Newly graduated from the University of Washington, economics degree in hand, Roberto Salmerón had no job and no plan to speak of back in 2010. So the Tijuana native hopped on a bicycle and trekked south to his Mexico hometown with the audacity—and street food cravings—of a spontaneous 22-year-old.
As bold as it is to bike some 1,300 miles, opening a restaurant sans industry experience is rash in another way entirely. But Salmerón did just that. In 2011, Tacos Chukís debuted in a tiny, upstairs space on Capitol Hill. Salmerón looked to the Mexican street tacos he grew up on, not to duplicate, but to harness their flavors and affordability.
Folks queued up for $1.60 tacos consisting of two lightly griddled corn tortillas with such proteins as adobada—marinated pork sheared off a vertical spit and topped with a square of grilled pineapple (pictured)—or other fillings: carne asada, pollo asado, prickly pear cactus leaf.
Seven years after the first Tacos Chukís opened, Salmerón now has three locations and a fourth on the way: In 2016, he brought tacos and beer to the South Lake Union crowd; last December he settled on Beacon Hill; early this fall, his largest taco joint will come to the Central District.
The price per taco has gone up a bit, but even at two bucks, it’s a steal. The key to his success—and those prices—is a combination of minimal waste, high quality, small menu, and consistency. It’s a formula gleaned as a longtime patron at another local institution of learning: the Dick’s Drive-In school of business.