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Boca, gaining a rep for exotic tacos, plans lion-meat offering

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Il Vinaio restaurant in Mesa served lion burgers last year to mark the World Cup in South Africa. The owner drew a crowd of diners, but some picketers as well.

In the six months since it launched Exotic Taco Wednesdays, Boca Tacos y Tequila has served up python, alligator, elk, kangaroo and rattlesnake.

Frog legs, turtle, duck and Rocky Mountain oysters have also made appearances.

"We've done just about anything we can get our hands on," said owner Bryan Mazon. "Every Wednesday we do something a little bit different."

Last week he announced on Boca's Facebook page that the UA-area taco shop was accepting prepaid orders for African lion, to be served on Feb. 16. Orders must be placed by 3 p.m. Feb. 7.

"I've gotten a lot of questions, like if it's legal," said Mazon, adding that a few lion tacos have been reserved so far. "We're still a month out, too."

According to the Food and Drug Administration, lion and other game meat can be sold as long as the species isn't endangered.

"I'm doing the African lion to get my name out," said Mazon, who used to be a salesman for City Meat and Provisions. "I've never tried it myself, but this one really caught my eye."

Mazon said he had heard about a Mesa restaurant, il Vinaio, that served burgers made with African lion to correspond with the World Cup in South Africa last summer. Reservations sold out, but others picketed the restaurant.

Most of Boca's exotic tacos range between $3 and $4. The lion tacos cost $8.75 apiece.

This is the first time Boca is pre-selling its tacos. But at $100 a pound of ground lion meat - $400 for a pound of tenderloin - it makes sense.

Mazon said he still expects to lose money on the lion, but is in it for exposure.

"In all reality, what I want is just people to know that I'm here," he said. "That's the way to do it. You can't get these tacos anywhere else."

His wife, Maria Jose Mazon, is Boca's chef and will make eight tacos per pound.

The couple usually order 2 to 3 pounds of meat for Exotic Wednesdays, with grilled alligator being the best-seller.

But rattlesnake made an impact, too.

"It's the one people want back the most," Mazon said. "It was the first one, and it's the one most talked about."

The couple plan to order the lion meat from a farm in Perris, Calif., which is southeast of Los Angeles.

For the lion, diners will build their own Sonoran street-style taco. They can add cabbage, guacamole, pickled red onions and diced cucumbers and any of the six house-made salsas to the tacos.

The Mazons opened their taco shop at 828 E. Speedway, in the former home of Greasy Tony's, the legendary sub shop, last June.

"I'm 50 percent local Tucsonans and 50 percent students," Mazon said. "We do gourmet tacos. Do I want to get more students? - sure.

"A lot of students might think that my price point isn't directed at them, but the average check is $8. Late night is 100 percent students."

Boca is open 11:30 a.m. to midnight Monday through Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, and noon until 10 p.m. on Sunday. Call 777-8134 for more information.

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