Taco Street now open on Tacoma waterfront – get the barbacoa tacos
If you do anything this month, it should be this: bite into a barbacoa taco at newly opened Taco Street Tacoma, a walk-up taco stand at the one-year-old Point Ruston Public Market building.
The slow cooked beef is punched with chile and aromatic spices. Tucked into warmed, doubled up corn tortillas, with fresh cilantro and onions, Taco Street’s barbacoa was among my top taco experiences this year.
“Slow braised meats are our specialty,” explained Elonka Perez, who co-owns Taco Street Tacoma at Point Ruston with husband Marteen Perez. They opened June 17, about two years after they started planning the second outpost for their Seattle-basted restaurant in the Rainier Valley neighborhood.
“My husband is from the Chihuahua region,” explained Perez in 2019 when we first spoke of the restaurant’s expansion from Seattle to Tacoma.
“The difference with the style from Chihuahua, is – it’s all about braised foods. The meats, they are very soft. It’s very much about the chile,” she explained.
She added during a conversation last week, “When you’re going to Mexico, you know that steak can be really tough. What we’re known for is barbacoa. It’s marinated shredded beef that’s very flavorful and it’s cooked very slowly with our chiles. It’s rich and warm, but not too spicy, it’s very flavorful.”
About those chiles.
They are grown in Chihuahua specifically for the restaurant. “My husband grows his own chiles in Chihuahua and imports them here. What you’re tasting is the actual dirt and earth, the actual chile from that area of Mexico where they originate. It really makes a difference then where you’re buying (chiles) from a bulk distributor. When you let it dry, it becomes concentrated. The flavors intensify.”
Origin and sourcing are key for Taco Street’s robust flavors, Perez said. “That part of Mexico, it’s right under New Mexico and El Paso, there’s an entire region of New Mexico where they specialize in those chiles on the U.S. side. But that whole region and area, extending across the border right under Texas, it’s a high desert climate, perfect for those chiles. It gets really hot in the summer and cold in the winter. And where he’s from is in between the mountain ranges, it’s called El Valley, which is translated as the Valley of the Ranges.”
(For reference, nearby is Copper Canyon.)
One bite into the barbacao and a diner can taste the depth of those chiles and the high desert climate. Those concentrated dried chiles mingled with the juicy barbacao, creating an orange-tinged slick of fatty goodness that slid down my wrist. These are five-napkin tacos.
AL PASTOR: VERTICALLY ROASTED
Those same chiles fuel the restaurant’s al pastor, which in turn fills a choice of tacos, burritos and breakfast tacos (yes, they have breakfast tacos, you Texans!). The al pastor is cooked spit style with a vertical roaster twirling marinated pork topped with a pineapple.
The brutal summer weather in June caused the kitchen to temporarily pause the al pastor machine because of the amount of heat the roaster generates in the kitchen, but expect when the weather becomes tolerable, the spinning cone of meat will be on view in the kitchen at the walk-up taqueria.
What I tasted was beautifully roasted pork with crispy edges, a tinge of citrus and pineapple and a thump of earthy chile flavor.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE QUESO
For those who know the food of Chihuahua, there’s a whole cult following for that region’s queso. Taco Street delivers with its own version that fans of gooey cheese will hoover. “Our queso is more Tex-Mex than you’d find in Mexico,” Perez explained. “We can’t get the type of Chihuahua queso menonita – that’s cheese made by Mennonites and they don’t import that here. We create the queso con crema from our own recipe. It’s a little thicker, and it’s rich and creamy.”
Creamy was an understatement for the silky textured dip spiked with peppers. The cheese flavor intensifies as the molten cheese dip cools, so give it a few minutes to come closer to room temp. The dip clings to chips like a velvety cheese drape.
Queso fans will want to order the Rajas Con Queso Taco, the chips and queso or the taquitos smothered in queso.
FRESH FRUIT WATERS FOR HOT SUMMER DAYS
Perez said Taco Street’s agua fresca are a revolving stock of fresh-squeezed juices ($4.50 a glass) in a long list of flavors: pineapple, strawberry, horchata, watermelon, tamarind, mango, lime, coconut, melon, jamaica and one that I don’t see often enough here – cucumber. Mangonada fans rejoice – they’ve got that, too for a small upcharge.
“Our agua fresca is fruit water and agave only,” she said. “They’re totally fresh.” She said their waters are inspired by the street eating around Guadalajara, where the family enjoys traveling. “You find the guy with the tacos and you find the guy with the waters. You get a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” she said. Adding the variety of agua fresca to the menu, she said, feels like a little slice of the eating hubs she and her family love to explore when traveling through Mexico.
