When I first saw the plywood-covered construction site with the words “Vinyl Taco coming soon” emblazoned on it I was both confused and excited. Excited because I am always up for some good tacos (and I wouldn’t be disappointed), confused because my mind didn’t compute why you would use “vinyl” as an adjective for a consumable food product such as a taco. But like any clever story, all would be revealed in time.
Vinyl Taco is located at 520 1st Ave. N. It is the brainchild of Warren Ackley and brothers Randy and Lance Thorson. Located next to JL Beers and across the street from the HoDo, the addition of Vinyl Taco makes this location the coolest, hippest culinary corner in town. Vinyl Taco completes the trifecta with imaginative, clever design, a great atmosphere and well-prepared food, making it a cool place to hang out.
The interior design team brought an artistic element to what was previously a drab, lifeless space. Spectacular mosaics of musicians Jimi Hendrix (I want one for my house) and Johnny Cash by local artist Rando caught my eye immediately, and there is even more art to appreciate. The room is dominated by a very large, rectangular bar with an equally dominate bison perched on top that discretely hides the one TV. Here is where the “vinyl” comes in: Behind the bar, dual turntables spin classic LPs, and the good music and excellent sound system drive the cool vibe.
The room is ringed with an assortment of high-top tables and booths. The bar takes up much of the room, giving the booths and high-tops a cozy kind of feeling. I can’t say if it was planned or not, but the bartenders seem to have more room to move than the servers and customers, which adds to the cozy feel on our side of the bar. There are a couple of intimate booths for two and several larger ones in the back. High-tops cling to the walls of the room and Rondo’s colorful tables line the garage door-lined front. When warmer weather returns, the garage door goes up, opening the restaurant to the sidewalk.
This is not a beans-and-rice Mexican restaurant; the focus here is on tacos. The menu presentation for drinks and food is clever and puts the guest in control of the ordering. It’s a grazing menu with price points conducive to sampling a variety of tastes and flavors. This is food-truck food in a brick-and-mortar environment, which is clever and ironic at the same time since chefs restricted by the high costs of opening restaurants drove the food-truck invasion and now here it is, inside out.
The five starters and 11 taco choices are presented on a card you use to order by checking your choice and quantity. You can also tailor your order by scratching off listed ingredients. We started things off with some queso fundido a la tequila, a bubbling dish of gooey cheeses with tomato, jalapeno and cilantro served with tortillas and corn chips. It was warm and satisfying with a mild cheese flavor and tequila kick on the back end that hit the spot.
The tacos are small, so plan on trying a few. Each taco is served in its own little cardboard boat lined with waxed paper. There are extra sauces available if desired. I would recommend tasting first as the flavorings and seasonings are pretty much on the money. The brunette went with two: carne asada and the chicken and chorizo. I dove in for three: barbacoa, grilled shrimp and the pork belly “agridulce,” loosely translated as “bittersweet.” I went back the next day for the BBQ pork, crispy fish and chicken “tigna” — chicken seasoned with smoky, chipotle chilies.
Each taco has its own garnishes, like traditional cilantro, queso fresco, pico de gallo, red cabbage and radish. Others have modern twists, like Sriracha tartar, fried capers and pineapple pico de gallo. All of the garnishes work well with most of the primary ingredients. The brunette mentioned after trying her tacos that her mouth was burning hot. I didn’t come across this until I had the shrimp taco, and the sensation felt like the numbing heat of habanero. There was no mention of it on the menu, so I had to ask. It turns out the avocado salsa, which here is a smooth puree, is also jacked up with spice — too much so. Normally the mild avocado is used like sour cream or crema to temper the heat, so it was surprising the culprit of the hidden burn was in the avocado.
The kitchen has a state-of-the-art mechanical tortilla maker, but for whatever reason the restaurant makes these small, 3-inch tortillas and uses two per taco. This is problematic when it comes to eating the taco, so make sure you have lots of napkins. Getting the fully loaded taco out of the cardboard boat rolled and ready to eat in one piece is tricky. Three-inch tortillas are for cocktail parties. The tortilla should easily wrap around all the goodness inside so you can hold it and eat without everything falling out. It’s like the difference between spinning vinyl 45s and LPs — you can relax and enjoy the LP.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Vinyl Taco
WHERE: 520 1st Ave. N., Fargo
WHEN: Mon.–Thurs., 4 p.m.–midnight
Fri. and Sat., 11 a.m.–2 a.m.
INFO: 21+, (701) 365-8226
November 7th 2018
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