Regardless what you think of the name, the new Cartel Taco Bar has one great taco.
The blackened-chicken-bacon-mac-and-cheese taco is a work of taco genius, and makes it worth the venture to Arlington’s East Front Street and the Urban Union bar district.
In a flour tortilla, Cartel Taco comes up with a combination reminiscent of those at Velvet Taco.
The blackened chicken brings plenty of spice on top of the smoked 5-pepper mac-and-cheese.
For $4.25, it’s the top-of-the-line taco on chef Paul Checkeye’s menu that also includes a fried-chicken-bacon-blue-cheese taco, a barbacoa-ghost-pepper-sauce taco and seven other premium choices on 6-inch tortillas.
There’s also a menu of smaller street tacos, including not only fajitas or fish but also rotisserie chicken and smoked salmon. They’re $1 on Wednesdays.
The side dishes are creative: pepper Jack cheese sticks coated with crushed corn chips, spicy fried green beans, a “taco soup” and salsa-verde quesadillas or nachos.
The chips come not only with queso but also with pork rinds fried and cracklin’ fresh. If you love pork rinds that come to the table crackling, this is your place.
Besides the ill-considered name — Grease Monkey Burger Shop owner Greg Gardner says it’s from his band, the Texas Cartel — Cartel Taco Bar suffers from one other lack of taco-shop credibility.
The only hot sauces in the dining room are Cholula and Tabasco. There’s no El Yucateco or even Valentino, and no complimentary salsas with the tacos.
The taco shop complements other Urban Union restaurants such as the smash hit Tipsy Oak burger patio.