Hungry locals can now dine on the wild side at the chef-driven Tortaco, offering a biker bar meets industrial chic ambiance and authentic tortas, tacos, bowls and artisan mezcals.
| by Jennifer Casseday-Blair | photography by Alex Lepe |
Chef Nico Sanchez grew up working in his family’s manufacturing machine shop. His father recognized his son’s talent at an early age and assigned him to be a production assistant. Later Sanchez decided to explore the world on his customized ’64 motorcycle, picking up along the way influences from restaurants he visited – and several tattoos. Upon his return, he took over and transformed the business from customizing cars and motorcycles to creating authentic southern Mexican cuisine.
Tortaco sits directly across from Fred’s Texas Café. While the front of the space was formerly an office building, the kitchen area was once inhabited by Buffalo Sounds, where famous vocal artists like Willie Nelson and T Bone Burnett recorded music.
Its elaborate transformation includes a wall of windows opening up onto Currie Street, exposed brick walls, Edison and string bulb lighting, an antique tattoo chair beneath neon signage, a vintage motorcycle and rusty chains, gears and stools. Flames fan upward and line an entire wall along the side of the restaurant, and big-screen TVs set on a demolition derby play up the masculine vibe. Concrete floors throughout make it somewhat hard to hear a dining partner, especially over the construction noise from the adjacent establishment being erected and the loud grunge and metal music blaring from the sound system.
A glass wall separates the dining room from the bar area, which features a wood-fired oven. Several of the plates served at Tortaco are cooked in the kitchen but finished off in the oven to give them a smoky flavor.
Our server welcomed us promptly and explained the restaurant’s concept as she discovered it was our maiden visit. When we found a wine by the glass that we were familiar with, we asked if we could order a bottle. The waitress gave a perplexed look and said, “I don’t think we can sell it by the bottle. We don’t even have a button for that.” Not a problem. By the glass worked for us.
Roasted Crab Dip ($7) arrived to the table within a few minutes. Charred breadcrumbs topped jumbo lump crabmeat, melted port salute, cheddar cheese and roasted jalapeños. Toasted halved hamburger buns accompanied the dip for sopping. The appetizer was less like a gooey dip and more like a chunky soup in consistency and was like what you’d find just about anywhere else.
Entrées at Tortaco consist of 10 fillings that you can get on a torta ($7) or in a taco ($4 per taco). Among the more interesting offerings are Tongue & Cheek, Truffle Steak and Burnt Ends. We elected to try two Cali Breakfast Tacos. Presentation and taste were rock solid. Generous portions of thick-sliced bacon, Tillamook cheddar, roasted jalapeños and avocado were enveloped by egg whites (almost like an omelet) and then topped with tomato, wild baby arugula and a drizzle of a delicious jalapeño aioli.
There are also seven varieties of Bowls ($8) served on a base of Serrano jasmine rice. Opting for the Red Chicken, the dish arrived in an archaic-looking bowl resting in a metal pan. Pulled chicken soaked up chili tomato broth, making the protein savory. Roasted poblano peppers, cherry tomatoes, two tiny pieces of avocado and Gruyere cheese were intermixed with the chicken, and fresh baby arugula topped the hearty meal. Overall the flavors were confusing, and the muddling of ingredients put off a strange aroma.
After clearing our entrée plates, our server did an excellent job of convincing us we had to try their dessert. I was surprised at the small portion but understood completely upon first bite. The Creamy Date Dessert ($3) is perfectly rich and sweet. A few spoonfuls of the flourless date cake, spiked with pecans and laden with maple caramel sauce and a dollop of mascarpone cheese, and you are left completely satisfied.
Tortaco is cleverly capitalizing on the popularity of mezcal, an artisan offshoot of tequila that is made from other types of agave plants. The restaurant has around 30 varieties on the menu and offers “sip” and “shot” portions. There is also an array of creative cocktails and craft beers.
With the booming bar business around West 7th, Tortaco fits right in. Staying open until 1 a.m. on weekends will ensure the hungry late-night crowd stays well nourished.
Location: 910 Currie St.
For Info: 682.990.0735
Hours: Mon. & Tue. 11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m., Wed. & Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m. - 1 a.m., Sat. 10 a.m. - 1 a.m., Sun. 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.
What We Liked: Casual vibe and Creamy Date Dessert
What We Didn’t: Some of the flavors were overwhelming, and the music was abrasive.
Our Recommendations: Tortaco is great for rowdy get-togethers, premium mezcal and above-par taco offerings.