Can a Connecticut-based taco joint make it in Fort Worth? Its prez thinks so

A selection of tacos and "non-taco" items at Bartaco. In the top left tray are falafel, chicken pastor and Yucatán redfish tacos; in the center tray are chicken pastor, cauliflower, pork belly and sesame ribeye tacos.
A selection of tacos and "non-taco" items at Bartaco. In the top left tray are falafel, chicken pastor and Yucatán redfish tacos; in the center tray are chicken pastor, cauliflower, pork belly and sesame ribeye tacos.

Fort Worth may be known for steaks, barbecue and burgers, but tacos are a huge part of the scene.

From Fuzzy's Taco Shop, which originated on West Berry Street and now has more than 80 locations around the state and country, to the more traditionalist Salsa Limon, with spots like Taco Heads and Austin-based Torchy's in between — not to mention countless taqueria, taco trucks and fast-food taco joints — this is a taco town.

So when a new chain moves in, it can be greeted with skepticism. Especially when that chain is in Connecticut. But Sabato Sagaria president of Bartaco — which opened its first Texas location this week in the WestBend center off of University Drive — believes Bartaco brings something different to the party.

"I think one of the things people think of when they think 'Bartaco' is, 'Oh, it's Mexican'," Sagaria said during a visit to Fort Worth last week. "[But] we use the tortilla as the canvas, and then from there, it's coastal cuisine. Whether that's South America, whether it's Southern California, whether it's Mexico, it's using flavors that you'd find in street food there. Even Southeast Asia — we have a delicious pork-belly taco that's glazed with pickled red onions. We do have some traditional, but it's definitely not Tex-Mex."

Bartaco serves street-style tacos, family-style; the menu features more than a dozen tacos, which you order by amount (in other words, there's a blank next to each filling, and you pencil in how many you want). Fillings range from spicy chorizo and mojo pork carnitas to veggie options including cauliflower and falafel. There is also a "not tacos" section featuring some expected items (guacamole, salsas, plantains) and some less-expected (blistered shishito peppers, gazpacho). Tacos range from $2.50 to $3.50; sides are $2.50 and other entrees range from $5 to $9.50

Bartaco is based in Norwalk, Conn. (about 50 miles from New York City), and opened its first store in nearby Port Chester, N.Y. — not the first area that comes to mind when you think "tacos."

"No, it isn't," Sagaria says. "But it's that coastal beach vibe ... and how this can be an escape from the day to day in a 'beach shack,' if you will. There's a lot of similarities between this one and our original one in Port Chester, which is right on the water as well."

OK, so Port Chester is on Long Island Sound while Bartaco Fort Worth is on the much narrower Trinity River, with a patio that's adjacent to the Trinity Trails and the river, much like its neighbor, HG Sply Co. The interior has a nautical theme as well as some quirky touches such as a turntable right at the entrance, with a stack of old records that most vinyl junkies will quickly start flipping through.

A bar takes up the center of the interior, with booths around the perimeter and tables in a more open section of the dining room. The walls are lined with photos by Bartaco co-founder Sasa Mahr-Batuz, and if that sounds like self-indulgence, Mahr-Batuz turns out to be a professional-level photographer whose work features locations all around South America, Europe and North America.

Despite Bartaco's Northeast roots, it has a North Texas connection: Jeff Carcara, CEO of Barteca Restaurant Group, has lived in the Fort Worth area (currently in Southlake) for about five years. Yes, Barteca owns Bartaco, and if that's not confusing enough, Irving-based Del Frisco's Restaurant Group recently announced a $325 millon deal to acquire Barteca.

But Sagaria says there are no plans to expand in North Texas just yet.

"Right now, we want to nail this one," he says. "We've been thoughtful with our growth so far. We've been going into a market, understanding that market and how they respond to us, what we're hearing and how we can make sure it's the right fit for that market, before we go saying that we're going to plant flags all over Dallas or Texas."