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Photography: Greg Powers

Featured Article

Chef Victor Albisu

From Michelin Stars to Taco Mastery: Chef Victor's Nashville Adventure with Taco Bamba

James Beard-nominated chef and Taco Bamba founder Victor Albusi first caught the public's eye after besting the host on "Beat Bobby Flay." Trained in Michelin-starred restaurants, Chef Victor has combined his culinary education with his passion and purpose, opening his 13th Taco Bamba restaurant in Green Hills.  

What do readers need to know about you and your restaurant?

VA: Taco Bamba started in a humble, out-of-the-way shopping center in suburban Virginia, next to my mom's Latin market. At the time, I was aggressively pursuing high-end and fine-dining restaurants. I achieved a lot of incredible highs, but along the way, Taco Bamba spoke the loudest. The concept paved the way for a ton of creativity. Every restaurant has a different menu, different artwork and a different layout. Each has its own vibe and creative beauty.  

What is most surprising about being in the restaurant business in Nashville?

VA: How well it's gone! We came to Nashville because we thought the brand could've been born here, and we were right. The people are warm and welcoming. There are adventurous diners who are very interested in the fast-casual concept. The vibe has just been perfect. Nashville is a jewel of a place, and being part of it is an honor.

Are there any favorite moments from your opening you'd like to share?

VA: Years back, I became friends with Mr. Billy Gibbons, a Nashville resident and a childhood hero of mine. When I met him, he said, "You've got to open a restaurant in Green Hills. In Nashville." He believed we could be unique here, and the first space we saw was in Green Hills. The first week that we opened, Mr. Gibbons showed up. You've got to pinch yourself when a childhood hero gives you an idea, and it comes to fruition. Now, we have this buzzing business. The whole experience has been nothing short of a "picture it" type moment.

What are some crowd-favorite menu items?

VA: People love the pimento cheese empanada and the Sharp Dressed Hombre taco. I think our food speaks a different language than many taquerias. It's nice to coexist, but it also shows the [different ways] we see this type of food. We spent a lot of time in Nashville, eating around town and trying to ensure the city was reflected in our food.

Tell us about the vibe of the restaurant.

VA: We could never scale the same concept or do the same menu at a Taco Bamba. The Nashville location is our 13th store, and we made it "Lucky 13". I've said for years that every store is like a different album for us. I believe in the power of creativity as a chef and also as a leader of 600 employees across the company who are very inspired people. The inspiration comes from what I call "the living idea." As long as you let it be and don't strangle it to the ground, it can be a very wise - almost sort of organism - that shows you a path forward. Nashville is the quintessential "living idea." It's full of creative arts; we just wanted to breathe that air and be part of it.  

How do you maintain your passion for the business?

VA: You might glean passion from me because I'm Cuban or speak a certain way,  and I love what I do, but I try not to focus on passion. For me, it's about purpose. We want to be memorable, and we want to be generous; those are our brand pillars. As a team member, you can't stay on board with us if that's not your purpose, from cooks to dishwashers to cashiers to bartenders to everyone around me. I'm inspired and full of purpose because I get to cook and create food. I trained in Michelin-star restaurants. I came up in restaurants that served presidents. We've channeled these energies into much more humble street food. It's clicking. The idea is alive. It can show you the way. Believe in your ideas and the power of your ideas. They will defend you.  

Sometimes, people tamp me down, and they're like, "You're talking about tacos." The restaurant doesn't happen if I don't see it the way I see it. I have tons of ideas, but none happen without a ton of people who are in service of those ideas. It's a wonderful back-and-forth of creative purpose and service that brought us to Nashville, and hopefully, we'll continue to grow. I don't know if you feel it, but when I leave, I can't wait to come back. We love it here.

  • Photography: Sam Frawley
  • His Brother Is Worse cocktail - Reposado tequila, Al Pastor spiced grapefruit juice, orange scented agave and lime. Photography: Greg Powers
  • Jolena taco - cornmeal crusted catfish, agave lime slaw, chipotle ranch, pickled corn salad, avocado, serrano chile, flour tortilla. Photography: Greg Powers
  • Photography: Greg Powers
  • Photography: Sam Frawley
  • Photography: Sam Frawley
  • Photography: Greg Powers
  • Photography: Sam Frawley