It’s not often that our first thought upon perusing a taco-joint menu is “Let’s order the fries” instead of going for something from the chips and salsa/guac/queso trinity. But the house fries at 333’s Gourmet Taco Shop jumped out at us. Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, seasoned and topped with cilantro and lime crema? Gotta try that.
Turned out to be a good move. It’s also not often that we think “What a beautiful plate of fries,” but they came to the table carefully presented, with the crema artfully drizzled atop the well-constructed stack. And they tasted as good as they looked, with a perfect crunch on the outside and a soft interior that avoided being too mushy.
The fries weren’t the first surprise at 333’s, which is in a small strip center on a part of Colleyville Boulevard festooned with auto shops and a 99 Cents store. It’s the kind of place you could easily drive by without even realizing it was there unless you were looking for it, and even then you have to look kinda close.
But once inside, we found friendly and knowledgeable table service instead of the expected fast-casual order-at-the-counter we’re used to at most taco places. The taco menu, between the Dark(er) Side and the Light(er) Side, goes for the inventive takes on tacos that are becoming increasingly common at new-school taco joints. And the tacos are large enough that a server warned us that two would be very filling and three might mean an immediate nap.
We’re of two minds about the inventiveness: The tacos were good as tacos — the soft variety, served on well-warmed house-made flour tortillas — but maybe not a complete success in what they were trying to do. Take the Jon Bon ($4.99), a variation on banh mi with pulled pork, fresh cucumber, scallions and Asian barbecue sauce. Did it really call to mind a banh mi? No. Was the pork nicely spicy and were the vegetables colorful and crisp? Yep.
The Albert ($4.65), another pulled-pork taco with hickory-smoked bacon, fried pickles, queso fresco and a house-made spicy mustard blend, is described as a mix of classic Texan fare with a Cuban twist. We got more of the Texan side of it, thanks to the salty, spicy meats — not that we were complaining about the meats’ domination of the pickles and mustard.
The vegetarian Flying Poblano is basically a chile relleno on a tortilla ($4.99) — and I mean on it. The roasted and deep-fried poblano pepper, stuffed with feta, zucchini, portobello mushrooms and corn/black-bean salsa, was so big that for several bites, it was impossible to wrap the tortilla around it. But the vegetarian at the table liked it, preferring it to the $4.19 Sugar Ray (black bean/roasted-corn mix, with zucchini, salsa verde, low-fat lime crema and toasted garlic). Still, she was happy to see two veggie options among the tacos. The Eclipse ($6.49/$9.99), a vegetarian black-bean soup, also met with approval.
The Surf’s Up (market price), mahi-mahi mixed with mango-infused barbecue sauce, house-made guac and roasted salsa, was pleasant but relatively unexciting compared with some of the other options, and the Georgio ($4.19; grilled chicken, portobello, roasted onions, black-bean salsa) got so much of its punch from the mushrooms that it could be a good veggie taco if you just skip the chicken.
We did eventually try the chips and guac ($5/$9) and were especially impressed by the house-made chips, which were liberally dusted with 333’s spice blend, a mix of a dozen or so spices with an unusual kick that goes beyond mere chile powder. Servers told us that it’s too spicy for some people, but the kitchen is willing to dial it back a little bit if heat isn’t your thing.
Of the desserts we tried, the TacNado ($7) was most impressive: homemade frozen custard rolled inside bruleed tortillas, then topped with fruit compote and dusted with powdered sugar, it was a near-perfect mix of sweetness and multiple textures. The Gwen ($5), a take on bananas Foster that we quickly nicknamed bananas nachos or bananas churros, wasn’t as much of a knockout, but we still didn’t leave any of the glazed bananas or cinnamon-sugar tortilla chips on the plate.
Not everything is on the menu, and 333’s is still working on its liquor license, although it can sell beer from kegs. The restaurant also offers a weekend brunch. For updates and specials, check the 333’s Facebook page (search for Three Thirty Three’s Gourmet Taco Shop). People are still discovering this place, but the modest location has worked before: The British-Italian restaurant From Across the Pond used to be there, till it was successful enough that it had to expand. Here’s hoping that the word gets out about 333’s as well.