The rock music was loud, the place was jammed and Victor Albisu was jumping from one corner of the restaurant to another.
Albisu was just as much a host this day as he is the owner and creative force behind his newest Taco Bamba restaurant, patiently explaining to his patrons the nuances of the 22 taco concoctions available, including a breakfast taco.
“We’ve put a lot of hopes into this place,” Albisu said.
Not only because it is the fifth Taco Bamba location in the Washington, D.C., area, but because this one—which opened Dec. 6 in University Mall, the shopping center across the street from George Mason University’s Fairfax Campus—is a celebration of Albisu’s time at the university.
“It means a lot,” said Albisu, who grew up in Fairfax, Virginia, and graduated from Mason in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in international studies, a unit in the Schar School of Policy and Government. “My time at George Mason was always filled with anticipation of what’s next in my life. To come back after all these years, it’s profoundly satisfying. It’s profoundly humbling. It’s more, maybe, than I can articulate.”
How does an education in government, politics, and international relations fit in with all this? Albisu said he loves the subject matter and even worked in international development after graduation for a while.
“But I didn’t have the patience at the time,” he said. “I wanted to do something that had a bit more visceral reaction from people, and food was that way for me.”
Not that his Mason education hasn’t come in handy. Albisu is on the board of the World Central Kitchen, which helps with disaster relief. He has worked for CARE, a humanitarian aid company, and the U.S. State Department as a culinary ambassador.
Albisu, 43, has been a fixture in the area’s culinary scene for a while, with acclaimed restaurants Del Campo and Poca Madre in Washington, D.C., and his Taco Bamba taquerias in the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia.
It’s a career arc perfectly suited for someone from a family with Peruvian and Cuban roots that, according to Albisu, “would be eating dinner and talking about tomorrow’s dinner.”
Growing up, Albisu would make sandwiches in his mother’s store, Plaza Latina, that started in Alexandria, Virginia, but is now in Falls Church, just a few doors down from Albisu’s first Taco Bamba restaurant. He also developed an affection for tacos.
“I’m inspired by the food of poverty, by the food of the streets, the food of indigenous cultures,” Albisu said.
“By combining his education, passion, and heritage to launch a wildly successful culinary career, Victor embodies the entrepreneurial spirit of our university,” Mason President Ángel Cabrera said. “He is an example of how you’re not defined by your major—you’re defined by your ambitions and the goals and dreams that you choose to pursue.”
“It’s something kids maybe don’t understand right away,” Albisu said. “Life finds a way of wrapping all your interests up in a way, if you let it.”