.Get Stuffed

Comelones Tacos is true to its name

Comelones Tacos co-owner John Batesting recently told me, “If you look up the word ‘comelones’ online, it means ‘big eater.’” But he and his business partner Eric Gallindo define it colloquially. “Our name means a person who overeats so much they feel stuffed and full,” he added. It’s easy to feel that way after ordering one of their giant quesadillas and a couple of tacos.

Chef Gallindo’s family owns El Trompudo Taco Shop in El Sobrante. His family’s culinary heritage is rooted in Jalisco, Mexico. Many of the recipes he uses were passed down to him, though he makes subtle alterations. Instead of finishing the carnitas taco with cilantro and onions, for instance, Gallindo adds pickled carrots, cabbage and onions. He based this variation on cortido, a Salvadoran sauerkraut.

Rather than limiting the quesadilla ingredients to meat and cheese, he also stuffs them with pico de gallo, “to really enhance the flavor,” Batesting said. The quesadilla is his favorite item on the menu. Comelones also serves burritos, tortas, a burger and nacho fries. Batesting said that they decided to put a limit on the number of menu options.

“We noticed that a lot of restaurants have so many different items that it’s hard to perfect them,” he said. “We have a very simple menu, with five or six main dishes that are easily fine tuned to make them even better.” 

Batesting and Gallindo were friends before opening Comelones together. Before finding their first brick-and-mortar location in Orinda’s Theatre Square neighborhood, they tried several pop-up locations, including one in San Francisco. But they found that location on Broadway to be too busy and fast-paced.

“That’s what drew us into Orinda because it’s a nice, quiet community that’s pretty tucked away,” Batesting said.

Since opening in December last year they have found a stable location to establish a business, and they plan to grow from there. While scouting locations in 2020, they asked potential customers in Orinda if they’d welcome a new business and were told that Orinda residents like to support small, local businesses.

“Originally we thought, even though it’s not the busiest place, it’s really a great place to start, especially for something that could be consistent,” Batesting said.

Their foresight paid off with what Batesting describes as “tremendous growth” during the past six months.

“We have a lot of regular customers and the word on the street is that we’re the new mainstay in Mexican food,” he said. “What we really love about the community here—they like talking to our employees. Our staff loves our food, and it’s transferable to the people we share it with.” At most fast-food restaurants customers don’t get to know the employees, but that’s not the case at Comelones.

Everything on the menu except for the tortillas is made in-house, but they’re looking into making those as well—once they get their bearings.

“We pickle the jalapeños ourselves. And all the veggies and salsas are put together with fresh ingredients,” Batesting said. “That’s why everything is so good in our restaurant. We put a lot of craft into every single dish, even if it’s just a taco.”

The tacos I tried at Comelones are equal to some of the best street tacos I’ve had at taco trucks around the Bay Area. The advantage they have over food trucks is their permanent setting, regular hours and a couple of tables set up on the Square’s peaceful inner courtyard.

Comelones Tacos does have a long-term plan to expand further into the East Bay. Batesting said, at the moment, they’re considering Walnut Creek, Concord and possibly San Ramon.

“I’ve worked there and I know they’re desperate for tacos,” he said.

Batesting still has a day job as a recruiter for a tech company. His focus at Comelones is people management, communications and branding. He helped to design the look of the menus. Without complaining, he admits he’s worked 80-hour weeks since the business opened. He understands that it takes a couple of years to get a restaurant up and running. But that’s what motivates him every morning.

“I don’t happen to have any concerns or worries about working long days and hours. Potentially, we’ll be operating on a much bigger scale,” he said.

Comelones Tacos, 2 Orinda Theatre Square, Ste. 142, Orinda. Open Sun–Thurs 11am to 8pm and Fri–Sat 11am to 9pm. 510.630.3436. facebook.com/comelonestacos

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