Arts & Culture

Tallulah’s Taqueria serves up taco of the town

Mexican fast-casual restaurant dishes out tasty tacos, burritos and bowls on Ives Street

By
Arts & Culture Editor
Monday, November 17, 2014

Tacos showcasing meat, guacamole, onion, cilantro and radish medallions on a corn tortilla shell are just one variation of the specialty at Tallulah’s Taqueria, a Mexican restaurant that opened in Fox Point in May.

With the excitement in her voice contrasting with the composure of her neatly folded hands, a woman introduces herself. “Hi, I’m Kelly Ann. I’m ‘Tallulah.’” The tattooed man next to her chuckles, as if at an inside joke, and responds, “Yeah, she is.”

So begins the campaign video for Tallulah’s Taqueria on the crowd-sourcing website Kickstarter. After meeting their goal of $28,000, owners Kelly Ann and Jake Rojas — whose Newport restaurant, Tallulah on Thames, is the flagship of their expanding culinary presence — opened their new Fox Point location in time for Cinco de Mayo this year.

Last year, the Rojases were selling their farm-to-table tacos out of a modified hot dog cart at Rhode Island farmers’ markets. The fact that they opted to affix this mobile enterprise to a more permanent location, and succeeded in garnering the financial support to do so, should tell you something about their tacos.

Judging by its bustling atmosphere and easy rhythm, it’s not hard to forget that Tallulah’s Taqueria, at just over six months old, is still the new kid on the block. The atmosphere is distinctly casual, with self-serve seating at a few diner-style tables and countertops. With warm lighting and a laid-back, R&B-inspired soundtrack, the space is intimate and unpretentious.

So is the menu, which specializes in traditional Mexican cuisine with a local sensibility. Though limited to a few key items, it communicates certain principles of food presentation. Tacos ($5) are offered on corn tortillas only; all dishes come topped with a signature mix of onions and cilantro; diners select the protein of their choice from an assortment of meats or black beans.

Against this simplicity, the subtle attributes of each ingredient shine through. The corn tortilla is baked to a crunchy, flaky perfection; the combination of fresh cilantro and finely chopped onion mingles in delicate attunement with the meal’s more savory notes; the seasoning in the black beans is robust to the point of near-decadence.

Though served in a fast food-style tray, the burrito bowl ($9) is artfully presented, with concentric circles of ingredients not only producing an appealing visual arrangement, but also ensuring their even distribution. Shredded romaine, offering a vitalizing change of pace from the tasteless iceberg we’ve come to expect, encircles a bed of seasoned rice, beans, queso blanco and homemade salsa verde, which has a tantalizing yet appropriately understated kick. Sliced radish medallions — a surprising choice for Mexican fare — are arranged in a tidy circle around a generous dollop of homemade guacamole, whose strong notes of lime juice work in tandem with the onion and cilantro.

The surprise of the radishes is overwhelmingly pleasant, and even those with no particular affinity for the vegetable should consider ordering extra. In addition to providing a refreshing crispness to the bowl’s more viscous consistency, they’re pickled in a tangy, ambrosial marinade that brightens and deepens the naturally peppery taste to one of piquancy.

Though these recipes are inherited from their street-side food cart, certain fixings are uniquely oriented to their newly permanent location. Bottles of soft drinks glimmer in the cooler, branded with the unfamiliar flavors of tamarind and grapefruit or the vintage-inspired label of a Mexican cola. Nearby boxes filled with empty bottles encourage diners to recycle, upholding a “practice-what-we-preach” mentality behind Tallulah’s widely advertised emphasis on ecological responsibility. A mural painted with Dia de los Muertos-inspired skulls and flowers contrasts as a funky focal point against an otherwise no-frills setup.

And, as Tallulah’s further cultivates its new Ives Street identity, it will be interesting to see what new forms of expression it brings to the table.