Tacolicious' Night of the Headless Shrimp Taco Is a Thing

Sara Deseran | October 28, 2014 | Story Restaurants

Reprinted with permission from saradeseran.com

When you own a business, you desperately want it to survive. So, blame it on survival instincts—or call it ego—but the job can make you into a bit of a media whore. Who doesn’t want their restaurant to have its 15 minutes? Hell, you’ll take more.

However, until Joe and I opened Tacolicious and now Chino, I didn’t realize that a simple question from a magazine editor such as myself could unleash a world of panic. And I now know what it looks like. Visualize a split screen, movie-style: On one side is a writer for, say, a prominent national magazine (ok, the magazine’s blog) contacting Chino to ask if we have a piña colada on our cocktail menu. It’s suggested that it’s for some kind of roundup: “Five places to get your tropical on!” We’re indiscriminate in our excitement. We’ll take it.

On the other side of the screen is Danny Louie, Chino’s bar manager, who indeed had a newfangled piña colada on the menu when we opened in June, though it isn’t on the menu any more. No matter. Seconds after the magazine editor hits her send button, Danny is asked to:

“Put it back on the menu!”

“Take a picture of it!”

“Write up the recipe in case they need it!”

“Do anything she wants!”

In the next scene, the magazine—whose world turns out not to revolve around our little restaurant—moves on to something else, or maybe just restaurants with better pina coladas, or, really, who knows. It’s like being desperate to get married and almost being asked out on a date. This kind of thing happens a lot.

That was a real life example and so is this: The other day, Tacolicious was asked to come up with a Halloween recipe (specifically a “spooky taco”) for a well-known retailer’s blog. The gig was unpaid—unless you considered the glory (as they put it: “We tag-team our blog content with the bigger company-wide marketing messages so they get more exposure!”).

For this, they wanted me to produce a photo-driven, step-by-step recipe. And they wanted me to provide the photography. My first reaction was, Huh? I don’t even know what a Halloween taco means. Not to mention, I’m far from a photographer and I can’t afford to hire one.

I was going to say no, but Joe practically slapped me upside my head, reminding me how important press is. Our cookbook publicist at Ten Speed concurred. So I obliged. Trying to channel Martha Stewart—or, at least, Rachael Ray—I spent a good hour googling “Halloween taco” and “creepy taco” (in case you were curious, this results in one eyeball taco made with sour cream and canned black olives) and generally racking my brain.

Wondering what my career had come to, I came up with the idea for a Night of the Headless Shrimp Taco. Telmo took it from there, dredging the shrimp in crushed tortillas and using our delicious orange salsa and black refried beans for some Halloween color. We fried up the shrimp heads and placed them—terrifyingly?—alongside, their beady eyes looking up pleadingly at me as I tried to hold my iPhone very, very steadily. Between stops at Sun Fat market for head-on shrimp, shooting each step, and editing the actual recipe that we had to write, this took up the best part of our day.

Although I had a brief moment of doubt, wondering if the recipe would be considered insensitive due to the ISIS beheadings in the news, I generally felt confident that we’d nailed it. Project Halloween Taco: Complete.

But then, for reasons unknown, but perhaps due the images being, ok, just a teeny bit out-of-focus, the big, famous retailer politely declined to use our shrimp taco story.

At least I have this blog because our taco’s 15 minutes will have to be right here. For the recipe—which includes my favorite salsa ever—click here.

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