No matter how you feel about Fuzzy's (still love 'em or has expansion equaled a drop in quality?), there's no denying the Fort Worth-based taco chain has been good for something: paving the way for Torchy's.
If it weren't for Fuzzy's, whose first store opened 12 years ago, it's hard to imagine there would even be a Torchy's Tacos. Or Velvet Taco, Taco Heads, Rusty Taco, Digg's Taco Shop or any of the other gringo taco joints that have, over the past few years, blanketed the North Texas area.
Fuzzy's may have been instrumental in starting the regional taco trend, but Austin-based Torchy's expanded it, filling tacos with ingredients like salmon, fried chicken and ahi tuna, and creating a half-dozen salsas that have come to develop cultlike followings.
Torchy's made its North Texas debut in 2010, in Dallas at Preston-Forest, and while Fort Worth had to sweat it out until December of last year to get its own store, in the new Midtown development, we've been well compensated for the wait.
You see, Fort Worth didn't get just any ol' Torchy's. We are the proud recipients of a Torchy's-plus, the plus being a full bar (only two other locations have bars, both in Dallas). Niftily, the bar horseshoes from the dizzyingly red and gold colored dining room into a separate patio, where you can order drinks without fussing with the usually mobbed dining area.
Along with the notoriously long lines, the Fort Worth store has all the trademark, cheekily named tacos that made Torchy's a hit in the first place. One of our favorites is the Dirty Sanchez ($3.50), which is slang for, well, you really don't want to know. Best to stick with what makes this taco so great: an omelettelike layer of eggs cushioning fried poblano chile, creamy and chunky guacamole, and shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese, and topped with shreds of pickled carrots, all carried in a soft flour tortilla.
Torchy's is good at combining seemingly dissimilar ingredients and making them work. That knack was clearly evident on the taco of the month, The Double Wide ($4.25), which featured a large chunk of chicken-fried steak, so large that it took two fists and a fork to finish.
But it was good. The piece of chicken-fried steak came coated in a crispy, thick brown batter that was just shy of sweet. The theory that bacon makes everything better certainly applied here, as bits of crispy bacon offered a nice smoky tinge. Crisp pico de gallo added punch and crunch, and a streak of queso gave it a sharp edge. Like many of Torchy's tacos, it came topped with a small mountain of finely grated queso fresco.
Mr. Orange ($4.75) was the best of the seafood tacos we tried. The "orange" was, according to the menu, blackened salmon, but we a hard time finding the "blackened" portions, possibly because there was an inordinate amount of cilantro.
Still, the salmon was cooked well and it worked seamlessly with a roasted corn and black bean medley and mild avocado salsa. Mr. Pink ($4.75) didn't fare as well, as medallions of seared Ahi tuna lacked flavor; accompanying chipotle sauce did little to revive it.
With taco fillings of such good quality, it's a shame that tortillas are commercially bought, shipped in from a distributor in Austin. As you're ordering, request corn tortillas. You get two and they have a brighter flavor than the tepid and forgettable flour.
Of the sides, we loved the queso, flecked with roasted green chiles and topped with a scoop of guacamole, and nicely salted and crispy corn tortilla chips.
Also good is the "street corn." Torchy's rendition of traditional Mexican elotes came in a cup with so much queso fresco on top, we couldn't see the corn until a bite or so in. Underneath the blizzard of cheese, we found corn with a wonderful fresh-off-the-cob, deeply roasted flavor. Ancho aioli kept the corn from being dry and a dusting of red chile powder gave it some pop.
Along with the full bar, there are fountain drinks by Austin-based Maine Root, which uses Fair Trade Certified organic sugar. Hard to believe a taco shop would even care about such things. You did good, Fuzzy's.