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Loco's Mike Shaw on Tacos, Margaritas, and a Year of Perpetual Summer

Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar celebrated its first anniversary last week. General manager and co-owner Mike Shaw reflects on how the first year has gone.

Mike Shaw
Mike Shaw
Katie Chudy for Eater

Congrats on the one year in! Very exciting.

Yeah, one year in. We're still here, and that's the most important thing!

Do you remember that first week?

We had a very unique opportunity when we opened here. We opened a year ago, on January 20, and the first snowstorm was the weekend after. Similar to when we opened Lincoln, when the snow started, we found that there was such a great response from the community. Because it was so bad out, it seemed that South Boston got first crack at what we were doing over here. Similar to Lincoln, we try to hire as locally as possible, so everyone just walked to work. Last year, no one could go anywhere; there was so much snow. But we tried to open as early as possible and be open all day, doing what we could. It went from a serious challenge to a great opportunity to introduce Loco to the neighborhood. We kept getting storm after storm, and I think that once we finally hit spring, that's when Loco really got introduced to the rest of the city. It's just incredibly important to us to belong to the people of South Boston, but it's been really exciting to have people from different parts of the city come to visit us too.

What have been some memorable moments for you over the year?

Our most favorite and successful moment — although I think it's hard to measure success in that first year; we're just so lucky and happy to be here — is that we were able to build a platform that made going out during the week fun. We started dollar oysters on Monday nights, and it's so fun. It is packed in here on Monday nights. It's really laid-back and cool. We wanted to keep that momentum going, so we started taco Tuesday about a month ago, and that's really taken off; we offer smaller tacos for around $3. We just have this really cool feeling where the week starts off right and staff stays fired up because our foot's on the gas all week, and it starts on Monday. It's been really cool to be able to build business on typically slow nights.

Obviously you all aren't strangers to the neighborhood, but was there a difference between Lincoln and Loco between the two first years?

No, not really. We have a really captive audience in Southie. I live in the neighborhood, and I love it. I walk to work, and I get my coffee at the same place every morning, and I love the people that are here. We didn't really know what to expect with Lincoln — it was so new — and then we didn't know what to expect with Loco, but with Loco we felt like we knew a little more about the neighborhood, and we were happy to see the same amount of interest. We were able to take what we learned across the street at Lincoln and apply it here, so we were able to jump a couple steps ahead. We've jumped into reservations, and we're starting to do corporate events.

How has the menu changed since day one?

Just like anywhere else, we listened to our guests, and one of the things that I'm most proud of — we have a great chef, Matt Drummond, and he has a really diverse background. He can cook really well, and one of the best things about him is that he is as diligent about the really fun popular stuff as well as pushing the boundaries on what can go into a taco. He keeps our food approachable and has made really small changes to things like our chicken taco about three times in the past year. It could be something easy for him to overlook. We know that people will always eat chicken tacos, but he's continuing to push harder and be really, really psyched about what he's doing. He has such a high level of consistency, and it's really challenging the team in the best way possible. With him, we've been able to really expand and constantly change our menu.

Our menu is also very accommodating. Vegetarians can be happy, and I think we only have one thing that is not gluten-free on our menu — but we can make it gluten-free if needed.

Has there been one item that's been the most popular on the menu?

There have been a couple of things that haven't changed and we really don't see changing at all. One of those is the duck taquitos. It's just killer and one of our most popular. There's also the tuna crudo that's really popular. We've tweaked our tacos a lot, and it's always evolving and changing, but those two have been with us, and I don't think they are going anywhere.

How about the bar program?

I'm extremely excited about our bar program. We're obsessed with tequila. We didn't have expectations going into this; we just knew we wanted to have really fun margaritas. But it's not all about that. When people ask what our concept is, we say it's fun. If people come here and they're not having fun, then we're doing something wrong. I think that our bar manager was really able to capitalize on that philosophy too. The amount of time that he spent cultivating a list of margaritas — I mean, I thought he was crazy, but it just works. It's a big draw for us. We have five different varieties, and we have a giant juicer in the back. I think sometimes margaritas are often overlooked, but you can make fun drinks really high quality too, without it losing its approachability. It's just been amazing to see, in the winter in South Boston, a room full of 200 people drinking margaritas like it's summertime. The bar program has just been fun since beer one.

Our beer has changed a bit; we've been trying to get even more local as well as doing extensive research on beer in South America. We got that best of whatever we could from each country and brought it here. It's just fun.

So what's next for Loco?

[Laughs.] I don't know. It's certainly been one day at a time, but because we have an amazing staff and a tight-knit family here, we've been able to push our boundaries a bit, and it's been better than we could have anticipated. We've started doing a lot of off-site events; we've got a couple of weddings this year and big events that we're catering. We're just trying to make this space and us as accessible as possible. Our brunch is really kicking off well, and we're trying to do our best to give people what they want.

Anything you'd like to share on the new restaurant that you are opening up?

Nope. I plead the fifth. I just have an amazing team and great business partners, and we all have fun with what we're doing. The coolest part of another addition here is that we hope that there will be something for everyone, and we hope that it can become a destination for everyone. We are neighborhood-oriented, but it's great to see others too. It's just a cool little block down here, and we want to be able to accommodate everyone.

Lincoln Tavern & Restaurant

425 West Broadway, , MA 02127 (617) 765-8636 Visit Website

Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar

412 W Broadway, Boston, MA 02127