Space Case: Taco Chelo

Nikki BuchananOctober 24, 2019
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Photography by Angelina Aragon
Photography by Angelina Aragon

Serial restaurateur Aaron Chamberlin – former owner of St. Francis, Ghost Ranch and Tempe Public Market Café, and current owner of both Phoenix Public Market Café and Taco Chelo – never planned on opening a down-home taqueria for one obvious reason: He’s a gringo. But a trip to Southern California to help out his artist friend, Gennaro Garcia, who was participating in a “taco takeover” event in La Jolla, changed all that. Chamberlin brought along his Monterrey-born right-hand man Suny Santana to help, and the three cooked together for the event. Then they took a taco tour around the San Diego area, and before long Chamberlin was hammering the other two about opening a taqueria together. Exactly one year and three days later, they did. Santana creates the menus, cooks and run the operation, while Garcia maintains the vibrant space as a constantly evolving art installation. “It’s about Suny and Gennaro,” Chamberlin says. “I just pay for it.”

1 Mural

Every six months or so, Garcia changes up the mural to the left of the bar, painting the wall white before creating a new art piece, typically during service so diners can watch him at work.

2 bar

The rustic green backbar was custom-made in San Miguel de Allende by Casa Armida, which also manufactures pieces for Restoration Hardware.

3 skull tile

Garcia designed the skull tiles that wrap around the front of the bar, and found a tile-maker in Puebla, Mexico, to produce them.

4 fixtures

Thirty suspended Casa Armida light fixtures hang from the original raftered ceiling (from the circa-1950 Flowers Building), which Garcia painted yellow in homage to Diego Rivera.

5 artwork

Garcia hangs his own for-sale artwork, as well as that of other Mexican artists, turning the space into an art gallery.

6 Aguas frescas

A daily-changing selection of aguas frescas, poured in jars and cooled in ice, sits to one side of the bar alongside a bust of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.

Taco Chelo

501 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix

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