Welcome to #CollectiveCountdown. We’ve partnered with the developers of The Collective Kitchens + Cocktails to bring you interviews and info about the 11 chefs and concepts chosen for the soon-to-open Midtown food hall. Major thanks to Okie Pokie and Chick-n-Beer for sponsoring these posts.
Ruben Pacheco opened up the note his wife Kristal had packed for him before work. He’d gotten away from the field, where he’d be gone for weeks at a time, but even working closer to home meant odd hours.
Pachecho has always had a few dreams; moving to Puerto Rico or Colorado, or maybe starting a food truck. Kristal’s note was simple: Let’s live your dreams. Let’s pick somewhere you want to go or something you want to do and let’s do it.
And that’s how the The Fried Taco was born in March of 2016. It was fortuitous timing, it turns out, as Ruben was caught up in the wave of oil and gas layoffs that hit a few years back.
After two very successful years in business, the Pachecos are making another dream come true—for fans who need their food more consistently—by opening The Fried Taco inside The Collective Kitchens + Cocktails.
Before he got into oil field work, Ruben and Kristal both worked about every job they could in the restaurant business, from fast food through managing the bar. But The Fried Taco’s signature dish stretches back further, to Ruben’s mom.
“I grew up with these tacos,” he said. “We’re Puerto Rican and my mom used to make these for parties and all our friends would come around.”
It’s not a traditionally Puerto Rican taco, he said, other than it was adapted from something his mother’s family got from a street vendor in Puerto Rico. But the flavors are all Caribbean, which delights some and flummoxes others.
Tacos, especially in Oklahoma, are associated with Mexico. And while there are some similarities between the two, the spice palates for Mexican and Caribbean foods are not the same.
“At first, it was all about teaching people the difference,” he said. “We don’t serve a lot of Mexican flavors. It’s a nice niche for us.”
There’s not much worry about confusing these with your typical taqueria fare. The tortillas are folded around seasoned meat (pork, chicken or brisket) or jackfruit and then fried with the filling already inside, crisping up both the meat and the shell. The result is a crisp exterior that gives way to a soft, pliant interior fused with delicious, delicate fillings.
The Pachecos are taking full advantage of the expanded kitchen space of The Collective to do more Caribbean dishes, including mofongo—a traditional Puerto Rican delicacy of fried plantains that are mashed with garlic and salt and rolled into a ball and served with rich pork broth and meat.
“This is comfort food,” Ruben said. “It’s fried and full of carbs and it’s not good for your body, but it’s great for your mouth.”
He’s also planning to add empanadas and carne fritas—a dish of deep-fried marinated pork—served with rice and beans.
The time is right for introducing new foods to Oklahomans. Pacheco grew up in Enid and lived in Edmond for the last 20 years and he’s seen plenty of Puerto Rican restaurants come and go. But the mood is different. Oklahoma’s culinary tastes are broader. Everybody wants to try something new.
“We wanted to open our own place after a couple of years, but getting enough capital for your first restaurant...people don’t realize how expensive it is,” Ruben said. “With places like The Collective popping up, it’s perfect for us.”
The Fried Taco has always done very well in the Midtown/Downtown area, he said. Being part of The Collective means they’re no longer weather dependent and they’ll have the ability to serve bigger crowds.
“It’s fried tacos and beer,” he said. “That’s the perfect fit.”
Be sure to come back next week for another #CollectiveCountdown, brought to you by Okie Pokie and Chick-n-Beer. And keep an eye on thecollectiveokc.com for more info as the food hall prepares to open.