A piece of Mexico has embedded itself in the heart of Nakameguro, one of Tokyo’s most popular districts. Taco Fanatico, a self-proclaimed “taco specialty store,” opened Oct. 19. Situated along the Meguro River, it’s nearly impossible to miss and is a straight shot from the station.

Those who live in Tokyo are probably aware that, while Mexican food is not impossible to find, it is struggling to make a name for itself among a sea of Italian restaurants. No disrespect to pasta, but variety is always welcome.

Eager to see what separates this Mexican restaurant apart from the others currently available, I sat down with Ricardo Heredia, a chef lending his talents to Taco Fanatico. The restaurant is relatively small, but the location is prime. There are no tables, just a large counter with seats and the chefs in full view as they prepare the food. Six of them hustle in the background as Heredia and I converse.

Born in Ohio, Heredia is a professional chef who has been based primarily in San Diego for the past 10 years. He began cooking at the tender age of 9 and his face lights up when we discuss his passion for perfecting his craft and utilizing what his grandmother taught him.

His achievements span from opening his own restaurant — Alchemy, in San Diego — to winning numerous cooking competitions, such as the KitchenAid Apple Challenge, which ran in partnership with the Food Network.

When asked what makes Taco Fanatico a specialty taco store, Heredia gleefully walks me through it, pointing out the four different homemade tortillas to choose from. Those tortillas consist of cumin and turmeric, charcoal, yellow corn and beet varieties.

Also on offer are what the shop calls “fusion tacos,” which take traditional Mexican recipes and add a twist, such as the tempura shrimp taco.

When asked whether or not he considers himself to be a taco specialist, Heredia rejects the notion.

“Tacos are everyday food, in the same way that sandwiches are. I wouldn’t consider them to be my specialty because they’re simple in origin.”

Heredia tells me his favorite item on the menu is the al pastor taco, filled with shawarma spit-grilled meat.

“Nobody is doing al pastor in Tokyo. I want people to be able to walk into this restaurant and say, ‘Wow, I haven’t had al pastor this good outside of Mexico.’ That’s what really motivates me, bringing an authentic Mexican taste to Tokyo before anyone else. It’s incredibly important we get it right.”

Al pastor tacos aren’t the only novel thing about Taco Fanatico, though. The big surprise comes in realizing the restaurant is entirely cashless. The only forms of payment accepted are via credit cards or electronic currency such as Apple Pay. This is a bold yet risky decision in a country where physical currency is still the status quo. As a last resort, you can use your Suica.

Before leaving the modern restaurant, I asked Heredia if he thinks Mexican food will one day be as common in Tokyo as Italian food is.

“I’d like to think so,” he replies. “What we’re doing here, it’s all an exchange of culture and working towards a common goal. The more Mexican food is available to people, the more they’ll demand it. I hope they enjoy it.”

Tacos from ¥260; English menu;English spoken; credit cards and digital payment only

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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