By Nila Do Simon
Photography by Benjamin Rusnak
Chef Joseph Parsons has us all fooled. And the funny part is that he knows it. Case in point: the name of his current restaurant, Jojo’s Tacos. If you think it’s the average taco joint located in the quaint, beachside town of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, you’d be wrong.
“I purposely named it that way to trick people,” Parsons says, a slight smile on his face. “People think it’s just a regular taco shop, but it’s so much more.” Sure, Jojo’s makes tacos (the Blue Cow special is a crowd favorite). But it also creates innovative, Mexican-inspired seared scallops, hanger steak and mahi stew, all bursting with Chef Parsons’ deft flavor profiles. For him, the name of the place may have enticed guests to come in for the tacos, but they’ll likely end up ordering the gourmet shrimp and corn chowder.
And if you’d expect Parsons—a chef under Michelin-star talents like the late Charlie Trotter and Melker Andersson, as well as the famed Norman Van Aken—to create a regular taco shop, then you don’t know Parsons at all. “People expected me to open up a fine-dining establishment, after working with guys like Trotter and Van Aken. So I did this instead,” he says, unapologetically.
A Fort Lauderdale native who graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas, Parsons traveled the world studying the culinary scene. And while each stop helped him evolve his gastronomic touch, at the end of the day, he just wanted to come home.
He opened Jojo’s Tacos in July 2011, with family on hand to support him. He called the restaurant Jojo as an allusion to how his then-young niece and nephew pronounced Uncle Joseph’s name. As he puts it, “This restaurant is going to be a part of them, too. When I’m done cooking, they can have it.”
The 37-seat restaurant, which serves late lunches and dinners, is the anti-highfalutin spot Parsons wanted. He saw the dining trend shift more toward a casual, sans-white-tablecloth style, and knew Jojo’s could be just that.
“This is a place you can go to once a week and not need to save up for your meal,” Parsons says. And, so far, it’s worked out just how Parsons wanted. A regular crowd comes in and occasionally the wait for a table can be up to an hour. The menu specials change weekly, sometimes daily, depending on Parsons’ mood. He likes keeping diners on their toes—that’s the kind of chef he is. “Once I make something, I’m done with it,” he admits. “I gotta keep moving like a shark.” 216 E. Commercial Boulevard, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea; jojostacos.com
Originally appeared in the Premiere 2014 issue.