Down the road from Converse College on Main Street in Spartanburg, a vibrant orange and red sign announces Willy Taco. Turn in to the parking lot, and you’ll notice that part of the small building’s façade is constructed from metal shipping containers. This ambience sets the tone for the experience to come: a fresh, funky fusion of personalities, décor, and food.
The restaurant is also zero-waste, working with Spartanburg-based recycling and composting outfit Junk Matters.
Five partners, with decades of restaurant experience among them, banded together to open Willy Taco in November 2014. Three of the partners (Richard Heatly and brothers William and Kenneth Cribb) are in their 30s, while the other two (Bill Burton and Eric Holman) are older and wiser. Each brings a different set of skills to the table. “Between us, we balance youthful exuberance and spontaneity with prudence and experience, and it ends up being a beautiful marriage,” says Kenneth Cribb, who handles the restaurant’s PR and marketing.
The décor, which partner Eric Holman describes as “Mexican, tacky, eclectic, and urban-industrial,” runs from old bench car seats—some complete with seat belts—on the enclosed front patio to the Day-of-the-Dead-meets-industrial-chic motif that embellishes the dining space and bar. Mexican folk art hangs on the walls and industrial fans hung with bare Edison bulbs serve as chandeliers. Church pews form banquette seating along the back wall.
Conceived by Chef William Cribb, of Hub City favorite Cribbs Kitchen, the menu highlights freshly made tacos in a fusion of flavors. The classic Baja fish taco is a light and perfectly fried rendition paired with crunchy shaved cabbage and drizzled with cilantro-lime crema. But the taco menu does not rest in Mexico.
It travels around the globe with Asian-inspired cumin-crusted yellowfin tuna and marinated sirloin with Argentine chimichurri, only to end up in the South. The Southern Tide, Willy’s most popular taco, combines succulent fried shrimp with smoked bacon, pimiento cheese, and chipotle ranch dressing.
Wash down those tacos and tortas with one of 60 tequilas available at the bar. Or perhaps you’d prefer the Mexican Ashtray, a 12-ounce can of Tecate rimmed with salt and littered with habanero hot sauce, lime juice, and enough black pepper to resemble cigarette ashes. Pop the top, and all that spicy, sour, and peppery goodness slides into the beer, giving it a fiery, salt-and- pepper bite.
Like any Mexican eatery worth its margarita salt, Willy’s plans to hold a party for Cinco de Mayo. However, Willy’s will throw their Cinco de Mayo bash on Cuatro de Mayo (Monday, May 4th), when the parking lot will be fenced off and cars will be replaced with taco and tequila tents, three live bands, and a local artist doing Day of the Dead face painting. No matter when you go, don’t miss this fusion of fun.