When a foodie thinks about Austin, what often comes to mind is a quirky, casual spot that serves good food in a somewhat offbeat setting. Ever since Austin was just a college town and a hippie hangout, it's had its own sensibility that is slightly out of step with the rest of Texas. In a good way, of course.
So how will Torchy's be received in Houston, a town known for its hundreds of family-run taquerias? We went to find out.
|Dining room at Torchy's Tacos|
|Green Chile Pork taco at Torchy's|
Our first surprise was the relatively small size of the tortilla, which was generously overflowing with fillings. The second surprise was the tremendous amount of cilantro - no folks, that's not lettuce in the photo. Biting into the taco confirmed the over-abundance of cilantro, not surprisingly. When we raked off 3/4 of it, we were left with a fairly bland taco; the mild pork flavor was lost beneath the onions and the remainder of the cilantro. We can think of a number of taquerias around town that put this semi-traditional taco to shame. On to the next one.
For many folks, Tex-Mex means fajitas, so next up was Torchy's Beef Fajita taco. The ingredients are right out of Tex Mex 101: Marinated, grilled skirt steak, grilled onions and peppers, shredded cheese and pico de gallo.
|Beef Fajita tacos at Torchy's|
Biting into this taco, we were impressed by the tender quality of the fajita beef, but we found ourselves wishing for a bolder marinade; the beefy flavor was very mild. At the suggestion of staff, we added their avocado hot sauce - a creamy combination of tomatillos, avocados, and roasted jalapenos. This certainly added some heat, but now all we tasted was the sauce. We think the solution is a bolder marinade, not a saucy disguise.
Our final taco was the one we'd repeatedly heard great things about: Torchy's Trailer Park taco. Fried chicken chunks, green chiles, shredded cheese, pico, and lettuce are the standard toppings, and at the advice of a Torchyphile we know, we ordered it "Trashy", with the lettuce removed and a dollop of melted queso on top.
|Trailer Park taco at Torchy's|
This taco was a hot mess. Good quality fried chicken, but utterly bland pico de gallo and a morass of cheese made me think of a KFC chicken bowl, not Austin's most-talked-about taco. A dab of Torchy's poblano hot sauce helped, but we're firm believers that you shouldn't have to fix a dish by smothering it in sauce to make it good. The result was certainly edible, but it's not something we'd seek out again.
To say we were disappointed with Torchy's would be an understatement. Like many things from Austin, the reality doesn't live up to huge level of hype. On the plus side, the ingredients seemed to be high quality, but on the minus, Torchy's can't be bothered making fresh tortillas. The individual tacos look good on paper, but spotty execution and weird proportions of ingredients leave you with a taco that just tastes bland. The result is a mediocre experience by Houston taco standards.
That may be good enough in Austin. In a Tex-Mex mecca like Houston, Torchy's is going to have to up their game.
Torchy's Tacos | 2411 South Shepherd Dr. | 713-595-8226 | TorchysTacos.com