Interior, with illustrations by Paul Madonna.
Trio of tacos.
Restaurant reinventions are interesting: there are things you may long for from the previous place (I really did enjoy the food at the Spanish Laïola), but I’m happy for the success owner Joe Hargrave and co-owner Sara Deseran have found with their restaurant’s new incarnation: ~TACOLICIOUS~. The name is a little cutesy for some, but I think it’s a case of knowing your audience (heck, there’s a “Marina Girl Salad” on the menu). Guys, you can just call it T-lish if you need to. The space now has some clever illustrations by Paul Madonna (check out the salsa containers), a fresh paint job, and some new tables and chairs. And an entirely new Mexican menu. Say hola.
I recommend starting with the house fave tuna tostadas ($9.50) served “Contramar-style,” inspired by a research trip to Mexico City. The crisp tostadas feature a combo of thin pieces of raw tuna, crispy leeks, smoky chipotle mayo that isn’t shy, and a slice of avocado—it borders on tasting a bit fusion-y (blame all the wacky sushi rolls we’ve eaten in our lives for that first impression), but in a great way, with a playful balance of texture and temperature. The tostadas had more flavor than the made-to-order guacamole ($6.50)—we had to doctor ours a bit with some salt and salsa, but it ended up tasting good, especially the notes of cumin. And with the (free) crisp and light house chips, just watch it disappear.
All the tables (and trust me, the place is packed) have platters of tacos on them (1 for $3.50, 4 for $12, 10 for $29). My favorite was the guajillo-braised beef short rib—a bit smoky and so beefy-good, with a nip of onion and cilantro; the carnitas really popped with the addition of fresh salsa (you get three to choose from: tomatillo, chipotle, and the damned hot-ay yi yi-habanero). The fried rock cod was moist and cooked perfectly but sadly was bland; and I’ve had the chorizo-potato number at the Tacolicious Thursday stand at the farmers’ market—some folks dig it but I find it to be too much starch-on-starch for my taste. The tacos come quite stuffed, and thankfully feature the classic double-taco layer of corn tortillas that help hold it all together. The meats and fish are grass-fed/sustainable/humanely raised, so no mystery meat here.
I love it when side dishes end up being stealth hits, like the drunken beans ($4), a luxurious side dish of velvety beans with bacon-y bits. (I wanna learn how to make those beans.) Vegetarians also have plenty to choose from, like the vegetarian pozole ($7.50), featuring a springy mix of hominy, asparagus, and carrots in a deep and flavorful chipotle consommé. Chef Telmo Faria is a regular at the farmers’ market, so everything is seasonal, local, and fresh—and often organic.
While you’re making your way through your meal, don’t miss out on the chupitos (4 for $12, 8 for $22, 12 for $30). These flavorful shots are dangerous, like the Nopal, a magenta shot made with tequila, prickly pear, and citrus. (Down. The. Hatch.) The Pasión with habanero-infused tequila, passionfruit, and lime was another shot of trouble (keep your eye on that one)—you can also order these as full-sized cocktails. I think the chupitos are to blame for some of the volume and rowdy vibe in the room, along with the impressive list of tequilas, over 40 in all. (The non-alcoholic choices, however, are a thoughtful touch for the few people in the room who aren’t drinking.)
If you’re ready for dessert, fortunately Laïola’s pan con chocolate ($7) remained on the menu, because that dessert has proven it’s a champ: a scoop of dark chocolate ganache (drizzled with olive oil and a sprinkling of Maldon salt) that you spread on small pieces of bread. Ay, dios mío. Some things are just meant to stay.
Tacolicious now has a second location at 741 Valencia St. You can also find them Thursdays at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market.