500 Tacos: Fork & Taco

 
 
A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
 
Fork & Taco
4801 Burnet Road (map), 512-838-6768, www.forkandtaco.comHours: 11am-9pm daily
 
December 2015 update: Fork & Taco has closed. From the restaurant's Twitter feed: "Sadly, we have closed the doors at F&T. We are so grateful to our loyal customers for an amazing year. Peace, love and tortillas to all!"
 
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 01.06.15
 
Not so long ago, the building that holds Fork & Taco sheltered a Euro-style wine bar sandwiched between the Omelettry and a tire shop. Now the tire shop is Pinthouse Pizza, the Omelettry is moving and the wine bar space is home to Noble Sandwich Co., a player to be named later and Fork & Taco. Burnet Road is reinventing itself, and Fork & Taco is reinventing the neighborhood taqueria. With high prices and fancy pants, the cynic might say, looking at a $6 tuna taco on a menu that includes pears and portobellos and soy maple crema. A more thoughtful assessment? There’s no reason a taqueria can’t be a name-that-farmer artisan endeavor. Up for debate is whether the decor — as stark and cold as a high school science lab — is a step up, down or sideways from hole in the wall aesthetics. But the pork, beef, fish and chicken at a taqueria don’t have to be a cut-rate education in mystery meat. Besides, would you really want a discount tuna taco? No, Fork & Taco isn’t blue-collar bean and cheese. But it’s the new Burnet Road, if you please.
 
Taco A: Crispy cauliflower
With golden nuggets crunchy as farm candy and a base like creamed corn from a spice kitchen, Mexican street corn is good stuff. Packed into a tortilla with sear-tipped baby florets of cauliflower and a neat fan of avocado slices? Even better. A crisp, sweet and salty middle finger to the primacy of meat and fryers. ($3.75)
 
Taco B: Green chili pork
I appreciate an honest recommendation from a restaurant’s staff. And as I weighed aloud the relative merits of green chili pork vs. chicken with pear and tomatillo, the cashier’s firm answer came on little hooves. The most subtle of my F&T experiences, this taco relied on lean pork in generous proportions, fork tender and infused with smooth green chile glow modulated by cilantro and queso fresco. Recommended tortilla: Corn, which I requested. It showed up wearing flour, the only hiccup in a solid service experience. ($4.65)
 
Taco C: Ahi tuna
This is the tuna taco from the introduction. In support of my artisan argument, the fish is seared with precision, respecting a cool, clean crimson center. Further supporting my case, pickled ginger and fresh avocado play sharp notes and smooth tones like a horn section, and sesame seeds add their Asian top notes. But the cynic wins this round, because the taco’s soy crema lends a sloppy tuna salad finish, and clementine sections were the wrong citrus for this taco. Especially the kind with seeds. Recommended tortilla: None. This one doesn’t really translate, even to the broad language of the taco. ($5.95)
 
Taco D: Adobo braised short rib
With its dense fiber and fatty bounce, short rib takes a braise better than almost any cut of beef. Fork & Taco gives it enough substance to hold together, but enough tender care to yield clean bites. Adobo’s dusky punk attitude is the right premise for short rib, but this mix leans too hard on sweetness, and a candy-coated punk feels like a poseur. But the effect is leavened with the funky twang of cotija cheese and smooth-talking guacamole. Recommended tortilla: Corn. ($5.95)
 
 Tortillas: From the Fork & Taco website, you’d gather that all the tortillas are made in-house. And you’d be half-right. The corn is an F&T original, with corn masa sweetness and a consistency just north of the crumble zone; just enough cohesion to hold up to adobo and crema with equal elasticity. But the elasticity also suggests a doughiness, as if they hadn’t quite finished cooking. The flour tortillas are made elsewhere “using our recipe,” and arrive at the restaurant uncooked, the cashier said. They have a charming wobbly elliptical about them, conveying a salt-and-dough flavor in layers like a steamrolled biscuit.
 Salsa: A squeeze bottle by the soda fountain holds an emerald green burst of cool mint and grassy herb in sweet suspension, a sweetness that morphs slowly into clean heat. A second bottle glows pumpkin bright, a cold shot of fruity vinegar and desert heat both high and sudden. With a neutral partner like scrambled eggs, either one would be as gracefully dominant as the professional dancers on “Dancing with the Stars.” But given Fork & Taco’s careful constructions, the sauces should be treated like the celebrity dancers on that same show: given a few polite 7s, then voted off anyway.
----------------------------------------------
The 500 Tacos Project