge. “We realized that Friday is evidently the night everyone in the town goes out. It’s by far become the craziest day we’ve had here.”
And if you’re a fan of margaritas, you’re in luck (and in good company). Says Wright, “I’ve never seen a place that sells as much tequila in my life. The house margarita is absolutely insane here. They do them frozen and they do them shaken, on the rocks. They’re sensational.”
Golden State Tacos, 704 Wooster Pike, Terrace Park. Info: goldenstatetacos.queencityhospitalitygroup.com.
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