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Tacos & Avocados serves what the name says, but it's not as simple as it seems

A change comes to Roanoke's restaurant row, wrapped in a tortilla and served with a margarita

10/25/2012 12:49 PM

11/01/2012 12:08 PM

Tacos & Avocados surely wins the prize for truth in advertising. Tacos and avocados are what's served at this new concept in the old Cowboy Chow space in Roanoke.

It's a pity about Cowboy Chow; chef-owner Jason Boso's combination of Southwest and home cooking was good and unique, but it got lost on Roanoke's ever-busy dining strip. So Boso repurposed the place into an upscale taqueria, in the mold of Velvet Taco in Dallas and the Rusty Taco chain, but with jazzy guacamoles and margaritas.

There's about a dozen tacos, mostly $3, filled with gourmet goods such as blue cheese, molé sauce and onion-bacon marmalade. The tacos are generous without being unwieldy. A big appetite could handle three tacos, but for most people, two probably suffice.

Fanciest was the pepper-crusted rib-eye ($4) with onion-bacon marmalade and crumbled blue cheese in a flour tortilla. The steak was cut into rectangular strips and cooked to medium-well with browned edges. This packed a lot of flavor, with the blue cheese adding a rich tang and the marmalade bringing on some sweet-and-smoky flavor. The taco was described as having "sweet potato hash," but it was more like waffle fries -- thick ribbons, crisp on the edge.

A fried chicken taco ($3) paired chicken nuggets with red pepper sauce, blue cheese and carrot shreds in a flour tortilla -- a combination recognizable to anyone who likes Buffalo chicken wings. The familiarity of the flavors made it one of our favorites, but this taco earned points for execution, too: The chicken tenders had a crunchy crust, and the blue cheese was laid on in sufficient quantity to add some bite.

Carnitas verde ($3) had chunks of soft pork, extra-moist, with tart tomatillo, roasted corn, cotija cheese and a thin slice of avocado as garnish. Three little pigs ($3) was a nod to the pork-obsessed tastes of the current foodie, with three pork products -- carnitas, chorizo and bacon -- combined with pickled red onion and grilled Fresno peppers. The fresh catch ($3) came on a corn tortilla, true to form for a classic fish taco. Strips of tilapia were topped with coleslaw, corn salsa and crumbled white cheese.

Cowboy Chow's legacy could be seen in three taco options with brisket, the restaurant's signature ingredient. The original brisket ($3) was juicy with a residual fattiness. Its simple adornment of salsa and Jack cheese kept the focus on the meat. For a brighter flavor combo, you could get it with onion-bacon marmalade and pickled jalapeño ($3). The third brisket option, the most expensive at $5, was made with bison brisket, its edges extra-dark and almost austere in its lean nonfattiness.

The only veggie taco ($3) had strips of crusty fried avocado -- the same fried avocado you can get as a side order of avocado fries ($3). T&A could easily increase its veggie selection by featuring one with corn salsa and sweet-potato hash.

Guacamole ($2.50) came with options such as grilled peppers, pepitas and pineapple chunks. You can also get it in an odd half-and-half version ($3.50), combined with queso. But the chips were frustrating: too paper-thin to be able to scoop anything without snapping in half.

We quelled our chip anxiety with $4 margaritas, which you can bolster with a range of flavor additives, from watermelon to mango to "spicy Mexican pepper," which added a jolt of heat.

Tacos & Avocados has a fast-casual format: You order at the counter and get beeped when your food is ready. It has the same funky vibe as Cowboy Chow, with classic rock on the sound system, but the walls have been painted with bright colors and images of paletas (frozen fruit bars) and Mexican wrestling. Outside, there are new neon letters blazing "tacos" on the marquee -- hoping for better box office than the last.

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