TACO STREET TACOMA’S ORIGIN STORY
Taco Street in Seattle began four years ago with only family members as employees. Those employees included a sister, an aunt and the Perez children. Today, the restaurant is doing well enough that they’ve been able to hire employees for both locations.
Elonka spent a career in banking before the family detoured to restaurants when they opened the first Taco Street in March 2017 after finding a turnkey torta shop and setting up their first taco restaurant.
Marteen has run his own plumbing company for 20 years and continues to work as a plumber. In fact, Marteen was able to do the plumbing for Taco Street, which allowed the restaurant to open earlier than expected. Most restaurants across the region are delayed due to a shortage of commercial contractors, permitting slowdowns and equipment scarcity.
In fact, Taco Street Tacoma was ultimately delayed, even before the pandemic began, due to a steel shortage. It’s been one delay after another getting the restaurant open, but their counter finally is churning out tacos. Why’d they pick Point Ruston? Some members of the family moved to the area and the Perez family thought that Point Ruston would be an ideal place to duplicate their taqueria.
And, as residents in that area know, Mexican food is in short supply in that part of town.
WHAT TO KNOW ON A FIRST VISIT
WALK-UP SERVICE: The taqueria is walk-up only, with a counter on the external side of the Point Ruston Public Market building with a few tables out front. Walk inside the market to find the other taco stand window. The stand is located across from Only Oatmeal and next door to Dancing Goats Coffee.
SEATING: A few colorful tables sit near the taco stand, but walk deeper into the Public Market and head left to find a large seating area. There’s more seating outdoors, as well. Just follow the signs.
ON A FIRST VISIT TRY: The drippy, delicious barbacoa tacos ($2.75), the al pastor taco ($2.75), an order of creamy chips and queso ($4.99). Taquitos with barbacoa are a kid-friendly choice, but also great for any crunch lover.
TACO ACCESSORIES: Three kinds of salsa offered – a kicky red, a spicy green and a creamy green, plus generous portions of pickled red onions and fresh lime wedges. Available for order is lime-punched pico de gallo and guacamole.
BEVERAGES: The above mentioned agua fresca come in multiple flavors ($4.50), plus mangonada. Also, soda and jarritos. For adult beverages, there’s bottled beer and the restaurant just had its spirits license approved, so margaritas with tacos is coming soon (if not already).
MORE OF THE MENU:
Find the menu here: https://tacostreetfood.square.site/
Breakfast – served all day at Taco Street Tacoma. Breakfast tacos filled with eggs and potatoes ($2.75 each). Also, breakfast burrito and chorizo burrito ($7.50 to $8).
Tacos – 7 fillings with either doubled up corn tortillas or flour tortillas ($2.75 to $3.75 each). Choices include barbacoa, al pastor, carnitas, carne asada, chicken, so-Cal style and black bean.
Burritos – same meat choices as the tacos, built on broad flour tortillas ($4 to $10.50+). Breakfast burritos also are offered with eggs and potatoes. Also, a Cali-style burrito, plus a chorizo version and an all-vegan burrito called the Cafe Red (named after the plant-based cafe in Seattle that is a neighbor to Taco Street). There’s also a monster burrito built for two or three ($24). For smaller appetizers, a mini burrito ($4).
More items – quesadillas ($6.50 to $9.75), taquitos ($10.50), jalapeno poppers ($2.50), more. Rice and beans ($2 each).
Plates – carne asada bowls ($10.50), taco plate with four tacos ($12.50). Also available are taco kits and family packs.
Please note – Seattle menu items might not yet be available in the Tacoma location. Choices might expand over time. Refer to Tacoma menu only on online site for ordering – https://tacostreetfood.square.site/
VEGANS AND VEGETARIANS: Menu items appealing to vegans and vegetarians are clearly marked and staff can walk diners through the options.
GLUTEN-FREE: Clearly marked on the menu with lots of options. All soups were listed as gluten-free, plus several plates, tacos and more.
TACO STREET TACOMA
Where: 5101 Yacht Club Rd #131, Tacoma
Find the menu here: https://tacostreetfood.square.site/
COLOMBIAN FOOD ON THE WAY TO TACOMA
Did you read my story in June about Seattle’s El Parche? It’s expanding to Tacoma with a location in the McKinley neighborhood. Read all about it here.