Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Baby Loves Tacos is (For Real) Open in Bloomfield

Owner Zachary Shell stuffs his restaurant with tasty bites as he aims to fulfill a broader mission.




photos by hal b. klein

 

Zachary Shell didn’t intend to have a long-running, semi-underground restaurant. But he sure made the best of an awkward situation.

For seven months, he ran Baby Loves Tacos as an in-the-know spot. Bloomfield locals and culinary adventurers learned of it through word-of-mouth as well as Instagram postings of hand-drawn menus written on items such as takeaway Chinese food menus, graph paper and Allegheny Health Department memorandum.

The health department notices were a nod to his efforts transforming the space that used to house Jim's Wraps and Subs into Baby Loves Tacos, which required Shell, who worked in Philadelphia restaurants for 17 years before moving back to Pittsburgh, to update an occupancy permit from 1988, followed by an updated health permit.

He thought it would be a straightforward process. There were a few variances he needed, but it didn’t take long to get his occupancy permit. Despite Shell’s efforts, however, he was left waiting several months for a health inspection that never happened. Until last week, when a representative finally showed up. "I think he thought I was going to think I felt like I was caught, but I was like, 'Hey man, I've been waiting for you for seven months,'" Shell says.

Shell says the health permit issues were quickly — and amicably — worked out, and now it’s official: Baby Loves Tacos is Bloomfield’s newest eatery. It’s a good one.
 

 

A post shared by Zachary Shell (@babylovestacos) on

Shell’s menu is straightforward — a list of six main ingredients, half of them vegetarian, that can be built as tacos, burritos, rice bowls and salads.

I went for tacos earlier this week. The chicken preparation was stuffed juicy shredded thigh meat that was roasted and confited, pickled onion, cilantro, mild salsa and funky cheese. Even better was a vegetarian special featuring sweet and smoky Japanese sweet potato, crunchy toasted almonds, slightly spicy salsa, green onions and creamy, tangy feta that felt Peruvian in conception. It’s two days later, and I’m still craving for seconds. Don’t let the casual layout and bare-bones menu fool you — Shell is a talented chef who returned to Pittsburgh with heaps of experience.

Shell got into restaurant work while based Philadelphia. He was playing semi-professional soccer, with aspirations to go pro, and picked up a pay-the-rent job at an Italian restaurant. He grew enamored with the restaurant industry, and spent much of his free time dining around town. Eventually, his two passions would cross when Shell was recruited as a player in a primarily Hispanic league. "For ten years, I was the only Caucasian guy on the team. I was completely taken in by this community,” he says.
 


Shell says he’s aware he may raise some hackles as a Caucasian man opening a Mexican-influenced restaurant in Pittsburgh. "It's a touchy subject, cooking food that's from another person's culture,” he says.

"It's about who you are and what you're doing. Is it authentic to you? If I was trying to make cochinita pibil or roast al pastor on the spit, then that's [a negative thing]. This food is my take on some things, but it's based on my experience. It doesn't fit into a neat little package,” Shell says.

Spending time in Philadelphia’s Hispanic community and with restaurant workers — his last job in the city was as general manager of El Fuego —  keyed him into larger social issues such as wage gaps, lack of education and opportunity for healthy eating in low-income neighborhoods and systemic oppression of minority communities.

“The larger mission here is to create a restaurant group that provides a good, healthy work environment for people that don't want to get caught up in this cycle,” he says.

To that end, he’s mentoring kids through George Junior Republic, Youth Outreach Program in Wilkinsburg (where he has commissary kitchen for the bulk of his restaurant and catering food prep) and is planning on teaching cooking classes that will serve as a jobs training program. He plans to employ his mentees as his catering operation grows and as he adds more Baby Loves Tacos locations — he already is looking at a space in North Oakland.

4508 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield; babylovestacospgh.com
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Hungry for Something Good, Pittsburgh? Where We're Eating in July

Lidia Bastianich Shares Her American Dream in a New Memoir

PM Dining Critic Hal B. Klein talks to the celebrated chef, restauranteur, television host and author about grandparents, foraging and the plight of refugees seeking a better life in the United States.

They Prayed to Our Lady of the Roller Coaster

Two local priests –– riding the Phantom's Revenge to promote Catholic Day at Kennywood –– create a viral video. Along the way they deliver a most unusual sermon.

The Homestead Artist with a Worldwide Reputation

Jesse Best maintains a presence in New York and Tokyo. But, he says, Pittsburgh has been 10 times better to him than any other place.

The 400-Word Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The fifth "Jurassic Park" film is fun. Empty, somewhat disappointing fun.

Local Brewery Resolves Trademark Dispute With Sass

After Pitt ordered Voodoo Brewery to stop production of its "H2P American IPA," the company relaunched the beer under a new name.

Sprout Fund Passes the Torch

50 Pittsburghers to receive $1,000 Legacy Award to carry on the nonprofit’s vision.

Pirates Can Be Show Stoppers if They Follow Brault's Lead

A Broadway musical about the life and times of the Pittsburgh Pirates? The idea might not be as farfetched as you think.

Pirates Pitcher Steven Brault has Pretty Good Pipes Too

The Pirates reliever sang the national anthem Tuesday night before the Bucs hosted the Brewers at PNC Park. It's worth watching, especially for his teammates' reaction at the end.

Crime in the South Side Has Fallen Dramatically

Illegal activity plunged along East Carson Street following several new security measures.

Fired by City Paper — Charlie Deitch Won’t Be Silenced

The former editor of the Pittsburgh alt-weekly is creating his own "more inclusive" publication.

Czechoslovakia was Forged in Pittsburgh

Rick Sebak details how the establishment of the European nation began with a meeting Downtown.

Brick by Brick: Legos Go High Art

Made entirely out of Legos, the sculptures on the display at the Carnegie Science Center’s new Scaife Exhibit Gallery range from the whimsical to the otherworldly.

Mike Chen, Dean of the Chinese Kitchen

The owner of Everyday Noodles looks to encourage more regionally specific Chinese food in Pittsburgh restaurants.

MultiStories: Real Estate – The Machesney Building

Visitors can still ogle the lavish marble and bronze interior crafted to appeal to the original owner's banker and stockbroker tenants.