The award-winning chef dishes about plans for his Radnor taqueria and his new line of plant-based foods – and gives us a peek at his private dining space in East Falls.
by Greg Salisbury, food editor
Mark you calendar for May 5. That’s the opening date of Buena Onda, Chef Jose Garces’ new taqueria in Radnor. If all goes according to plan, Cinco de Mayo will see Garces open Buena Onda (loosely translated as “good vibes”) at 200 Radnor-Chester Road across from Radnor High School. The 2,000 square feet will feature 46 seats inside and a smattering of outdoor seats.
Opening a restaurant is always a dicey venture, especially during this pandemic. But Garces is an “Iron Chef” with almost 20 restaurants in his portfolio … and Radnor really needs a great taqueria. Fish tacos (with sustainably harvested seafood), bowls, guacamole, nachos and quesadillas – plus margaritas, beer, wine and sangria – will be on the menu.
Main Line Tonight: What can you tell us about Buena Onda Radnor?
Jose Garces: The Radnor location will be very similar to the Philadelphia one: light, airy, with Baja California vibes. What I really like about the concept is that it transports you to a beach destination with fresh tacos – and margaritas.
MLT: Tell us about Shokutsu.
JG: The word means “foodie” in Japan – and Japanese food is one of my favorite cuisines. Shokutsu is a private dining experience studio in East Falls. There’s a dining table, counter seating and a state-of-the-art kitchen where I personally cook for private parties of 10. People can choose from one of the predetermined menus or I’ll customize a menu with the host. The cost varies according to the menu selected, but it averages out to about $1,000 per person. People can watch me cook, and I’ll do all of the work while they relax. This is an experiential, behind-the-scenes place, almost like Please Don’t Tell, the phone booth bar that was in New York.
MLT: And you just launched the line of Latinx plant-based foods.
Garces: It’s called Casa Verde and they are entrees – sold direct to consumer, and soon in Whole Foods and other stores – that come in pouches and can be cooked in 60 seconds in a microwave or stove top. We have four right now: garbanzos al pastor, lentil mole, coconut chowder, and red bean pozole. All of the ingredients are 100% plant-based, organic, sustainably sourced, kosher and non-GMO.
MLT: What interested you in plant-based foods?
Garces: It’s a big market, and growing. Also, my daughter Olivia has to be gluten free and she is lactose intolerant. It’s a challenging diet, so I started experimenting with different foods. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to bring out the natural flavors in the foods I love.
MLT: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Garces Foundation founding. What are some of the foundation’s biggest accomplishments?
JG: We’ve had such a great run with the foundation and the opportunity to serve the community. We started very modestly – basic health care services for restaurant workers and the community in general. Our community health programs and the EREL (English for the Restaurant) classes have all been fantastic success stories, in my opinion. We also started a food pantry program when the pandemic started. So many food service workers were laid off and furloughed without any benefits. We provide over 250 boxes of food a week. Each box feeds a family of four a week – and it’s real food like rice, beans, chicken. I’m super-proud of the foundation and what it’s been able to accomplish. The most amazing thing is we are still doing it after all these years.
MLT: Has COVID-19 changed the restaurant business permanently?
JG: It’s clearly evolving quite a bit. People are eating differently and they’re getting their meals differently. What we have found, and this goes back to the Buena Onda model, is that the fast-casual model is pretty resilient and has made it through the pandemic in a positive way. If we are in the pandemic for a longer period of time, I think we will be focusing on those brands that are quick and nimble, with menus that are a little tighter and arrangements that don’t require as much staffing. Full-service dining will have its time again. It’s just a matter of when.