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 Battle of The Hollywood

Dormont's historic Hollywood Theater faces an uncertain future after news of a potential sale prompted an immediate public furor.

Three Rivers Champion: Cecile Springer

A self-proclaimed “loudmouth,” Springer says her favorite part of volunteering is meeting other people and persuading them to do what she wants them to do.

Phantom Thread Is, Somehow, Both Unpleasant and Lovely

Reviews of "Phantom Thread," "Call Me By Your Name," "Den of Thieves" and new animated releases, plus local movie news and notes.

Nominate the Best! Pittsburgh Magazine's 2018 Readers' Poll

What is Pittsburgh's best breakfast joint? Dive bar? Yoga studio? Local singer? Meteorologist? It's time to nominate your local favorites in multiple categories.

Amazon Includes Pittsburgh in its Top-20 List for HQ2

The list of 20 was narrowed from 238 proposals Amazon received in October. So which other cities made the cut?

Restaurant Review: or, The Whale

The Downtown restaurant is a captivating, if costly, catch.

Celebrating 5 Pittsburghers Who Built Careers Behind the Bar

Pittsburgh is a city that celebrates its neighborhood bars. In some of those spots, second- and third-generation regulars are pulling up their stools to be served by someone who started pouring drinks decades ago.

Second Chances: Crossroads in the Kitchen

People working to overcome substance abuse problems and ex-offenders discover a welcoming environment in restaurant kitchens.

How to Pamper Yourself in Pittsburgh

Looking to beat the winter doldrums? We round up the best places and experiences for a little personal indulgence.

Miss Pusadee's Garden? We Have Some Good News.

The Tongdee family now operates Burgh Thai in Verona.

The Growing Popularity of Shooting a Clay Pigeon

Skeet shooting is taking off as a favored western Pennsylvania hobby.

Steelers' No. 1 Problem Makes Others Pale in Comparison

Until they solve it, the Steelers are more of a Fantasy League team than they are a Super Bowl team.

New series ‘$1’ to be filmed in Pittsburgh

The mystery thriller is latest to cash in on the city’s filming opportunities.

Andrew McCutchen: Thanks for the Memories

It's hard to overemphasize McCutchen's impact on the Pirates and its fan base.

How to Make a Mt. Washington Wedding Proposal Even Better

A lot of grooms-to-be propose on Mt. Washington. Not many decorate beforehand.