Zack Shell, owner of the popular taco pop-up Baby Loves Tacos, has a goal for his new restaurant in Bloomfield: “I want to offer Pittsburgh deep flavors, and deep experiences.”
The native Pittsburgher moved back to the city from Philadelphia just a year and a half ago, but in that time, Shell has gone from serving street tacos from a red Aussie grill on Penn Avenue to designing the menu for his own space in Bloomfield.
After overwhelming success at his first pop-up, despite low temperatures and blistering winds, Shell started doing more and more pop-ups around the city. After serving tacos at spots like Tazza D’oro in Highland Park, and Commonplace Coffee on the North Side, Shell set up a consistent Friday night pop-up at the Pear and the Pickle Cafe on Troy Hill.
Finally, while driving down Liberty in Bloomfield one day, a vacant store front caught Shell’s eye. The rest, as they say, is history.
After 16 years in the food industry, Shell is excited to start his first solo venture on his own terms. His food story began in Oakland at a little Italian restaurant. That restaurant no longer exists, but it made him more curious about cooking, and, as Shell says, “at least taught me how to hold a knife.”
Shell attributes a lot of his food inspiration to the relationships he has cultivated along the way. Soccer, as it happens, exposed Shell to a plethora of cultures, and cooking styles, that he incorporates back into his cooking.
“My connection with soccer, which I’ve had since I was a little kid, was always with foreign guys living or working in America. These guys were from all over the place, West Africa, the Middle East, and Central and South America. That was my first introduction some of this food. I would go out to eat with these guys, or even cook with them.”
These flavors, and the experiences that go with them, are what Shell hopes to provide with his Baby Loves Tacos store front in Bloomfield.
The menu is set to satisfy Pittsburgher’s palettes, with half meat, and half veggie options. While ingredients will change slightly with the seasons, for the most part, the menu will be consistent, as Shell wants patrons to become familiar with his food. There will be Mexican favorites, like tacos and burritos, but also a lot of things that most of Pittsburgh haven’t seen before.
“Lately I’ve been really into making Pupusas from masa, which is maize dough. You take masa and fill it with something. It looks like a tiny pancake. It is warm and cheesy, with a slaw on top. I am also loving the brisket tacos I’ve been making. Those are the things I am really digging on and tweaking. People are going to see a lot of stuff like that.”
Shell doesn’t use a fryer, and roasts most of his meats, ensuring they are juicy, and tender. The menu will also feature vegetables like mushrooms, squash, red onion, and personalized favorites like buffalo cauliflower.
The restaurant will mostly be counter service take out, with limited seating. However, Shell did not want to lose the fun pop-up vibe, and the chance to go out and interact with people.
“We will be doing bicycle delivery. We want to get out, and be mobile and visible. I have a squad of people who are ready to go. It will be great for Pittsburgh. Everyone I have talked to is like, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ and I’m like ‘Do it!’”
The restaurant will be open as soon as it is ready to go.
“I’ve opened restaurants in Philly, and that is usually three to four months, but I don’t know it Pittsburgh. It could anywhere from one month, to four months. We are really just doing cosmetic stuff.”
The fun and catchy name, Baby Loves Tacos, is a homage to Shell’s own son.
“Originally, I had an entirely different name. I have a son, so it based off of baby, and baby tacos. It is also a play on ‘my baby’, and taking someone out on a date for tacos. We wanted it to be light, fun, and kid friendly.”
And the restaurant will be decidedly kid-friendly, too. “We’re always happy to make quesadillas, or just plain rice for kids.”
Baby Loves Tacos (4508 Liberty Avenue)