Bethany Clough

The Tower District’s newest restaurant: beef brain, 13 kinds of salsa and mulitas

There are so many interesting things to share about the Tower District’s newest restaurant that I’m not sure where to start.

With the menu that has 16 kinds of meat and 13 kinds of salsa? Or the backstory of the trio of bubbly siblings who run the restaurant, including the brother who sold tacos out of his garage as a college student? Or maybe the beef brain on the menu?

I’ll get to all of them eventually. But first, the basics.

Bocca Taqueria has opened at 568 E. Olive Ave.

It’s still in its soft opening, meaning it has a pared-down menu as the staff gets a new restaurant off the ground. They’re so new they don’t have much of an online presence yet, but you can follow them on Instagram at @bocca_taqueria.

Bocca is a restaurant that celebrates the street tacos of Mexico City, but with a gourmet twist and a modern space that looks nothing like Fresno’s other taquerias.

The siblings spent about a year revamping the space, which has been home to a slew of businesses, including Cafe Rousseau, Castillos Mexican Food and a hoverboard shop. Bocca has a sign encouraging customers to take a “taco selfie” and a wall full of tongue-in-cheek sayings, like “I don’t like tacos, said no Juan ever.”

As I walk through the door, manager Orlando Meza asks, “Did you expect this when you thought of a taqueria?”

The obvious answer is no.

“That was the goal,” he says.

You also won’t find burritos or tortas on the menu. It’s all about tacos here, says Elizabeth Ordaz, who owns the restaurant with her two brothers.

“What we focus on is tacos, beer and sports,” says Ordaz, gesturing to the TVs tuned to sporting events on the walls.

The menu is adventurous, but there’s familiar chicken and vegetarian options also.

It’s organized by how the taco meat is prepared, with categories like grilled, deep fried and cooked on a rotisserie. Each has several options, from carnitas to sesos (beef brain), cachete y labio (beef cheek and lip) and skirt steak (arrachera). (Danny Ordaz, one of the owners who works in the kitchen, gets downright poetic about the taste of cow’s eyes, though those aren’t a regular on the menu.)

Sometimes all these parts and names can be a bit intimidating, notes Meza. But he hopes customers won’t be shy about asking questions.

There are a few items on the menu that aren’t tacos, like the mulitas. They’re essentially a quesadilla made with two small corn tortillas and stuffed with meat (or not, as there are vegetarian options), cheese, cilantro and onions. The owners recommend the rib-eye mulita.

Flight of salsas at Bocca, a new taqueria in the Tower District. Clockwise from upper right: gruda (raw) tomatillos with jalapenos salsa; pumpkin seeds salsa; tomato with habenero salsa; house green salsa; chile de Arbol salsa; xoconostle y pasilla salsa; avocaso salsa; and habanero, pineapple and onion salsa. JOHN WALKER

There are also 13 kinds of salsa to choose from, many created by a chef from Mexico City who specializes in salsa. You can request a flight of salsa, six little dishes to sample served with chips. The spicy roasted peanut salsa made with garlic and red peppers is a staff favorite.

The restaurant’s name, by the way, comes from the word boca, which means mouth in Spanish. But bocca with an extra C is also an English word for the mouth of a furnace, a reference to spice and flames and heat, Elizabeth Ordaz explains.

As for the siblings who opened the restaurant, you’ll likely see Aaron, Danny or Elizabeth Ordaz at the restaurant. Each brings a unique expertise to the business.

Elizabeth worked in a high-end restaurant in Glendale, doing pretty much everything but cooking: hosting, serving, event coordinating and behind-the-scenes paperwork.

Danny is blunt about where his cooking skills came from: “I sold tacos from my garage in Santa Barbara. That’s how I paid rent.”

A DJ and college student living with five other guys in one rental house, his venture inspired long lines of students and cops who bought tacos instead of shutting them down.

Aaron has been in The Bee’s food and drink pages before, as co-owner of Pop’s Emporium, a mobile gourmet ice pop seller, with his parents. You may have seen him peddling pops at the Clovis Friday night farmers market or other events.

The siblings say they learned their skills from their parents, who were constantly hosting and cooking for friends and family. It makes you wonder if they ran a Mexican restaurant, too.

Nope, they didn’t. But you can see how they passed the entrepreneurial spirit on to their kids. When asked what their parents did for a living they rattled off a list – owning a Mexican candy distribution business, a metal fabrication shop, a powder coating business and finally Pops Emporium.

They appear to have taught them another skill vital to running a business with family. They genuinely seem to like each other.

As Aaron puts it: “As for the restaurant, I wouldn’t want to do it with any other people but these two.”

Bocca is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Details: 559-374-5100.

Bethany Clough: 559-441-6431, @BethanyClough