Interview: Thijs Oomens on Tacolicious' First Year

By Cristina Ng, July 29, 2019

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After many years in the kitchen, and unwavering love for all things chili, Thijs Oomens and his wife Saira Shazad started peddling their sauces in Shanghai under the label ‘Burn Your Face Off’ or BYFO. From there, they joined the Tacolicious team as founding partners. Ahead of their first anniversary, we stopped in for a chat with the chef.  

How long have you been working in food and beverage?
Since I was 12 years old, which is very illegal in the Netherlands. My parents told me that if I wanted to go to university, I needed to save up money. My friend worked at this shop, and they needed another dishwasher. I’ve always been interested in cooking, so they’d see me sneakily peeling a potato or washing the vegetables. They let me start helping with prep, and it grew from there.

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Image by Cristina Ng/That's

How did you get inspired to make hot sauce and Mexican food?
My mother and gran are Indonesian. When my mom made vegetable soup or a clear broth, she added so much sambal that it turned tomato red. When you see your mom cook like that, you are going to try it too. The first time I tried it, I nearly cried my eyes out. But the more you eat chili, the more it numbs your taste buds. Your blood starts running so fast through your body, and your heart rate speeds up. I wouldn’t call chili an addictive substance, but you do get a bit of a high. 

We hear you keep some secret hot sauces around at Tacolicious?
Yes, we always have an array of bottles, plus BYFO sauce. Some of our spicy pepper extracts can kick your ass. We have a lot of people that think they can handle it or who get egged on by their friends, but it’s all in good fun. The cool thing is that our family, friends and regulars will bring in bottles that we can’t get in China from their travels. So we have a lot of spicy options, but our main focus is adding flavor.

When Tacolicious was just an idea, what was the mission?
We just wanted to make something that was different by providing guests a carefree environment to be themselves. You can show up in flip flops or suited and booted. We don’t care as long as you are having a good time without being a nuisance. In addition to that, we wanted to put something on a plate that made people happy. 

“I wouldn’t call chili an addictive substance, but you do get a bit of a high”

Last year when we reviewed Tacolicious, you got 3.5 stars. What would you get now?
If anything the food has gotten better, because we have adapted to people’s preferences. Now that we have a loyal following and have added decorative touches like the mural, we have found our identity. The improved ambiance should push us up to four stars now.

READ MORE: Shanghai Restaurant Review Tacolicious

What’s on the new menu? 
We have beef birria, which is stewed Mexican-style beef. This version is more accessible than the traditional goat stew. We found some great shrimp that I’m using for a tasty new ceviche. When I threatened to switch the fried fish tacos for grilled, customers voiced their displeasure. I kept them and added a grilled option. We’ve also added loaded fries.

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How do you dream up your weekly taco specials?
Holidays, new ingredients and suggestions all play a part. For example, when I found beef that was amazing enough to serve raw, we had steak tartare tacos. No matter what I do, I have to make it fit into a taco. That can be a challenge, and I’ve never repeated a special. Maybe we’ll do a ‘hall of fame’ for our anniversary though.

What can we expect from Tacolicious in the next year?
Our second location! Getting a space big enough for meat smokers so I can get the brisket tacos back on the menu is a top priority.

[Cover image by Cristina Ng/That's]


See listing for Tacolicious here.

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