- Torchy’s Tacos has won over a loyal following in Texas with its top-notch queso and tacos with names like the Republican and the Trailer Park.
- The taco-centric chain’s expansion could cut into the business of “big burrito” – especially as Chipotle struggles to regain its footing.
- We visited Torchy’s to see whether it lived up to its hype and were amazed to find a rare chain that was even better than its cultish fans told us it would be.
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 in Texas 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 paralysed 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 most 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 had 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, that 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 hadn’t been sure 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 range 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 single thing, except for the fact that there is not one in New York City.
Luckily, Torchy’s says it is expanding. The Texas-based chain already has locations in Oklahoma and Colorado, and its website promises “Our fire is expanding!” Watch out, Chipotle.
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