Flavors from south of the border have touched down in Freeland.
Restaurateurs and Freeland residents Steve and Jill Rosen opened their newest venture, Rocket Taco, this week on Main Street. Situated across the road from Payless Foods, the Rosens opened the fast casual spot with hopes of bringing a different spice to town.
“We really love Freeland and the idea of bringing more variety to this area of the island,” Steve Rosen said. “In a small town without a big cluster of places to eat, you have to keep giving people something new or a new flavor profile. That’s what we’re aiming to do.”
Rocket Taco serves up street food-style Mexican bites: tacos, quesadillas, beverages and rice bowls for those aiming to eat a little healthier. The meat recipes Jill Rosen has worked on “for more than a year” will be recognizable to those who have frequented taco trucks. The restaurant also serves alcohol such as tequilas and the spiced beer concoction called micheladas.
According to Jill Rosen, the gem of the restaurant is the tortillas. They’re handmade daily. The recipe is a unique and not-so-traditional blend of two-thirds corn and one-third flour, which Rosen says gives them a unique texture and prevents them from breaking.
“We didn’t have much of a background in Mexican cuisine before, so I’ve been working on these recipes for a while, and I’ve made sure we’ll be making everything by hand with fresh ingredients,” she said. “I realized we had to do two things to get it right: hand-make tortillas and use dried chiles.”
Steve and Jill Rosen come from a restaurant background, having owned and operated several dining spots in Seattle and Tacoma. They started the Blue C Sushi chain before selling it, and owned the now-closed Boom Noodle in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. They currently own Elemental Pizza in Tacoma and Seattle’s University District neighborhood.
But Steve Rosen wanted to be clear: this is not a situation of city restaurateurs coming to take over Whidbey Island. The Rosens have lived in Freeland for nine years, and say they wanted to contribute to the local food scene while supplying a few jobs for Whidbey residents. They don’t plan on growing the business; they say they’d like to keep Rocket Taco a “one-off fun project.”
In fact, they say they’re hoping to help other Freeland businesses and make the downtown core more of a hangout.
“We want people to eat out more often, rather than pull customers from other businesses,” Jill Rosen said. “Hopefully we’ll benefit other businesses by making downtown Freeland more of a destination to eat and hang out.”
The construction of a back patio and lounge is their attempt at making downtown Freeland more of a destination. Steve Rosen says there aren’t many places to spend time at night in Freeland, so he’s working on building an area where people can have a drink, sit around a fire and play games like darts and Jenga. He hopes it’ll be completed by summertime and will bring more foot traffic to Main Street. Acknowledging the drinks available up the street at Freeland Cafe, he’s hopeful Main Street can have a more “fun vibe.”
Freeland Chamber of Commerce President Chet Ross said it’ll be interesting to see how Main Street is affected by Rocket Taco. He says anytime you have more variety of dining options, it attracts more foot traffic. However, he added the fact that there currently isn’t a sidewalk in front of the restaurant could have an impact on potential foot traffic.
Nonetheless, Steve Rosen is confident Rocket Taco will be a community space for Freeland residents. Renovations to the building were all done by local contractors, and the staff is all Whidbey residents — no employees came from their business in Seattle.
“This has been a fun community project,” Steve Rosen said. “It was built by locals, we worked with all Whidbey people and we’ve hired locals. It really is for Freeland.”