The commercialization of the taco has reached its peak form in this exhibit featuring more than 20 Instagrammable backdrops.
By Anna Lassmann, Photos courtesy of West 54 Media Group
From the Pico Pit, a larger-than-life bowl of foam simulating pico de gallo, to the Señiorita Needs a Margarita lime swing and a staircase that leads to Churro Heaven, Tacotopia is a taco lover’s dream filled with more than 20 brightly colored scenes.
Kicking off its national tour in Austin with a four-week pop-up, Tacotopia is the latest “Instagram experience” visiting town. Similar experiential museums have popped up, including The Art of Ice Cream, Museum of Donuts and more recently, the FOMO Factory, which ended its Austin stay in January.
Ashley Nardecchia, Tacotopia’s marketing director, describes these experiences as a cross between art and entertainment.
“I think that consumers go to these experiences as a way to spend a fun hour and have fun with their friends while gathering some really awesome content for their social [media],” Nardecchia says. “I think everybody is building content…particularly…the 14- to 35-year-olds.”
West 54 Media Group, the same company behind The Art of Ice Cream, created Tacotopia as an extension of its weekly Taco Tuesday brainstorms.
“We think that everybody loves tacos as much as we do,” Nardecchia says. “And we think that going into a magical taco wonderland is completely amazing. That’s really where it all starts is everybody loves tacos.”
The trendiness of the taco isn’t new. Mando Rayo, a taco journalist, author of the book Tacos of Texas and host and producer of the new docuseries Tacos of Texas, has traveled the state in pursuit of tacos.
“I think it’s part of tacos being the new burger,” Rayo says. “People will ask me, ‘Do you think tacos are trendy?’ But I think tacos have been trendy since like 1890.”
Tacotopia’s integration of food, culture and play points to the mutualism of food and culture Rayo finds common in Mexican-American culture.
“For us, it is that connection that we have with our family and our mothers and our grandmothers and our fathers and grandfathers and uncle and aunts,” Rayo says. “It is what we grew up with. I think you can’t talk about the Latino culture without the food.”
Tacos have Mexican roots, Rayo says, and were introduced to Texas by the Mexicans who stayed in the state once it joined the United States. This group of people gradually became known as Tejanos and is responsible for developing Tex-Mex and the modern iteration of the taco. The food has now spread throughout the country, thanks to commercialization by chain restaurants like Taco Bell and Chipotle.
“The thing is, I think it’s good that they have been commercialized because then you’re having people have access to the taco more in the U.S.,” Rayo says. “I say the more people eating tacos, the better. It also comes down to: Are you doing it in a way that honors that food culture?”
To respect the culture and history of the taco, Rayo says people should have conversations that go deeper than just hosting Taco Tuesday.
“Take time to not only eat their food, but learn about the complexity of the taco too,” Rayo says. “It’s not something simple. I don’t know when the last time was that someone made corn or flour tortillas by hand, but that’s a complicated process.”
Through events like Tacotopia, Rayo says people, especially foodies, are driven to capture the best photos for Instagram, which might inspire others who see the posts to visit a local taco joint or taqueria.
Tickets for Tacotopia are $25 for adults, $15 for children ages 4 to 12 and free for children 3 and younger. The experience will run from March 1 to 31 at 3208 S. Congress Ave. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit atacotopia.com.