Quality, standards and care at Taco Punk are key, but the food just seems average

Taco Punk, Louisville, Kentucky

Taco Punk, Louisville, Kentucky

Restaurant: Taco Punk, Louisville, Kentucky

There is something that is so awesome about your locally owned businesses.  I love going to the local restaurants whenever possible and trying them out.  Especially when they have something that a gluten-free vegetarian can eat.  And, let me tell you, not everywhere is equipped to handle that kind of patron.

I, however, am that patron.  And that is my life…from restaurant to restaurant.

I actually got quite upset with Taco Punk the day I was to go and eat there.  My roomie decided that Taco Punk would be the place to eat before hitting up the Pink concert at the KFC Yum! Center that night.  I mean…Taco…PUNK.  Pink.  Yeah…it just seemed to work.  She had read in our local independent paper, LEO, about how Taco Punk had vegetarian/vegan options, as well as some gluten-free options as well.  Knowing that I wouldn’t have to depend on a protein bar stashed in my purse was a nice plus.

HOWEVER…

This is where Taco Punk fell short.  I pulled up the menu the morning of the show and browsed it, trying to get a feel for my options and what I might be able to try.  Not sure what ingredients went into what, I went ahead and shot them an e-mail via the “CONTACT” button on their Web site.  I explained my dietary needs and the reason I was contacting them…because with a concert to get to, I didn’t want to have to question everything and anyone at the counter prior to the show.  Going in prepared puts me at ease and helps make everything run a bit more smoothly in the end.

But…no response ever came.  No e-mail.  Nothing.  My inquiry was either ignored…or just not important enough to get back to me.  Which, honestly, put a sour taste in my mouth when it came to dining there the night of the show.  Especially since I was running in a road race the following morning and have to be more cautious than normal prior to races about what I eat.  One smidgen of gluten and I could be down for the count, out of the race, and out the money I poured into the race, not to mention the time and energy I put into training for each one.  So, yeah, I bitched rather loudly at my office about not hearing back.  My roommate offered to go somewhere else to eat, but I told her I would just go ahead and now call Taco Punk and see if they could spare a moment to talk to me about my dietary needs.

So, I called.  And a woman answered the phone and very gratiously explained that while the house-made tortillas are not gluten-free, they keep corn tortillas that are on hand.  So any taco could be made with those.  As for vegetarian, they offer a Seasonal Veggie Mole Taco and that the Black Beans they have are vegan.  So…there were some options.  With that taken care of, I hung up and prepared to head out of the office to get some dinner pre-concert.

Taco Punk is a local restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, that offers quick service gourmet tacos.  Yep.  They pride themselves on using only the freshest, highest quality ingredients in their food, to make the dining experience that much more enjoyable and offering only the best flavors.  The tortillas, fillings, salsas and toppings are all made by hand, every day, in their kitchen.  They believe in using locally raised, all natural meats, sustainably caught seafood, and local produce while it is in season.  They also biomass and recycle everything they possibly can.  Which, I find to be exceptionally awesome when all is said and done.  And who doesn’t like a gourmet taco, right?

Upon entering Taco Punk, the first thing I noticed was the set-up.  You are guided toward the back of the shop where a counter is set up, sort of like at Q’doba or Moe’s.  It’s like…Subway done by way of tacos.  I let Cathy order first since I was the oddball gluten-free vegetarian.  Cathy placed her order…deciding to try out one of their Grilled Adobo Chicken Taco ($3.95) as well as Chorizo and Potato Taco ($3.25) with a side of chips and salsa.  The woman at the counter shouted back to the kitchen for the chicken to be cooked up and she went to starting the rest of the order for Cathy, grabbing two of the housemade tortillas and prepping them for the fillings.  Then she took my order.

I decided to go with the two suggestions that are available to me…Gluten-Free Seasonal Veggie Mole Taco ($3.95) and the Gluten-Free Black Beans and Cheese Taco ($3.25).  I just got that with the chips and salsa as well.  The woman called back for the veggie order and then asked another employee to change his gloves and start working on my order.  She explained that they always did a glove change to cut down on cross-contamination, which I totally appreciated and told her so.  He pulled out four of the corn tortillas and put them on the grill behind the counter to warm.  It looked like a separate grill used only for the corn tortillas.  That also put my mind at ease.

