Chamaco's Tacos and Surf is at 1311 Butler Ave. on Tybee Island.
THERE’S a new kind of cool in town. The kind of cool that comes naturally with ease and the kind of laid back surfer mentality that everyone knows as a California vibe.
Now, a bit of that hang-loose attitude has arrived here. Luckily, we don’t have to fly anywhere to get that West Coast feel. Part taqueria and part surf shop, Chamacos Tacos and Surf opened its walkup window and began service this fall.
Chamacos translates to “little ones”—a title that was chosen to signify a kid friendly joint. Sole owners Frank Bucci, Clay Culver, and Michael Hall opened the doors to the beachside taco shack a few weeks ago with the full support of Tybee and their families.
They decided to open in the off-season, gain the love of the island locals, then gear up for next summer. In several short weeks, the quaint place has consistently filled.
Hall explains as we chat by the brand new bar, “We have been in this community for eighteen years plus, for [Culver] longer. The whole idea was that we are going to do this on the off season so that we can have all of the locals, all of our friends that live here, come be a part of this, help us start it up, and then be the patrons that are here supporting us all the time.”
What started as a friendship with a dream about tacos has quickly turned into a taco empire. Culver and Hall practiced taco recipes for years all while looking for a restaurant location to call their own. Culver lets me in on the story.
“Over time two locations fell through and I decided, you know what, we have been working on this for years. It is just not our time. Mr. Hall being the man he is, he does not let things go. He comes in, he is a bull in a china shop. He came into this location and approached the other business and said, ‘We would love the opportunity.’”
After securing the building, Culver and Hall called for backup. Enter Bucci, with years of experience running multiple successful taquerias in Costa Rica.
His first order of business was to revamp the first draft of Chamacos menu. The first draft of the menu was influenced by local shrimp and produce, but to ensure the restaurant stayed on theme, the menu Bucci threw on more authentic Mexican items. Don’t worry, the team runs special items which often include local favorites like fried oysters.
“For us it had to be this vibe, a true hardcore surf shop and a real Mexican taqueria. It just had to be, and it was a journey finding that blend,” Culver proudly says.
The laid-back space features rows of mezcal to the left and rows of surfboards on the right. Wax, shirts, and original art from their friends are just a few items you can take home with after finishing a tray full of tacos. The blend of tacos and surf is a natural fit considering Culver is Tybee local that has been catching waves off North and South beach for around two decades.
As the food guy, Bucci draws his recipe inspiration from his wife, who is Costa Rican, and researching authentic old recipes.
“I am not a chef by any means, I am just a guy that likes to cook,” Bucci says. “So, when I opened a taqueria in Costa Rica what I did was read recipes for each taco that I wanted to make, the oldest ones I could find.”
Authentic and straightforward food at a reasonable price that you would expect to find in a beach-bum town. All of the tacos except for the fish come in a corn tortilla—the way it should be. Each taco ranges cash conscious from $3-4.
Carnitas, Carne Asada, and Barbacoa grace the menu. The Carnitas is cooked down and tenderized with cola while the Carne Asada is marinated for a day before hitting the grill. Barbacoa is traditionally braised for hours and Chamacos is a brisket that is cooked down with spices and peppers. The tender beef filled taco is topped with pickled onions to cut through the succulent fat of the beef.
But going beyond the classic taqueria flavors, the menu also has a Picadillo Taco and Napoles Taco. The Napoles Taco, consisting of grilled cactus, was one of my favorites which features cactus topped with lime and a kick of spice.
You can order sour cream or guacamole as an extra side but I recommend eating the tacos just as they were intended.
The guys kept it simple for the kids—a cheese quesadilla and a chicken or beef taco on a flour tortilla. The Churros, the only dessert item, will please any age. If you have room to order the half dozen basket, get both the chocolate and caramel to top.
The bar carries an expansive list of tequila and mezcal which range from the good kind to the really, really good kind. Order their best Mezcal for sipping or have the bartender shake a decent one into a margarita on the rocks. You will also find several go-to Mexican beers and PBR for good measure.
Chamacos already had a soft opening and has so far not set another opening party. Forthcoming are more events that will pair up with local nonprofits, using Chamacos as the venue to host charity events.
“We will have events,” says Culver. “The surfside of this is what is going to inspire a lot of events. I am sick and tired of people traveling from here to travel to their organizations that they want to give back to the community. So I hear story after story after story in this community, surf community specifically, of folks going to Charleston, Jacksonville, Myrtle Beach, or wherever and we [Tybee] don’t have this active chapter.”