Taco Asylum fits perfectly in the middle of The Camp. It’s hip, vibey, very happening and gets really busy during lunch time. I like to always wait a little while after a restaurant has opened before trying it out and even if I am invited to a preview, which I was, but wasn’t able to attend, I like to return at a later date to give it another try before deciding whether I like it or not.
In the case of Taco Asylum, I waited several weeks before hitting it up with Holly Wong of Seeking Delicious and Priscilla Willis of She’s Cookin. Holly was here for the preview but like me, Priscilla missed it and was eager to try.
We decided to order all of the tacos on the menu and ended up with a flight, which includes 8 of the 9 tacos on the menu sans the Ghost Chili Pork. We ordered that one separately. The regular tacos are all $5 each and larger than your street tacos, while the flight ($18) features your “street-taco” size, smaller tacos which are easily devoured in 2-3 bites.
The menu is simple. There are 9 tacos to choose from and that’s it. No muss no fuss. Here’s a rundown of the selections from my first visit:
Grilled Octopus — nicely flavored octopus tentacles are encased in the taco with Kalamata olives, fresh oregano, feta and diced tomatoes. Of all the tacos, this was definitely my favorite. It was seasoned well and the Greek flavors blended well together.
Pork Belly was on the dry side, flavor-wise it was lost in the carrots, daikon, onions and cilantro topping. This was just a so-so taco for me.
Short Rib was also on the dry side and didn’t taste much different to the pork belly. Pickled red onion, salsa verde, cotija cheese and cilantro were the accompaniments — I liked the pickled red onion a lot, but found the meat didn’t stand out on its own enough.
Curried Paneer — I am not a fan of paneer (Indian cheese) so I don’t think it is fair for me to judge this taco. Served with raita (yogurt sauce) and tomato chutney, I did not like the texture nor the sweet taste of this pairing.
Wild mushroom was definitely the other star of the bunch. Chickpea puree, parsley salad and fried chickpeas to give it an added textural dimension, I thoroughly enjoyed this taco! The mushrooms were very flavorful and well seasoned.
Lamb with olive tapenade and ratatouille sounded like it would work, and it would’ve had the lamb been more flavorful. It was really strange that all the meats so far were dry and didn’t have its own distinctive taste. The mache gave it a nice refreshing contrast.
I was really looking forward to trying the Duck with camembert, Dijon creme fraiche and topped with purple Peruvian potato chips. I have found that all the tacos include a good texturally contrasting component in its ingredients, but the star of the taco — the meat — seems to just disappear somehow. The duck did not have that richness I was expecting and again, it was dry. The distinctive flavor of duck was lost somewhere, somehow, making it so easily forgotten.
Holly raved about the Corazon (beef heart) which she had tasted at the preview but unfortunately, when we tried it, the confit beef heart was intensely dry (what’s up with all the proteins being DRY!?!?) and chewy. Even the pickled turnips and harisa couldn’t rescue this one.
The one taco not available in the flight is the Ghost Chili Pork, and understandably so. Not everyone can brave the heat which ghost chilis can often pack. I have a very high tolerance for spicy foods and on the first visit, I barely detected much heat on my taco.
The pork is braised — again, VERY dry — and topped with strands of chili threads and pork crackling. I loved the crunchiness of the chicharron in this taco, but the dryness of the meat just made it an unpleasant eating experience. I doused the taco with the ghost chili hot sauce (there are three to choose from) and it gave it a little more heat and added some moisture to the dry taco.
So we walked away from this visit feeling rather underwhelmed. I was determined to try it again just to be fair and went back again 2 weeks later with some other friends.
This time I tried the ghost chili pork again which had a slightly better heat, but the meat was still dry. I ended up using some of the ghost chili sauce to give it a little more spice, as well as “moisten” it up a bit.
I also gave the Corazon another go but it was worse than I remembered. At least the first time it was seasoned but this time, it was tasteless AND chewy/dry.
I understand that the quality of ingredients is top-notch and the concept is highly innovative. Who can argue that it’s a great idea? I am also not opposed to paying $5/taco, given it is something that will completely blow me away, a tastebud orgasm if you will. That didn’t happen here. Not on the first visit, and not on the second visit. Maybe three times a charm? Perhaps! But I think I’ll wait a little while before doing that.