- After a year filled with fast-food consumption, a few chains rise above the rest. The one to rule them all: Torchy’s, a taco chain with a cult following in Texas.
- As we look back at 2018, we decided we said it best the first time: “We weren’t disappointed by a single thing, except for the fact that there is not one in New York City.”
- Here is our review of Torchy’s, first published in July.
We believe tacos are our future.
For too long, the burrito has ruled supreme over the world of Tex-Mex, at least since Chipotle’s tentacles spread across the United States with the promise of a mainstream Mission-style burrito. But now the burrito’s reign is coming to an end – if Torchy’s Tacos has anything to say about it.
The taco chain started in a trailer in Austin, Texas, in 2006. Since then it has grown a cult following and expanded to more than 50 locations.
Toppling “big burrito,” however, will require more than some Texan pride. Torchy’s needs to back its heady expansion goals with food that lives up to its enviable reputation.
We visited a Torchy’s location in Dallas to see whether the chain lived up to the hype. What we found was a chain that could transform the Tex-Mex landscape forever:
We arrived at Torchy’s near Southern Methodist University — a prime location for a chain built for hungry students seeking some reasonably priced tacos.
We were initially stuck with indecision while trying to take in the long list of tacos. Torchy’s serves 20 traditional tacos plus breakfast tacos, sides, and a handful of other entrées. And there’s a full bar — clink, clink!
Before noon, the restaurant was already packed. Hungover college students were inhaling tacos alongside families and World Cup fans sipping beers.
The decor is devilishly cheeky. Torchy’s branding has a sassy satanic — but playful! — vibe that is definitely an upgrade compared with that of many fast-food chains.
After we placed our order at the counter, our food arrived at the table surprisingly swiftly. With tacos costing about $US4 and a margarita costing $US6, this spread cost us roughly $US40 before tax and tip.
We’d heard whispers about Torchy’s sumptuous queso. And when we were presented with the green-chile queso topped with cilantro, diablo sauce, and cotija cheese, we discovered ourselves face-to-face with one of the best quesos we had ever experienced.
Chipotle, take note: This is how you make a queso. The consistency is velvety and smooth. There’s a rich savoury heat from the diablo sauce, which urges diners to gorge themselves without fear of burning out one’s taste buds. In fact, we found we could not stop gorging — even as we were increasingly stuffed, we kept returning for one more dip.
We were unsure about what to expect with the street corn, which was served in a bowl with ancho aioli, cotija cheese, cilantro, and red chilli powder. What we found was a masterfully balanced dish. The sweet corn perfectly countered the smoky spice of the aioli and chilli powder, and it harmonized into a creation that was more than the sum of its parts.
On to the main event: the tacos. Torchy’s serves breakfast tacos all day, so we figured we needed to try The Wrangler, a brisket taco with eggs, potatoes, and cheese. It’s a delightful breakfast taco that does pretty much what it says on the menu: combines tasty breakfast food and stuffs it in a tortilla.
This hulking beast — the Trailer Park — featured a moist yet massive hunk of expertly fried chicken. The chicken could have stood alone at most restaurants, but here it was accompanied by cheese, chillis, lettuce, and pico de gallo in a tortilla that couldn’t even try to envelop the meat.
The Baja Shrimp Taco demonstrates one of Torchy’s strengths: combining a diverse and sometimes unexpected mix of ingredients to craft a perfect taco without falling into stunt food traps. This taco combines fried shrimp, cabbage slaw, and pickled onions and jalapeños. Simply put, it was great.
As someone who knows a thing or two about catfishing, we can say this taco is more than what meets the eye. Catfish on a taco is an unexpected choice, but it’s a great Southern Tex-Mex twist that works. The fish was well cooked, crisply fried, and flaky on the inside. All the ingredients were incredibly fresh — something a lesser chain may have ignored — including the glorious avocado sauce.
The Republican’s name intrigued us, but this is a taco that can win bipartisan support. Again, Torchy’s shows its variety with a grilled jalapeño sausage, pico de gallo, and grated cheese. It’s hearty and spicy — a heavier taco that is incredibly filling and incredibly satisfying.
Chipotle should also be taking notes on Torchy’s $US6 margarita. This is no premixed, plastic-cup gutter swill; it’s an honest-to-goodness quality marg, available frozen or on the rocks and in multiple flavours. It was well mixed and strong, neither too tequila-forward nor too sweet.
We couldn’t stop marveling at the wonders of Torchy’s as we plowed ahead through our tasting. There was simply so much food, and it was all delicious. We weren’t disappointed by a thing, except that there is not one in New York City.
Luckily, Torchy’s says it is growing. The Texas chain already has locations in Oklahoma and Colorado, and its website promises “Our fire is expanding!” Watch out, Chipotle.
- Read more in our Retailer of the Year series:
- Applebee’s went from being killed by millennial diners to making the biggest comeback in the restaurant business
- Abercrombie removed its shirtless models and turned up the lights in stores, leading to the biggest retail comeback of the year
- Taco Bell’s nacho fries were the best new fast-food menu item to debut this year
- Amazon’s likely multimillion-dollar disaster on Prime Day proved it’s not immune from embarrassment
- These are the brands that blew up in 2018
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