First Looks is a preview of newly opened and soon-to-open restaurants. These are not full reviews, but they should give you a little insight into what the restaurant is like.
There’s a war on in the land of tacos and I fear there will be no winners. Mexican Radio, the new taco-focused Plaza District restaurant from A Good Egg Dining Group, enters a genre that everyone claims to love, but about which people can’t stop complaining.
There is the Real Taco contingent, which claims tacos either come from a taqueria or are complete garbage.
You have the Cheap-Cheaps, who are most often found in line at the drive thru, but will align with Real Taco followers only if said tacos cost less than $1.50 each.
There are the Flavor Chasers, who are constantly after tacos containing the most esoteric of ingredients.
And don’t forget about the Scaredy Cats, who are both incapable of trying lengua and very frightened that someone will speak not-English near them. They like to tell you how dangerous southside taquerias are, despite never having seen one in person.
I know this because I write about tacos, among other things, and eeeeeeeverybody’s got something to say. “Those are too expensive.” “Those aren’t real tacos.” “Oh, I’d never go there.”
To which I have to say: No one cares. If you don’t like those tacos, don’t eat those tacos. If they’re too expensive for you, don’t buy them. If it’s too scary for you or too far away or whatever, then don’t go.
Mexican Radio tried to take that in account when they called their cuisine “non-denominational tacos,” which of course elicited plenty of snark, because god forbid somebody try something.
Can you tell I’m irked? Perturbed? Sorry about that. It’s just…
I love tacos. I really, truly do. I love cheap tacos and fancy tacos and expensive tacos and bizarre tacos and taco burgers and taco pizza and taco salad and tacos stuffed inside other tacos, like some kind of tacorducken. And I wish, for once, we could focus on what we loved instead of what we think we hate. (Because most of the stuff you “hate” is just stuff you haven’t tried.)
So...rant over. On to the tacos. Or, more accurately, the jalapeno pimento cheese empanadas ($10).
Lord a-mighty and pass the honey, Mexican Radio’s best item might not even be a taco, because these pimento cheese empanadas are a revelation. The crust is buttery and crisp, putting up just enough fight that you feel rewarded when that first burst of spicy melted cheese finds its way to your tongue. And it is spicy. Pimento cheese isn’t particularly known for bringing the heat, but this has some real sizzle. Paired with a local honey (from MIO member Andrews Honey Bees, I believe), it’s a wild ride that I’m ready to line up for again.
On the taco front, I secured the services of our own Robbie C., who took a break from eating pizza—literally, the guy told me he hadn’t eaten anything but pizza for four days prior—to try some non-pizza with me.
The menu runs the gamut from fairly traditional to fairly insane, and I like it. Some of the best I had were the most bizarre, and I truly am excited to try the entire menu.
The carne asada taco ($5) needs work, either in the kitchen or in your mouth, because they’ve cut the pieces of steak too large and it makes for a very chewy bite. Dice it smaller or fry it harder, because the taste is on point, but the texture isn’t there yet. It’s got a lot more on it than you’d find at a taco truck, as well, not just in terms of the amount of meat, but the added guacamole and pico, as well.
Pollo verde ($3.75) is a much easier bite, with supple braised chicken in a mild green sauce of avocado crema and roasted green chiles. On top, you get a dusting of chihuahua cheese. This really is quite mild, and that’s necessary for bringing out the subtle flavor of the chicken. If you’re getting this one, eat it first, because the rest of the flavors on the menu are likely to blow it out.
Keith Paul, who founded A Good Egg with his partner (and wife) Heather, said he was most excited for the brisket breakfast taco ($4.75) because it really is a one-and-done breakfast taco. You eat this and you won’t need another taco. You might not need another meal all day, honestly. It’s a flour tortilla stuffed with fried potatoes, refried beans, salsa roja, chihuahua cheese, and big pieces of smoked brisket, with a gorgeous fried egg on top. Ooh, those lacy edges on the egg...then you pop the yolk and let it filter down and coat everything else in the taco.
Oddly, I was actually more about the taco I didn’t order: the smoked brisket taco ($5). See, I guess there was a mix-up, because when I ordered the egg and brisket, they accidentally brought me the regular brisket and were kind enough to let me try it, too, so long as it was there. While the egg and potatoes and brisket make a potent combo, the solo smoked brisket really lets that deep smokiness through. You get a corn tortilla filled with brisket and cabbage, a bit of cotija cheese and a drizzle of green onion chimichurri, and slices of avocado on top. This is a meat-first flavor that really showcases the expertly smoked brisket. I let Rob try it too, but I didn’t want to. I wanted it all for me.
The same goes for The Jack, which might be my favorite of the bunch. At $3.75, it’s one of six tacos competing for the least expensive on the menu, and it might be the most non-denominational of them all. Because The Jack is what happens when a chef makes you a fast food taco. And, baby, that’s what I’m here for.
Crispy corn shell, of course, but the detail here is how they fried it themselves, giving it this chewy-crispy texture that I love. Inside is carne molida, which is made with ground beef, and it’s some of the best taco meat I’ve had. A bit spicy, nice and fatty, with a texture that holds together until it touches the tongue.
There’s lettuce, because why not, and pico, with cotija cheese inside and parmesan cheese dust coating the outside of the shell. It’s the classiest fast food taco I’ve ever had and I want to eat a thousand of these. Sincerely, this was my MVP, and I don’t really care if that’s lame. Like what you like.
On the side, I think the elotes-style cauliflower ($4.50) is tasty, though I think you’ll be happier with it if you forget the whole elotes thing. It’s a dish of lightly fried and spiced cauliflower, which is tasty, but it doesn’t really compare to that classic roasted corn-and-mayo-and-chili powder-and-cheese street food. Just my opinion though. Your mileage may vary.
I don’t have any financial stake in Mexican Radio or A Good Egg Dining or Plaza District real estate or, frankly, in anything. I write about food. Any money I have is invested in eating more food and the down payment on a XXXXXL coffin.
But I still want people to go to Mexican Radio. I still want them to try some tacos and find something new to love. Because I really love The Jack and I’d like it to stick around so I can eat the full thousand of them I’ve decided I want.
Oh, and there are a bunch of really great cocktails. Rob got the “Ranch Water,” made with Prairie Wolf vodka, and it’s super refreshing and tasty—perfect to sip in the rainbow tinged patio seating area to the west. Did I mention Mexican Radio is in the old Empire Slice House building? Yeah. That’s where it is. Go see for yourself. And eat a taco while you’re at it.
Mexican Radio opens to the public Monday, August 26, 2019.