Every evening, Over-the-Rhine brims with patrons waiting for tables at practically all of the neighborhood’s hot and trendy restaurants — especially those that don’t take reservations. Cincinnati native Andrew Gomez has devised a solution to feed the impatient, hungry masses more quickly: a walk-up taco window.
Soon to open in the old Lucy Blue Pizza shop at 12th and Walnut streets, Gomez Salsa will serve fresh, hand-chopped salsas along with carnitas, fish tacos and an invention called a turtle shell (sort of like the Taco Bell Crunchwrap) at the window during various lunch, dinner and late-night hours Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Gomez will share the space with HalfCut, a new craft beer café — owned by Gomez’s Moeller High School buddies Tom O’Brian and Jack Heekin — that will have rare and local beers on tap, a growler station and make-your-own six-packs. Gomez is ready to start slinging his salsas, but the hold up right now has to do with getting bathroom permits approved, so whenever that happens — hopefully within the next month — Gomez and HalfCut will open for business.
“We just kind of want to bridge the gap between Vine and Main,” Gomez says.
Because Gomez Salsa’s space is basically only a 375-square-foot kitchen, denizens will order at the window and then be able to eat the tacos at HalfCut, or take them into a nearby bar or to Washington Park. He also plans on instituting an online ordering system and bike delivery to anyone in the neighborhood.
“I believe that this area might pick it up and enjoy it and hopefully keep us around for a while,” he says.
Gomez has truly taken a DIY approach, even tapping a few friends to help him with construction.
“It’s a wild experience, something I never wanted to do,” he says.
“Now that I’ve kind of learned a lot, I’m glad I can do it and I’m glad that I can be able to do it for myself in the future.”
In anticipation of the opening, Gomez has been posting food-porn-worthy Instagrams of his tacos and salsas, such as his sweet and spicy pineapple salsa, mild corn salsa, signature Gomez salsa and Kowabunga salsa, a hotter version of his signature salsa. The salsas are all versions of pico de gallo: tomato, onion, garlic, cilantro, citrus, cumin and a few other ingredients. “I don’t skimp out on the cilantro or the onion,” he says. “It’s just bold flavors.”
Gomez’s father grew up in Brownsville, Texas, and learned how to make pico de gallo from Gomez’s grandmother. Eventually Gomez’s parents settled in Cincinnati, and his father passed down his mother’s recipes to him. “I consider it my ketchup,” Gomez says.
To earn extra cash while attending the University of Cincinnati, Gomez started making and selling the salsas. A couple years ago, he started taco nights at the now-defunct downtown club Passage Lounge and Longworth’s in Mount Adams, then last year began catering events with a build-your-own-taco bar, which gave him the confidence to open his test kitchen, aka his walk-up window idea. Gomez says his biggest critics — his family — enjoy most of his creations but are willing tell him when they don’t like a new salsa.
“They give me good feedback,” he says. “It’s a love/hate thing. I need it but I hate hearing negative things about the food that I’m making. But we need it to figure out what people want.”
Eventually, Gomez wants to grow his own produce and educate people on all avenues of food, but first he needs to make sure he can be successful at Gomez Salsa. “The beauty of this is we don’t have any closed channels, from catering to salsa making to walk-up windows to maybe having a restaurant — they’re all open and we just need to see where I think I can take it. I’m not going to force it in any way. Once we open up, let’s see what happens.”
Despite having such a brilliant idea — nothing pairs better than tacos and beer — Gomez is still cautious. “All the time I’m like, ‘Man, am I doing the right thing here?’ This is what I’m all about. This is what people my age should be doing. I’ve never had too many steady jobs, none that have really lasted over a year, but I’ve always been around food and kitchens, and I know that’s my thing. I love seeing people enjoy food.”
GOMEZ SALSA will be located at 107 E. 12th St., Over-the-Rhine. For more information on the food and upcoming opening, visit gomezsalsa.com or follow on Instagram at @gomezsalsa.