Owning his own restaurant has been the dream of co-owner and executive chef Giovanni Orellana since his early days working in a kitchen. His most significant professional desire has been to create a restaurant that allowed him the opportunity to share easy to eat, homemade food that brings people together.
Family and community are extremely important in Latin American culture, and Orellana wants to, in this restaurant, recreate the atmosphere and joy of having your grandmother, mother and aunts cooking for the whole family on a Sunday afternoon. “The aroma, sight, and textures of a family meal bring back childhood memories, and that’s what I want to showcase in this restaurant,” Orellana says.
Taqueria Local’s cuisine uses locally sourced ingredients in traditional and unexpected ways, but always with the goal of making tacos that make culinary sense. Co-owners Antonis Karagounis and Arman Amirshahi agree with Orellana’s vision. As Karagounis notes, “tacos are my family’s favorite food, and what we eat at Sunday dinner, which is when everyone eats together. Having my four kids hold their plate up for another serving is the cutest thing and these are the memories that will stay forever.”
Co-owners Arman Amirshahi and Antonis Karagounis’ ties to the Nation’s Capital extend back three decades. In that time, Amirshahi and Karagounis have a long history of being dedicated to the empowerment of area youths, like Orellana (who has excelled at the duo’s Barcode Restaurant), entering a workforce where success is not guaranteed. However, through Taqueria Local, many longtime employees of companies owned by Karagounis and Amirshahi will work there, share success, and eventually manage their own Taqueria Local restaurants as the business expands into other locations.
Employees are also paid more than minimum wage, with profit-sharing bonuses included. Also, to participate in developing a sense of pride and accomplishment, it occasionally gets a little noisy in Taqueria, as when sales goals for the day have been achieved a bell hung in the open kitchen rings in honor of successfully serving patrons.
As well, one percent of Taqueria Local’s yearly revenue will be shared with CentroNia; an organization based in Northwest DC that has a long-established tradition as a nationally accredited educational institution. The company describes its purpose as “[providing] affordable quality education programs, professional development, and family support services in a bilingual, multicultural environment to children, youth, and families in the greater Washington, DC metropolitan area.” Chef Orellana’s son was a CentroNia student for six years, so his personal “responsibility to give back” to the company expands past revenue sharing to providing free weekly meals and holiday catering for CentroNia and its staff.
Furthermore, leftover food will be donated to the Sacred Heart Dinner Program in Mount Pleasant/Columbia Heights. Since 2015, thousands in the community in need of filling and healthy meals have been fed meals, daily via this organization.
Co-owner Antonis Karagounis says “Taqueria Local is sourcing the best ingredients from local distributors to provide the best meals featuring authentic Mexican cooking techniques to our customers. The proof is in the ever-evolving taste of our food and our commitment to making Taqueria Local a staple in the DC fast casual choices.”
Cooking Taqueria’s flavor-filled meals requires near-scientific knowledge of steam, cooking with temperature and dry heat, notes Taqueria’s Head Chef and co-owner Giovanni Orellana. “In knowing how a marinade interacts with pork as compared to chicken or steak, when heated at 450 degrees, as compared to when it’s steaming in a pan, that’s important. I’m always in the kitchen thinking about the exact perfect combination of techniques to take the menu to another level.”
The level of attention to detail and pride in the quality of local vendors expands throughout Taqueria’s menu.
Most corn tortillas from supermarkets are made with citric acid-treated corn flour, to aid in shelf life. Chef Giovanni says that Taqueria aims to be different by sourcing tortillas from Moctec, a local factory in Hyattsville, Maryland. “They deliver freshly-made tortillas to us, daily. They source certified American non-GMO grown corn. These are not corn flour tortillas. These are corn tortillas, made with hand-ground corn, from scratch.”
Taqueria Local uses humanely-raised animal products, free of hormones or antibiotics. Baltimore, Maryland’s Fells Point Meats services Head Chef and co-owner Giovanni Orellana’s meat needs, while notable national supplier Samuels and Son handle seafood. Pork and chicken come from small farms in Northern Maryland, while premium, though not local, Creekstone Farms beef, is used. Seafood supplier Samuels and Son have been in business for 80 years, providing ec0-friendly service to quality restaurants nationwide, including Orellana’s other restaurant DC’s Barcode.
“Union Market’s Mexican Fruits bring me all of the Mexican specialties, too. I use a lot of dried Mexican peppers in my marinades and recipes, directly from small family farmers in Mexico.” Chef Giovanni digs deeper into his bag of culinary tricks and says, “in the pork and pineapple al pastor marinade, there’s a mix of five different dried peppers, including pasilla and guajillo, and agave leaves are used for the barbacoa steak taco!”
Taqueria Local’s commitment to using fresh produce is ever-present in the fresh food use in all of the restaurant’s recipes. Having sources like Coastal Sunbelt providing fresh fruits and vegetables is essential. Head chef and co-owner Giovanni Orellana notes that Coastal Sunbelt delivers from within a 100 miles of DC, and is always sourcing — weekly updating as to from where — “food from farm to table, safely and exactly the way you want it,” as the company states on their website.