Tacoma’s El Borracho on Sixth Ave reopens with a new concept. Here’s a first look
It took a handful of months longer than intended, but casual taco joint El Borracho reopened Friday (Jan. 28, 2022) in Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue neighborhood. The reopening comes with a reimagined casual style of service and plating, plus a completely revamped menu. And by revamped, I mean excised. As in all the meat is gone.
The new incarnation of El Borracho is 100 percent plant based, as promised in 2020 by co-owner Kittie Davidovich, who operates three locations of El Borracho (two are in Seattle) with business partner Adam Pomerleau.
The restaurant still is identified as El Borracho on social media, the website and the building sign, but diners will notice a slight rebranding: The menu sports the moniker of “El Gabacho.”
The Tacoma restaurant closed in November 2020 to pause during the pandemic. Before its closing, El Borracho was known for a menu that seesawed between plant-based and meat-based tacos. The debut menu featured goat, rabbit, duck and lamb tacos right alongside vegan potato and meatless chorizo. The restaurant also was known for its mega-cheap tap margaritas. The restaurant’s original menu featured the eating styles of its owners: Pomerleau is an omnivore and Davidovich eats vegan.
It opened in 2017 in the former home of Marrow, which also was a restaurant with a penchant for serving both plant-based eaters and meat eaters. This was the third location of El Borracho with the original opening in Pike Place Market in 2012 and the second following in 2014. Those restaurants also made the switch to plant-based menus last year.
WHAT’S NEW AT EL BORRACHO
Interior: Walking into the restaurant, it’s as if nothing has changed. Broad windows let in lots of daylight, with dangling metal lanterns casting a warm glow once the sun has set. The bar is in the back with plenty of room to belly up. There are high-top tables throughout the dining room with a few low-top tables close to the front windows.
Accessibility note: Because much of the seating is on bar stools, those with accessibility issues should look to the low-top tables at the front of the bar for seats.
It’s still a bar: This is a 21-and-older only establishment. No kids allowed.
Cocktail menu: El Borracho was known for its cheap house marg. The mega cheap margarita is the victim of inflation and is now $6 and it’s also made-over into the “pink cheapo margarita.” It’s a Lunazul blanco tequila marg with triple sec and a house sour. Make it a double for $9. I was feeling fancy, so I splurged on the $12 house marg with Olmeca Altos tequila, Grandeza, house sour and agave. Also find a tamarind margarita ($11), a pineapple-jalapeno ($12) and a hibiscus margarita ($11). There’s also a whiskey sour ($10) and rooibos cooler ($13).
Style of service: Welcome to a new hybrid style of service. Order cocktails at the bar and order food at your table. Both food and drinks are shuttled to your table.
More casual touches: Help yourself to water and salsa at the station between the front door and the bar. Food is served on disposable plating. I didn’t mind the compostable plates because they were perfect for holding tacos upright into their preferred shape. Our server noted: Everything is compostable, from the lids to the silverware.
The eats: All vegan, all the time. Find tacos ($4-$5.25 each), burritos ($11.50-$13.25), mini burritos ($6.50-$7.50) plant-based bowls ($13-$14.25). The apps list includes the restaurant’s famous lime-heavy guac and chips ($8.50), plus nachos ($13) and a few other items. The theme here is Mexican-infused. And if you don’t like spice, tread carefully here. This food is punched with chiles.
Proteins: Holy cow, sign me up for that smoky al pastor tofu again and again. The achiote marinated cubes bit delicately and the accompanying grilled pineapple still had a nice bite. Seitan was transformed into a hearty barbacoa that was teased with deep umami (was that soy sauce I tasted?). Jackfruit also took a dip in achiote and was slow cooked until it was a sassy, spicy, citrusy pile of plant-based cochinitas pibil. Impossible beef crumbles came teased with Tex-Mex heat. Chipotle potatoes were cooked perfectly into creamy cubes kicked up with chipotle crema.
There’s also a “shrymp” dusted with Tajin, the delicious Mexican spice. Soyrizo was fortified with potatoes and just egg. Order those proteins as tacos, burritos or a bowl.
Taco accessories: What I appreciate of the half dozen tacos tried is that each came with their own taco accessories and were not adorned with the same ol’ cilantro and diced onion mix like a lot of street taco places do. Al pastor came with grilled pineapple. Cochinitas jackfruit pibil with wisps of pickled red onions. Crunchy fried jalapenos topped the chipotle potato tacos. I like a variety of textures and flavors in my tacos. These delivered.
Handmade tortillas: As they always have been, the tortillas are handmade corn, slightly thicker than a typical street taco tortilla, with jagged edges and grilled to order.
Taco accompaniments: Queso dip can be added to most anything or ordered with chips. Also add green rice and black beans ($3 each) to round out your meal.
Soft opening: The restaurant is in soft opening mode now, but check the website for hours.
Happy hour: The website promises it’s coming soon.
EL BORRACHO TACOMA
Note: 21 and older only
Where: 2717 Sixth Ave., Tacoma