Tocaya Organica serves up modern, vegan Mexican food at One Paseo

Tocaya Organica in One Paseo.
(Karen Billing)

The new Tocaya Organica celebrated its grand opening in One Paseo on Dec. 18, serving up healthy and fresh modern Mexican cuisine. On a mission for better eating, Tocaya Organica features tacos, salads, bowls, and burritos made with organic produce, hormone-free meat and sustainable seafood.

With its “guilt-free” menu, owner Tosh Berman says guests will never have to compromise a craving as Tocaya specializes in vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options with bold and tasty flavors, “People can eat food they feel good about eating,” he said.

Berman comes from a background in hospitality — he started as a dishwasher in the kitchen and worked his way up the ranks from bartender to manager to now, owner. He opened his first venue at 23 in Denver, starting in the nightclub space and later opening AV Nightclub in Hollywood and CAKE San Diego.

In 2013, he co-founded The Madera Group with his partner Amrou Manaseer to focus on restaurant venues, including the upscale, modern Mexican restaurant Toca Madera in Beverly Hills.

With Tocaya Organica, he wanted to find a way to scale that modern Mexican, fine-dining experience of Toca Madera into the fast-casual space—offering a little more luxury-oriented, sophisticated option in fast-casual with fresh, made-to-order organic food served up on real china with silverware and glassware.

Berman also wanted to cater to the growing numbers of people with food-discerning characteristics in their diets —giving them a place where they can feel comfortable going out to eat and know that the food will be prepared in a thoughtful way.

“At Tocaya, everything is 100 percent vegan to start,” Berman said. “We changed the way vegans felt about going to a non-vegan restaurant—they are usually placed in a position of fear, having to explain themselves or issue an apology about who they are and how they eat. We took a different approach, not making vegans opt out but making the non-vegans opt-in.”

Berman eats vegan every other day for environmental reasons. He started a non-profit Tocaya Life Foundation with Tocaya President Mike Tanha and COO Rudy Sugueti that funds initiatives that take on issues of sustainability, alternative farming, ocean preservation and the elimination of single-use plastics—a non-profit is selected each quarter to benefit from a foundation donation and proceeds from the restaurant.

With its tacos, burritos and quesadillas, Tocaya is health-driven organic Mexican food.

“Mexican food is at its core a really healthy cuisine,” said Berman who grew up in Mexico. While living there, he had a very different experience of Mexican food: legumes, fresh vegetables and savory spices versus heavy lard and dishes smothered in cheese. With Tocaya Organica, he wanted to keep the addictability and comfort of Mexican food, delivered in a health and wellness brand.

Matt Smith, chief marketing officer, put the mission perfectly into words: “Eating healthy doesn’t have to feel like you’re sacrificing taste.”

Berman’s new favorite menu item is the new breakfast burrito, a low-carb, gluten-free tortilla stuffed with organic cage-free eggs, black bean puree, tricolor peppers, caramelized onions, poblano peppers and tomatillo salsa.

While there are a selection of salads, the bowls offer something light without being a salad, packed with fresh vegetables and beans or street corn. The Keto Bowl includes Spanish-style cauliflower rice, sautéed peppers, jalapeño cabbage, avocado, black olives and salsa.

With all dishes, customers have their pick of add-ons such as vegan cheeses or meat-substitutes or chicken, turkey or beef chorizo. A bar also serves up margaritas and wine.

The first Tocaya Organica opened in Venice, in the end of May 2016, an ideal California-cool city for an artsy vegan taco shop, Berman said. The second Tocaya opened in July in West Hollywood and “it just kind of took off,” Berman said—One Paseo will be the restaurant’s 17th location to open in just three and a half years.

One Paseo will be Tocaya’s third San Diego location, with restaurants in La Jolla and the Gaslamp.

“I love San Diego,” said Berman, an avid surfer who loves the beach city’s pace, weather and people. A brother grew up in Del Mar and he had experience in the market with CAKE. “I think it was a natural progression for us (to come to San Diego). The new location at One Paseo was a really easy choice.”

Tocaya Organica's design features warm woods and greenery.
(Karen Billing)

Berman designs all of the restaurants himself with an in-house design team and he said it is probably the thing he loves the most.

At One Paseo, he wanted to fit into the design of the center and played with a bohemian and Tulum-inspired design aesthetic with lots of natural wood and materials, green plants and succulents. He wanted to make a place that was warm, inviting and kid-friendly—the space also features a large outdoor patio complete with fire pits.

“It will be a great neighborhood spot and I feel good about it,” Berman said. “I probably overdo it a little bit on design but I don’t care. I am doing this partially for myself, I’m designing a place where I would want to spend my time. It’s what I’m most passionate about.”

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