Cathy’s order was filled and she got us fountain drinks and went to find somewhere to sit.  There were plenty of places to choose from as the restaurant wasn’t that busy.  My order was filled next, and I had both tacos filled with their main ingredients, then topped off with cabbage, jalapenos, and pickled onions.  It just sounded yummy.  As I was using corn tortillas, they doubled them up so they would hold up to the fillings and proteins.  My chips were added and I was directed over to the salsa bar to choose between their house made salsas.  I’m a spicy salsa girl, but I decided to do a little of their Hot Salsa Roja, which is a hotter version of their tomato salsa; the Pineapple Habenero Salsa, a sweet and spicy combination, and of course, the Salsa Verde, a mix of tomatillos and green chilies.

I tried the salsas first, just in case I wanted to add them to my tacos.  The first one I tried was the Salsa Verde.  And I loved it.  It was definitely mild, but I love the sweetness of salsa verdes anyway, and this one hit the mark.  The next one I tried was the Pineapple Habenero…which I detested.  It was far too sweet for my liking.  So this one just got pushed off to the side.  The Hot Salsa Roja was next.  Very tomato-y in flavor, with an undertone of heat.  It was good.  It was.  I just expected a little more heat with it.  Needless to say, I used them only for tortilla chip dipping and nothing more.

As for the tacos…they were…pretty good.

The first one I decided to eat was the Black Beans and Cheese Taco.  I picked it up, and the weight of the filling was already tearing through both of the corn tortillas that it was wrapped up in.  And, this one wasn’t even that full.  Ah well, that’s why we have forks.  I took a bite…and loved the flavor of the black beans.  The sofrito black beans that they use are flavored really well.  This could be a really bland taco…but it wasn’t.  The cheese was sort of a non-entity.  I couldn’t even tell it was on there.  And I was glad I went with the cabbage for some crunch and the pickled onions for some acidity…and the jalapenos for a little heat.  I think this taco would have suffered without those additions.  While the beans were cooked perfectly and seasoned well, nothing really was a flavor punch to the taste buds.  And, I definitely have made versions of this in my home…and it tasted just as good as what I got here.

The Seasonal Veggie Mole taco, however, I was very excited about.  Mostly because I have made veggie tacos at home, but never in a mole.  And this mole was a pumpkin seed mole.  So, it was even something a little offbeat and different.  Loved that.  This taco was packed full of sauteed seasonal veggies that were swimming in a pumpkin seed mole.  It looked almost like a curry thrown into the corn tortillas.  Smelled like that too.  I was intrigued.  It was definitely different…and in a good way.  I loved how the vegetables were seasoned and how the mole tasted.  But…it wasn’t as enticing as it sounded on the menu board.  I appreciate the effort and the inventiveness of this taco…but it just wasn’t as amazing, to me, as it looked and sounded.

As for what Cathy thought of her tacos…she said they were…okey-dokey.  Which, when I asked her to elaborate, she said that they were good…but nothing that just knocked her over and really made her want to go back in the near future for more.

And, unfortunately, I couldn’t agree more.  I hate to say something like that about a local business.  Espeically one that is having a bit of trouble lately and might be on the verge of closing.  I love my local businesses, I do.  But they have to impress me.  They have to draw me back time and time again.  Most of them succeed.  Sometimes my roommate and I have to decide where to eat on Saturday and/or Sunday because there are so many local places that we enjoy going to and frequenting.  This time, we decided to try somewhere new.  And while I am happy for the experience and appreciate their high standards and food safety…I regret not being as amazed by their food as I was the care they put into making everything.

Would I go back to Taco Punk?  Probably.  But it wouldn’t be at the top of my list, nor would it be somewhere I actively sought out to return to when there are other places I know I enjoy more.

The food wasn’t bad, though.  Don’t get me wrong.  It just wasn’t something that stood up against other local restaurants and their flavors and food and impressed me.  I was okay with what I was eating…but I felt, for the most part, I could just have easily made all of this in the comfort of my own kitchen and had it turn out the same…if not even better.  It was a let down.  And it’s too bad because I’ve been eagerly looking forward to dining at Taco Punk since I first learned of it.  It took me awhile to get there.  And now…it might take awhile to get me back.

If you love tacos and varieties of tacos that you normally can’t get anywhere…I encourage you to at least go in and try some of the offerings from Taco Punk.  They are at least worth a stop and a sample.  And, perhaps I was just there on an off day.

But, if it is any consolation…I still haven’t received a response to my e-mail…and it is two days past the day I sent it now.  And it bothers me, more than a little, that an inquiry about ingredients and their food, went unanswered.

Taco Punk's Black Beans & Cheese Taco and Seasonal Veggie Mole Taco with a side of chips and three house made salsas

Taco Punk’s Black Beans & Cheese Taco and Seasonal Veggie Mole Taco with a side of chips and three house made salsas

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