Al's Tacos, the popular blue and yellow colour-schemed eatery on Boeung Keng Kang 1’s Street 278, serves as a beacon calling passersby to drop in for a taste of SoCal – Southern California.
Everything there is not only made from scratch, but the Mexican street food favourite served is a product of love – from the pico de gallo to the floury corn tortillas – by the joint’s Cambodian-American owner Allen Dodgson Tan.
Tan’s father left Cambodia for California in 1980, and it was in Southern California that Tan tasted his first taco. He eventually enrolled in culinary school before joining the US Army, serving tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“When I came to Cambodia, I worked in demining with the Cambodian Mine Action Centre. I then started the business.”
However, despite Tan’s history of serving others, he explains that the origins of Al’s Tacos were partly selfish – he desperately missed the familiar flavours he grew up with and they weren’t readily available in Phnom Penh.
“I started Al’s Taco because I missed eating tacos from Long Beach in Southern California . . . I thought the flavours would be popular among Cambodians too, so I opened the restaurant.
“I not only wanted to eat tacos myself, but I also wanted to share the experience with people here in Cambodia, who I knew were going to like it too,” Tan says.
Diners can expect Al’s Tacos to deliver local and chemical-free ingredients mostly sourced from Cambodian farmers.
“We make everything from scratch, so we fully control the process, and we’re setting the bar for original Cambodian brands to match our international standards in terms of service, quality and hygiene.
“We’re incredibly proud that we make what we consider to be the best tortillas from raw corn in Southeast Asia, which is a really big deal – and the flavour is phenomenal. It’s very authentic, very delicious.
“We do use imported Mexican spices in our spice blend for the SoCal dishes because we want to offer a new experience to our Cambodian customers,” Tan explains.
The simple menu is understood with a cursory glance, with each taco costing $1.50 a pop.
Diners begin by deciding between soft shell or hard shell corn tortillas. Next they choose one of six flavour options.
Three of the flavours are designed to meet Asian taste buds – Korean beef, chicken satay and tofu satay.
The other three varieties are authentically SoCal – shredded beef, shredded chicken and shredded tofu.
Each taco is served with cheese, salsa, green onions, cilantro and chipotle sour cream, and topped with red cabbage, green onions and cilantro, and powered by either creamy sriracha or peanut sauce.
Besides the Mexican street food favourite, Al’s Tacos also serves nachos ($3) and corn chips ($1).
Tan came up with the concept of delicious street food with a combination of SoCal and Mexican flavours and Khmer-inspired tacos, with the idea proving a hit.
Al’s Tacos sells more than 4,000 tacos a month, and around 75 per cent of its patrons are locals.
Tan is planning to add new items to the menu very soon.
“I think one of the best things about Al’s Tacos is the ability to bring both authentic and fusion flavours, which are created to cater to local tastes as well. So we’re able to share something new for the local market while still maintaining the flavour balance.
“We’re planning to add seasonal and holiday promotional items and new permanent menu items. Our food team is focusing on it right now,” Tan says.
The first Al’s Tacos in Tuol Kork made a name for itself by serving quick, affordable snacks before quickly opening a second eatery a year later in Boeung Keng Kang I.
A third should be delighting local diners soon.
“We’re in the process of preparing for franchising so other entrepreneurs can share in our success by opening up branches in locations across Cambodia, not just here in Phnom Penh.
“When you try our tacos for the first time, you will begin craving them afterwards. A lot of Cambodians tried tacos for the first time with us and they’ve discovered that they love them – and they keep coming back for more,” Tan says.
Al’s Tacos has two branches and opens every day from 9:30am to 9pm. The Tuol Kork branch is located at #97C Street 590. Tel: 081 822 262. The BKK1 branch is found at #22A Street 278. Tel: 081 822 652. More information can be found at www.alstacos.com. Reservations are not necessary.