So-Cal Tacos began life as a food truck. Owner Scott Wooley called it an alternative to the typical taco diners in North Texas at the time.
That was in 2011, and even then the definition of a “typical” taco diner was becoming nebulous — was it an old-school taqueria, a chain with down-to-earth roots like Fuzzy’s, an eclectic-menu joint like Velvet Taco or an upscale place like Revolver Taco?
So-Cal Tacos’ response might be, “None of the above.”
Wooley’s truck was so successful with its lighter-touch, fresh-taste approach that in 2013, he opened a brick-and-mortar shop in a strip center in Grapevine. The place was bustling on a Saturday night when we dropped by, and busy at midweek lunch, too, so Wooley, a Granbury native who spent a decade working on the West Coast, is obviously on to something.
So-Cal offers burritos, nachos, cilantro-lime salad with chicken or shrimp — but we focused on the tacos, which are the place’s selling point (the cool-looking bar, with a good selection of North Texas craft beers on tap, probably helps). We were most pleased with the meaty offerings. The Newport ($2.95), marinated steak, had a generous but not overwhelming portion of flavorful beef, and the al pastor ($2.95) had well-seasoned cubes of pork. Both were garnished with cilantro and onion, neither laid on with a heavy hand.
In fact, moderation seems to be a So-Cal calling card. Tacos here (available on corn or flour tortillas) aren’t bursting at the seams. And in most cases, So-Cal’s subtlety is a good thing.
But we thought the Gamechanger ($3.99) would have benefited from more bluntness. The honey-chipotle grilled salmon taco came with a single strip of salmon, which felt skimpy. We tasted too much sweetness from the honey and didn’t get enough punch from the chipotle, and the feta cheese, romaine lettuce and cilantro aioli were all layered on little too thin.
The Del Mar ($2.95) — slow-roasted chicken with salsa verde, cilantro aioli and romaine lettuce — fared better. The chicken was the standout ingredient. The salsa verde could’ve used more heat, but that was easily resolved with a dash of chile de arbol salsa, which is in bottles on every table.
We didn’t try the “killer” salsa ($5), but the complimentary salsa had a nice roasted kick.
The one vegetarian taco, the Bordertown ($2.95), could have used a little more imagination — black beans with corn relish, cilantro aioli and cabbage slaw were OK for my vegetarian wife, but it didn’t call her back to the place the way veggie tacos do at some other joints.
We were split on the chips and queso ($3.95) — I liked its creamy, stick-to-the-chip thickness, and the cheese blend was strong enough to make up for a lack of heat. My wife thought it was too thick. Wooley says that because items are made fresh daily, the queso varies in consistency, but I’ll take too thick over too thin any day.
So-Cal has one dessert, but it’s an offbeat one: sopapilla fries ($3). Sopapillas are sliced into strips, fried, dusted with powdered sugar and drizzled with your choice of honey, chocolate or raspberry sauce. We went the traditional route and opted for honey, which gave the fries a light sweetness that went well with the pleasingly crisp texture. (Warning: If you’re not careful, you’ll be wearing the powdered sugar, which was added liberally.)
Service was impeccable on both visits: This is one of those fast-casual places where you order at the counter and are given a number, and a server brings your food to you. Any questions from us or nearby customers were answered quickly and enthusiastically by knowledgeable cashiers and servers.
In 2013, Wooley said this Grapevine location would be the first of 20 he plans to open in North Texas during the next four years. That’s a bold move in an area where there’s plenty of powerhouse taco competition. But he appears to have found his niche, developing a loyal following for the food truck with his restaurant’s light touch. It remains to be seen if that light touch turns out to be golden.