TACO THE TOWN
When you first walk into the brand new Street Taco and Beer Co. off Congress Street north of Church, you can't ignore the similarity between the new locally owned joint and the national chain Chipotle. Even the menu is kind of similar—offering single street tacos with flour or corn tortillas for $2 to $3 and burritos for about $7 with al pastor, carne asada, pollo asado, carnitas, and veggie options. The restaurant also serves nachos, quesadillas, hot dogs, and $1 to $2 sides like beans, rice, elote, and calabacitas.
While the menu and restaurant are set up unmistakably similar to Chipotle, seeing meat and corn roasting on a spit in the back was the first sign that owners Dago Martinez and Amjaad Jhan were doing it better than their predecessor.
Once you take a bite, you'll notice well-marinated, flavorful, and tender proteins, grilled tortillas, and handmade sides. While the al pastor used spices to accentuate the meat, the carne asada showed simplicity and technique that let the meat sing on its own. Even the calabacitas were full of flavor in that salty, comforting way that they should be.
Despite being made on an assembly line, the food still has the soul and spice that Mexican cooking should have—especially after adding a few healthy dollops of the aptly labeled hot salsa. To cool off, the restaurant offers aguas frescas like horchata, jamaica, and piña with chunks of fresh pineapple. Street Taco also has a bar with local beer, draft beer, wine, and an array of tequila.
LIQUOR IS QUICKER
The local distilling world is about to get a bit bigger this spring when Independent Distillery fires up their fermenter and mash tun and still and starts cranking out locally made liquor downtown. Located off Arizona Avenue next to the future Johnny Gibson Downtown Market, the distillery plans to open about the same time this spring as the market, which will share a large outdoor patio with the bar and distillery.
Founder Don Northrup says they will start by distilling vodka and a couple of styles of gin (with secret botanical composition) and then move on to aged spirits like bourbon and rum. Northrup says they also plan to make bitters. The distillery team, which includes his wife Toby Hall and their friend Trevor Streng, is happy to have the opportunity to open downtown, which, until very recently when the state approved the issuance of a Series 18 craft distillers license, wasn't even possible.
"The development that's going on in this area in the next year is going to be nuts," Hall says. "We're just happy to be a part of it."