It was an assignment not for the weak of stomach: write about the burgeoning Louisville taco scene.
Journalism school taught me that a good reporter must do his or her research, so I embarked on a two-week taco taste test across the city. I documented some lessons learned and some stand-out taquerias in a story I wrote for the WFPL news blog. Here’s an excerpt:
The components of a taco sound simple enough—a tortilla, some meat, a few veggies, a sauce, and a wedge of lime on the side. But the best tacos in the city are thoughtfully crafted by chefs willing to explore flavor combinations that call on tradition yet seem refreshing and new. The tortilla should be soft, warm, made of corn and sturdy. The meat is best when it’s marinated and slow cooked, as evidenced by tender strips that fall apart as you chew your way through. The veggies should be crisp and handled with a light hand to not overwhelm aforementioned tortilla. And the sauce can make or break this little handheld dish—too much, and it’s sloppy and overbearing, too little, and the dish is dry. And don’t forget to squeeze that lime, for it adds a final citrusy pop to make the tastes come alive.
Read the rest of the article here. Gluttony jokes aside, I had a fun time writing this one. Louisville has turned into a great place for tacos.
RIP Grasshoppers Distribution. This local service that provided produce from area farmers to Louisville customers will shut down today. (WDRB)
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer created a super-official work group to figure out how to make a hot spot for good food and spirits. The 34-member group includes local chefs and restaurateurs, local distillers and bourbon aficionados, and tourism officials. I assume my invitation got lost in the mail, Greg… (Insider Louisville)
Tacos are having their moment in Louisville right now.
El Taco Luchador, from the genius minds behind Guaca Mole and Mussel and Burger Bar, will open at 938 Baxter Avenue sometime in December. The restaurant in a particularly bad-luck spot, the same building the once housed the former Lil’ Cheezers restaurant and 14K Cupcakes. (Consuming Louisville)
Wild Rita’s will open in the former location of Mozz at 445 East Market Street. This restaurant bills itself as a “modern Mexican and tequila bar” and is the latest creation from the Wild Eggs people (if you couldn’t tell by the logo). (Megabites Louisville)
In non-taco news, Big Four Burgers + Beer has opened in downtown Jeffersonville. Once the Indiana side of the Big Four Bridge is open, I’d be tempted to walk over for a gourmet burger. But isn’t that defeating the purpose? (News and Tribune)
The local Mexican restaurant announced last week on the crowd-sourcing website Kickstarter that it’s trying to raise $20,000 to expand operations (I wrote a story about it for WFPL.org that you can read here).
… when a third-rate taco baron, selling $10 papier-mâché tortillas, starts passing the collection plate while preaching the “Keep Louisville Weird” sermon and serving bad beer, you better believe I take umbrage, particularly when their initial business plan relied on windfall income from unlucky tourists.
So why are we so mad at Sowder?
Are we big believers in the ups and downs of capitalism? Should we just let the market rather than fundraising determine the fate of a private business?
Or is this a bigger issue? Are we a little more harsh toward private enterprises asking for public money in the wake of big government bailouts?
The line often snakes at least 20 people from the cash register to the door, a daunting prospect to a hungry corporate employee with only an hour to eat.
Yes, Qdoba offers up some tasty, Mexican-inspired grub — I have a rewards card to prove my appreciation. Lately, I’ve skipped the rush and gone with an even better, local option right around the corner, Bazo’s Fresh Mexican Grill.
I’d noticed Bazo’s before on the corner of Market and Fifth streets, a lunch-friendly intersection (the restaurant’s neighbors include Dish on Market, Chop Shop Salads and FireFresh BBQ). But I usually bypassed Bazo’s in favor of the familiar Qdoba.
A business lunch changed my ways.
My companions for that meal suggested Bazo’s. That was about a month ago. Since then, I’ve been back three times.
Bazo’s has a menu that will be familiar to folks accustomed to Qdoba, Chipotle Mexican Grill and other Mexican-style, fast-casual dining, but provides a wider selection at a comparable cost with a much shorter wait time.
There are no surprises in selections like the nachos (from $5.79) or the assortment of burritos, such as the Fajita Burrito with meat, cheddar-jack cheese, grilled peppers and onions, rice, sour cream and salsa (from $6.29). There’s even a Tostada Salad, a taco salad in a flour tortilla bowl ($6.59) that will look familiar to a Qdoba regular.
But Bazo’s offers choices and menu items that the chains are missing. Let’s start with dessert. Signs on the tables in Bazo’s advertise $1.59 churros, a fried-dough dish popular in Spanish-speaking countries. There there is a salsa bar with four to five different salsa options and tiny cups for you to try as many as you want. Bazo’s also has economical combination choices that start with one to three of tacos of your choice, a small side of chili-lime chips and a choice of sides depending on the combination you choose (starts at $6.29).
And speaking of the tacos, the highlight of Bazo’s menu is the variety of fillings you can choose for your tacos, which start at $2.39. There’s the usual chicken, carne asada (steak) and bean, but the restaurant also adds barbacoa (shredded beef), carnitas (pork), shrimp, and, my favorite, fish.
The fish made me a Bazo’s convert. The first dish I tried with this ingredient was a fish burrito ($6.99). The burrito was filled with a grilled fillet, black beans, salsa fresca, shredded cabbage, cheddar-jack cheese and baja sauce.
For the $10 Challenge, however, I decided to change it up and order a combination with three fish tacos, a dish that was featured in several framed newspaper and magazine article near the register ($8.49). It took about five minutes for my order to come up, the average wait time I’ve experienced at Bazo’s. It’s just enough time to fill your salsa cups and water cup.
When I picked up my plate, the mounds of white, crunchy cabbage on top of the tacos threw me for a loop. Don’t get me wrong, I love cabbage, but not when I can’t even see the dish it is supposed to accompany. I scooped about a cup of cabbage off to the side of my platter before I dug into my tacos.
The tortillas seemed delicate enough to be homemade. They were soft and not sturdy enough to hold the slices of fish in each taco. I’m not sure where Bazo’s gets their fish (I hope not the Ohio River), but it tasted out-of-the-water fresh. The grilled fish was succulent and well-seasoned, but not too spicy. I’m curious to see if the taste of the fish holds up if it’s battered and fried or blackened, two other options available.
After taco number two, I realized how much value I had gotten in my meal and how much I had overestimated my appetite. There is about half of a fish filet in each taco, so I got really full really fast. I had also created a cabbage salad of sorts with a squirt of lime and a drizzle of the creamy baja sauce that dripped from my tacos. My impromptu side dish, the side of crunchy seasoned chips, and those little tacos packed an unexpected punch to the gut. Next time, I’ll go with the Two Taco Combo that comes with rice and beans (from $6.29).
I’m a bit ashamed that I had always passed up a little guy like Bazo’s in favor of a Big Boy Chain. Now, it’s good to know that I can get a good taco at a great price without the long wait.
Notes about Bazo’s
The price for the taco combos and some of the burritos increases depending on the type of meat you choose. Seafood is the most expensive option.
Bazo’s Fresh Mexican Grill, 428 W. Market Street, Louisville (two other locations in Louisville)