By Mimi Pollack
There is nothing better than a good taco, and if eating that taco also helps to give to others, even better! I ate that tasty taco while giving back to the community at Tacos Libertad, which opened in Hillcrest in May.
Opening Tacos Libertad as a not-for-profit taco shop is one of restaurateur David Cohn’s ways of giving back to the community. All the proceeds of the restaurant — after operating expenses — go to charity. And they choose a different charity each month.
It is part of the successful Cohn Restaurant Group. The group includes The Prado in Balboa Park, Corvette Diner in Liberty Station, Coasterra on Harbor Island, several BO-beaus, and many others.
Cohn had been looking for innovative ways to support and give back to a community that has patronized his many restaurants over the years. He continues a long family tradition. His late parents were deeply committed to social action as are his brothers and sister. Twenty years ago, his father began an annual high holidays food drive at Temple Emanu-El. Cohn and his siblings have continued this tradition, and they have donated over 40,000 pounds of food to Father Joe’s Villages.
While on a trip to Portland, Oregon, Cohn discovered the Oregon Public House, a pub that donates its proceeds to charity. He decided the Cohn Restaurant Group should try that model in San Diego, and they opened Tacos Libertad.
There was a large property in Hillcrest available, so the group opened up another BO-beau restaurant with Tacos Libertad taking up a small space next door. Behind, there is also a bar, or as they call it a “speakeasy” named Cache, where one can bring in their tacos to eat while having a drink.
A special committee chooses a different charity every month. There is a link on the restaurant’s website, and the committee reviews the applications that are sent in. The chosen charity is guaranteed $3,000 for the month. Restaurants typically take up to a year or more to turn a profit, and Tacos Libertad is no different, so the restaurant group is making up the difference in the meantime. They plan to increase the donations as profits go up.
The committee tends to choose smaller organizations that are not as well known and may be overlooked. So far, some organizations that have received their help include Mama’s Kitchen, Meals on Wheels, San Diego Youth Services, International Relief Teams and Humble Design, which furnishes homes for the homeless. In addition, after hurricane Harvey and all the flooding hit Texas, they had one month that was “Tacos for Texas” with proceeds going to help the many victims of that devastation.
The menu at Tacos Libertad is small, but offers something for everyone. It is divided into vegetarian, seafood and meat tacos, plus sides. The vegetarian tacos are either grilled or tempura avocado and Portobello mushroom. The seafood tacos are octopus, grilled fish and shrimp tacos. The meat tacos are chicken, steak, two types of pork, and even a duck confit.
My group tried the chicken, steak, grilled fish and shrimp tacos and they were all delicious. If you like spicy, only the shrimp tacos have a bite. The others would need some hot sauce. We also ordered black beans and rice. I found the rice to be very flavorful. They choose the type of tortilla–flour or corn–depending on the taco, but you can also tell them your preference.
Unlike other, fancier Cohn restaurants, this is a low-key operation where you order at the counter and they bring the food to you. Service was fast and friendly, with AJ Skojec and Joan Villanueva leading the team.
For drinks, they offer Jarritos Mexican sodas and Blue Sky sodas, as well as various beers, wines and micheladas. Seating is limited, so the option of taking the tacos back to the beautifully decorated Cache bar is nice.
The restaurant opens at 4 p.m. — 2 p.m. on Sundays — and doesn’t close until 2:30 a.m., so it’s a great spot for late night munchies.
It is nice to have a food establishment in San Diego where you know you can go and enjoy a good meal while giving back to others. Tacos Libertad is providing a positive example for other restaurants to follow.
Mimi Pollack is an English as a Second Language teacher and a freelance writer.
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