Tortaco  

910 Currie St.

Fort Worth 76107

682-990-0735

www.tortaco.com

Firebird Restaurant Group is in growth mode. The parent company that owns brands such as El Fenix, Taqueria La Ventana and Snuffers made us salivate at the prospect of our very own Fort Worth Meso Maya coming to downtown’s Kress Building.

That project, which will ultimately be a two-story Meso Maya, is proving to be more challenging than expected (old buildings always are). And while it is still in the works, it will most likely not be the first Meso Maya to open in town. Firebird is gutting the old Rockfish on Hulen and plans to introduce a Meso Maya in that location. My money is on that space reaching the finish line first.

In the meantime, Firebird CEO Mike Karns decided to roll out a new concept it is calling Tortaco. It features an affordable selection of tortas (Mexican-themed sandwiches) and tacos – hence the name.

Tortaco just opened two of these new restaurants, one on Currie Street in West Seventh District and the other on Ross Avenue in downtown Dallas. In a twist of fate, the Fort Worth location opened first, by about a month, and the bragging rights are still ours.

The space takes in what was a former office building in the front, while the kitchen/back-of-house was once home to Buffalo Sounds, which recorded famous artists such as T-Bone Burnett and Willie Nelson. It has been transformed, with walls of window letting the light in and an industrial chic feel with exposed brick, Edison bulb and wire lighting and plenty of rusty gears, chains and oil cans to reinforce the theme.

The prices are uber-affordable for lunch, dinner and brunch. The menu is organized simply. All tortas ($6) are served on something akin to brioche buns, and all tacos ($4) are served on flour tortillas, no corn. Patrons have their choice of 10 different globally influenced filling options and most have little to do with Mexican cuisine. Executive Chef Nico Sanchez is the mastermind behind the menu.

Each of the flavor combinations takes a few typical Mexican ingredients and marries them beautifully with the flavors of other cultures. The Diablo Shrimp was nice with medium-sized cornmeal-battered shrimp, slices of fresh avocado, Napa cabbage slaw and sliced tomato, topped with a spicy remoulade sauce. The vegetarian relleno was another favorite with its lightly battered poblano pepper, spinach, mushrooms, gruyere, avocado, sweet corn, arugula and a mild jalapeño aioli sauce. Tamarind pork consisted of wood-fired pork, whole grain mustard, arugula, charred pineapple, roasted poblano, sliced tomatoes, Vermont sharp white cheddar and red wine-pickled onions.

There are also seven varieties of Bowls ($8) with a base of rice. We sampled the Truffle Steak Bowl with seared chunks of beef tenderloin, serrano scented jasmine rice, blistered sweet tomatoes, cremini mushrooms, roasted butternut squash and diced sweet potatoes. The deceivingly diminutive bowl was topped with bone marrow au jus, black truffle aioli and crispy shallots.

There is a small selection of appetizers and sides and the roasted crab dip ($7) is a creamy blend with plenty of crab meat in the mix, topped with toasted panko bread crumbs. If you have a sweet tooth, there is only one option. The Creamy Date Dessert ($3) is plenty sweet to do the trick. Basically a flourless date cake, it is spiked with pecans and topped with a creamy dollop of mascarpone cheese. Our table could not get enough.

The food is good, the atmosphere is relaxed, so I will leave you in the bar, which will be Tortaco’s other claim to fame.

Mezcal is currently having a moment, and Tortaco is capitalizing on its popularity. By comparison, true tequila is made from 100 percent blue agave, while cheaper blends (Mixto) must still maintain a majority (51 percent) of blue agave to even be called tequila. Mezcal is the “artisan” offshoot made from other types of agave plants.

The range of mezcal is vast and while Tortaco has about 30 varieties on its menu, there are actually 73 in stock. The stock is constantly shifting, however, because it is mostly small-batch and even produced by families (like Mexican moonshine), and some are better than others. When at Tortaco, you should plan to drink like a local and order a sip or a shot with your meal.

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