Porque No? Brings Fine Street Tacos to Rockridge 

Finally, there's a solid spot for Mexican fare — and American breakfast favorites — in what was once an area devoid of good tacos.

click to enlarge The al pastor tacos are brimming with warm, comforting spices.

Photo by Lance Yamamoto

The al pastor tacos are brimming with warm, comforting spices.

Over the years, Rockridge has gained a reputation as a destination for certain types of generally pricey food — the Cal-Italian cuisine at Oliveto, the New American food at Wood Tavern, and the stuffed pasta at Belotti. But Rockridge is equally notorious for its status as a desert when it comes to good Mexican food. If you were craving tacos in Rockridge, you'd have to pay a premium for subpar flavor.

That is, until Porque No? Tacos opened in June. The restaurant shares a space with Pucquio, a Peruvian restaurant that's only open for dinner. During the day, it transforms into Porque No?, serving American breakfast and Mexican fare from 5:30 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon.

The team behind Porque No? is Omar Lopez, his cousin Silvia Marabel, and his cousin's husband, Tony Luquin. Lopez's family has roots in Veracruz, though he was raised in Aguascalientes and grew up with the cuisines of both states. Lopez fell in love with cooking at an early age, though his passion for cooking was discouraged.

"In Mexico, especially in our family and our hometown, the men are not allowed to be in the kitchen," he recalled. "I was always pretty much bugging [my mom], and trying to learn what she was doing all the time by watching." His culinary experience, which he describes as "Pan-American," includes stints at Bocanova, Chop Bar, and Sons of Liberty Alehouse. Lopez especially loves breakfast, and dreamed of opening his own breakfast joint.

Luquin, on the other hand, grew up in Jalisco, where his family owned a taco cart —and he wanted to start his own taco truck one day. So Luquin and Lopez decided to open their own restaurant, combining their passions for breakfast and tacos. A torta at 6 in the morning, or French toast at 1 p.m.? Porque no — why not?

When customers walk into Porque No?, Lopez greets them from the kitchen with a "Welcome in!" or, in many cases, a "Welcome back!" In just a few months, the restaurant has gained plenty of regulars. Table service is friendly and attentive, though plenty of customers order to go. Lopez and the rest of the team roam around the restaurant, making sure customers are happy.

Since tacos are Porque No?'s namesake, I decided to try those first. Tacos rang up at $3 each — only a touch more expensive than most taco trucks — but arrived elegantly arranged on a long plate, overflowing with meat on freshly griddled tortillas with garnishes of onion and cilantro, plus lime, sliced radish, and pickled carrots and jalapeños on the side. The al pastor , made using Luquin's family recipe, was packed with warm, comforting spices without relying on too much salt, sugar, or heat. Though it wasn't the juiciest al pastor I've tried, the caramelized edges provided toasty flavor and a slightly crisp texture. I was less enthused about the cabeza, which was tender but lacking in flavor. Same with the chicken, which was beautifully charred but could have benefited from a spice rub.

For a more decadent treat, try the steak super taco, served on a blistered, crunchy tortilla with pepper jack cheese melted into the shell to create stretchy cheese pulls with each bite. Guacamole and sour cream heaped on top provided richness, balanced by pico de gallo for freshness.

Even with both the "spicy" red habanero salsa and milder green salsa, I wouldn't rank the heat level above mild. That's good news for people who prefer their tacos less spicy, and while Lopez said he's trying to keep the spice level down so everyone can enjoy the tacos, it'd be nice to have a hotter option.

Other lunch options include quesadillas, burritos, and tortas. The super quesadilla stood out for its golden-brown, bubbly, crispy flour tortilla, toasted in clarified butter. The rest of the ingredients were standard: your choice of meat in a melty white cheese blend, plus garnishes of pico de gallo, sour cream, and guacamole.

The torta Jalisco was one of the more unusual items, made with pork that was marinated and spiced with four types of chiles according to Luquin's family recipe. "Those four chiles, when they come together, it's like ... oh, yeah, this is Mexico," Lopez said. House-pickled onions added acidity and crunch, while avocado provided creaminess. It all came on a bolillo toasted in clarified butter, plus a side of crackly housemade potato chips. A glass of housemade horchata, made using Marabel's signature recipe, was so rich it tasted like melted ice cream —just the thing to accompany the tortas and tacos.

One of the biggest perks of Porque No? is that breakfast is available all day, including chilaquiles. For me, a good plate of chilaquiles strikes a balance between crispy and soggy — you want the tortillas fully saturated in sauce while maintaining crunch. Porque No's chilaquiles struck that balance. The red salsa, while mild, was satisfying. The tortillas were plated atop creamy refried beans with free-range scrambled eggs mixed in, providing nuggets of richness. A ripe, creamy sliced avocado topped the dish, while a sprinkle of queso fresco and a drizzle of sour cream added more decadence.

I wasn't a fan of the breakfast burrito, which was dry with unevenly distributed toppings. Half was full of potatoes, while the other consisted entirely of eggs and chorizo. I did, however, appreciate the tortilla, which — as you might have guessed — also came toasted in clarified butter.

American breakfast classics like French toast also grace the menu. Lopez's recipe combines his favorite recipes from restaurants he's worked at over the years. Steeped with orange zest and Mexican vanilla overnight, the French toast was fragrant without being overly sweet, even with maple syrup, whipped cream, and fresh berries on top. The housemade roasted candied walnuts on top added toasty flavor and crunchy texture.

Porque No? doesn't have many unusual menu offerings — though it's the only place I can think of that serves lengua or cabeza within a couple miles. It doesn't focus on regional cuisine, but rather, solidly executed favorites that Lopez and Luquin know customers will like. Someday, they'd like to have their own space, where they can serve a larger menu including enchiladas and taco salad. And just as the neighborhood has supported Porque No?, they plan to continue serving Rockridge's finest tacos.

"The neighbors have been a blessing to us," Lopez said. "They gave us a lot of support, so we want to always stay close to them."

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