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We don’t want no fancy tacos

It’s been six months since our A+Eats contest, which searched for a new local restaurant in Miami to set up shop in the Arts & Entertainment District. We’re checking in on some of the participants to see what they’ve made happen since then.

By night it’s Rubi Lounge, a Latin-themed Brickell nightclub. But when day breaks and the lights turn on, it’s Miami’s newest taco joint.

This is SoCal Taco Co., the brainchild of Miami bartender Leo Holtzman and restaurateur A.J. Billapando.

“It’s got a cool, classy feel to it. You don’t walk in thinking … tacos but it kinda adds to the authenticity. We’re just these two guys who started making awesome tacos and drinks and we’re like, ‘We’re just going to do this here’,” Holtzman laughed.

Six months ago, Holtzman was a finalist in our A+Eats competition for his concept called Cocktail Collection, a restaurant that paired crafted cocktails with a Japanese/American-inspired menu. The idea was actually an expansion of a pop-up he used to run above the beloved, now-closed Tobacco Road.

After the competition, fellow restaurateur and friend Billapando suggested the two team up.

The idea was simple — cheap, Southern California-style tacos, paired with craft cocktails. As a former bartender, Holtzman was in charge of the drinks and Billapando, who used to live in Fresno, California, handled the tacos.

“We were tired of everyone using all these intricate upscale food items …  sometimes you don’t want a 10-dollar taco, you just want a delicious classic taco, maybe with a little twist,” Holtzman said.

That’s why their tacos are always $3 a pop. A crowd favorite is the fish taco, glazed with a lemon dill sauce made in house, lightly fried, and topped with cabbage, lettuce, and cheese.

 “I’d be willing to say it’s the best fish taco anyone will ever have,” Holtzman said. “The other day we had someone come in and they ate 15 fish tacos in one day, over the course of four hours.”

And the drinks, well, those are Holtzman’s forté.

He suggests the SoCal Special, specifically crafted for the restaurant. It’s his own take on a Tommy’s Margarita, but he replaced the salted rim with a fresh orange foam made in-house.

Does he think it might eventually become a permanent fixture of the club?

“It’s Miami there’s no such thing … so hurry up and come,” he said with a smile.