You have to appreciate Velvet Taco, whether you’re an inveterate late-night reveler in search of grub or a stay-at-home dad looking for lunch after running errands at the nearby Super Target.
The restaurant has an easy appeal, from its open-til-4 a.m.-on-the-weekend hours to its dedication to recycling. Plus, most everything here is made from scratch, down to the corn tortillas and in-house roasted chicken and corn, all of which yields some pretty picture-perfect fare (cue the foodies in the corner posting on Instagram).
So it’s no surprise that the Dallas restaurant with a cult following has developed a similar fan base here — in virtually a month’s time since it opened. The place is a hit. The parking lot is perpetually full, lines are out the door at lunch, and the patio is packed even in 30-degree weather.
Go at an off-hour, if there is such a thing right now, and you’ll have more time to contemplate the globe-trotting menu, which caters to virtually anyone with a palate. (You’ll also stand a better chance of snagging a spot at one of the communal tables.)
Taco choices on the menu are broken into chicken, pork, beef, vegetarian, seafood and egg, and each section has no fewer than three options.
Those who have no fear of fried food will eat well. A standout taco is the fish n’ chips ($5.25), which elevates the pub favorite to new heights. It contained some of the best battered cod I’ve had anywhere locally — crispy on the outside and exceedingly fluffy and perfectly moist on the inside — nestled in the “house shred” (what looked to be a mix of cabbages) and pea tendrils. Underneath this melange were malted french fries (more like potato straws), and all of this was topped with curried mayonnaise. The malt-tinged potatoes sounded like too much of a good thing, but all of the flavors added up to an intensely delicious taco.
The crispy calamari ($4.50) was a winner, too. Atop a corn tortilla were two pieces of squid steak, cut lengthwise like very thick tubes of pasta. After one bite, I was immediately reminded of the calamari from long-shuttered Angeluna (may it RIP) in downtown Fort Worth. These were chewy and dense pieces, nicely seasoned with a sweet chili sauce (didn’t Angeluna serve them with a similar dipping sauce?). Topped with some finely diced kimchee and a pico de gallo made from green papaya and hot red peppers, the ingredients roiled together — sweet, hot, sour — to wonderful effect.
Similarly, the fried paneer taco ($3.50) also tasted great — the slightly spicy battered cheese matched well with the tangy yogurt raita cream.
Before I regale you with more tales of these tacos, let’s talk about the tater tots and local egg ($5.25). Fried potatoes come covered in melted goat cheese and cheddar, bacon, basil cream and for excessive measure, a sunny-side-up egg. Let the yoke ooze on out and your taste buds will be stupefied for a few good minutes. This dish should be considered a Velvet Taco prerequisite, much like the green chile queso at Torchy’s, another trendy new taco joint in town.
In the interest of yin and yang, the lettuce-wrapped tacos were all successful to varying degrees. The ahi poke ($6.75) was a nice, diced tartare of tuna plus pickled veggies and seaweed salad, all ensconced in a massive leaf of bibb. Other tacos, like the falafel ($3.75) and the tabbouleh ($3.75) similarly substitute the lettuce for tortillas.
And if tacos aren’t your thing, try the restaurant’s much-raved-about “Backdoor Chicken.” In this case, it’s more of a side window (opening onto Carroll Street), where you can queue up for a whole rotisserie chicken, two sides of elote-style corn (tantalizingly mixed with lots of cream and queso fresco), some standard pico and a half-dozen tortillas, all for $20.
The chicken was pretty fab. Juicy, and flecked with rosemary, it’s served with a sweet-hot Korean barbecue sauce that hit the spot. On Monday nights, the chicken is half-price, so it’s really a steal.
No matter how you dine, there’s an effortless vivacity to the atmosphere and food at Velvet Taco that’s hard to resist. (Coming this summer: Velvet Taco Chicago.) This place is great. But you probably already know that by now.