Houston Chronicle not impressed with Tacodeli

“Baffled and underwhelmed,” not two words you usually hear an Austinite use to describe Tacodeli. But Alison Cook isn’t an Austinite, and she’s probably eaten more tacos than most Austinites reading this. The multiple James Beard award-winner uses those two inflammatory words up top in describing one of her experiences at the Austin-based restaurant that opened on Washington Avenue in Houston in April. And we thought San Antonio and Houston had taco beef.

The Otto at Tacodeli is proof that simplicity — black beans, bacon, cheese and avocado — is sometimes all you need. (Contributed by Tacodeli)

Tacodeli is one of several exports from Austin to Houston in recent years (including Uchi, Hopdoddy and JuiceLand), and Cook isn’t really feeling it. The esteemed critic and lover of Mexican food admits that one initial problem was lofty expectations. (Read the full review on HoustonChronicle.com.)

After that admission, she gets into the many reasons that led her to only gave Tacodeli one star, a rating that defines a restaurant as “a good restaurant that we recommend.”

She first goes in on the popular Frontera Fundido Sirloin taco. To wit:

The Frontera Fundido Sirloin taco that sounded so great on paper, with its carefully Texas-sourced grilled beef, never quite ignited for me despite its raja ribbons of sautéed onions and poblano, or its curious “jack cheese glaze.”

That glaze proved to be a salty gloss that hinted at the full, fat satisfaction of cheese without really coming through on its “fundido” promise. Later, I began thinking of the cheese glaze as a metaphor for my Tacodeli reservations. Ingredients I thought I’d love kept coming together in packages that left me strangely indifferent.

As for the tortillas, double fail. The “mediocre” flour variety had an “uninterestingly uniform texture, and none of that layery effect a really good flour tortilla acquires when it’s slapped on a griddle,”and the corn “were even more disappointing.”

My friend saves a good amount of her subtle snark for Austin culture, generally, rolling her eyes at the (admittedly”exceptional”) fair-trade coffee, Hill Country rainwater, organic ingredients and employees who looked like the belonged at a co-op or bookstore.

But it wasn’t all disappointment, Cook, who obviously prefers a less modernist take on tacos, did find some things she liked (hence the one star).

Among the positives: salsa roja, the breakfast tacos (specifically the Jessica), and the red chile adobo on pork al pastor.

In summation, she writes:

In other words, I’d go if it were convenient. But for destination-worthy tacos, I’d head to Villa Arcos or Laredo Taqueria, and their doughy hand-made flour tortillas with homestyle fillings; or to the Quesadillas y Mas Los Parados truck on North Main at Temple, where the blue-corn tortillas really do make my eyeballs roll back in my head a little, just the way they should.

Read the complete review on HoustonChronicle.com. And, check out Alison Cook’s list of the Top 100 Restaurants in Houston.

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