The smoky scent of steak charring on a hickory-spiked grill hangs heavy in the air at Hass. Forget whatever you were craving in the parking lot of this Sawmill strip center—walk into Hass and you’ll suddenly have a hankering for carne asada.
The owner of this friendly and warm-hued Mexican joint, Israel Jimenez, laughs when I tell him this. He says I’m not the first to have such a reaction to his taco-focused eatery. When he opened Hass (named after the avocados variety), he intended for carne asada to be his signature. The grilled beef, after all, is the “main attraction” in his home state of Sonora, Mexico.
What he didn’t expect, however, was how popular every other item on his menu of authentic tacos, burritos and tortas would be. And that a line of diners who’ve discovered this Dublin gem would snake out the door.
What’s being served here is far from the Tex-Mex varieties you’ll find at other fast-casual joints. The pastor—I’ll just come out and say it—rivals the tender, spiced Los Guachos version beloved around town. The shrimp tacos are buttery and wonderfully battered and deep fried with an extra dose of fattiness from mayo spread on a corn tortilla. And the carne asada shines in the Papa Caliente—a kind of Mexican baked potato bowl filled with smoky potatoes, bacon, peppers and carne asada. Eat it straight out of the bowl or wrap it in warm flour tortillas served on the side.
Jimenez grew up near the Arizona-Mexico border. Right there, he breaks from the pack in Columbus. Here, many of the popular taco trucks and Mexican restaurant owners hail from central and southern areas of the state, like Mexico City and Oaxaca.
I caught up with Jimenez to get the inside scoop on where the inspiration for his tacos hailed.
Why are tacos the focus?
I didn’t want to do Tex-Mex because I needed a place to eat. [Laughs] I built Hass for myself. The mark of my food is in Sonora [Mexico]. The food there is mainly charcoal grilled and wood grilled. There, every corner has a taco place. I have five different taco places in my hometown, [each with their own] specialty. There is one place that only sells fish tacos, nothing else. Then another that sells carnitas. We combine all these taquerias in one.
How do you get such a rich flavor on your carne asada?
We butcher everything. The carne asada, the flavor [comes from] the way you cook it on the grill. It’s not spicy at all. I don’t add spices. The flavor comes knowing when to turn around the meat and the type of meat. Because the mesquite is hard to get we use hickory [to fire the grill].
Where did you learn to cook?
My entire life, my way to relate to people was through food. My mom would feed anybody. [A guest would come to the house] and instead of running to say, “Welcome to my house,” she would run to the kitchen and put the water on the stove. Then she would come back and say hi. She was an excellent cook. The Burrito Bronco ($6.99) is a meal my mom use to make for us. (The Burrito Bronco is a flour tortilla stuffed with pan-grilled steak, green peppers, tomatoes, onion and potatoes seasoned with a pepper-scented “gravy hass”)
What’s your relationship to the next door grocery store La Favorita?
At the beginning [we were just] a store, and there was a very small kitchen in the back that we were selling tacos [out of] with two, three tables. We started cooking and decided we aren’t that good grocery store tenders. We are more into the food stuff. From there the idea [grew].
Will you continue to expand?
We are probably going to be bringing more [authentic] specialties. We are actually planning to make some more space in the grocery store—to put it in the corner and make a bar there. So we are looking for space for a bar area there. (Hass does serve alcohol, but there’s currently no dedicated bar area.)