Photo by Lee Chastain

I’m starting to feel that a swath of the bars and restaurants in the West 7th district are filled with the kind of dudes who think wearing an Ed Hardy shirt that covers their barbed wire tattoos qualifies as “dressed up.”

It seems like every week there’s a new restaurant or bar that caters to the Affliction-clad hordes –– and it’s not like the food or drinks are bad at these places. There’s just something about them that attracts bros and the women who love them. Tortaco (910 Currie St, 682-990-0735) is the perfect example of the sort of eatery I’m thinking of. The food on my recent lunch visit was flavorful, very reasonably priced, and well presented. Though the clientele that day wasn’t exactly vintage West 7th bros and babes, the dining room and bar sure looked the part.

The first thing that stood out was the loud metal music blaring overhead. Don’t get me wrong, I love hearing “Hells Bells” cranked up to 11 as much as the next person, but not when I’m having to yell over Brian Johnson’s scorched-earth screaming to chat with my guest. The décor is industrial macho, with a motorcycle near the entrance meant for straddling, a tattoo chair, vintage-looking fixtureless light bulbs hanging over the tables, and pictures of motorcycles and engines on the attractive brick walls. Even the place’s logo looks like it was written in tattoo font. The vibe feels like the Firebird Restaurant group that owns the place (El Fenix, MesoMaya, Snuffer’s) is going through a mid-life crisis.

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The menu is chef-driven, mostly scratch-made upscale Mexican cuisine, and the bar has 456,981 varieties of mescal. Our server spent what seemed like an eternity explaining the concept and menu, which I found a little much, but I appreciated his enthusiasm nonetheless. Besides that, service was prompt and pleasant.

Both of the appetizers I sampled were superb. The roasted cauliflower ($4) was drenched in sharp Vermont cheddar, cream of cauliflower soup, and covered in crunchy Panko breadcrumbs. The jalapeño mac ’n’ cheese ($4) was rich and piquant, with a wood-fired Parmesan crust that gave the macaroni a nice crunch.

My entrée of roasted chicken torta ($6) was spilling over with tender pulled breast meat, roasted poblanos, a fierce jalapeño aioli, fresh-tasting sliced avocado, tomatoes, wild baby arugula, and Tillamook cheddar cheese. The bang-for-buck on this sandwich was outstanding. My guest’s Diablo Shrimp bowl ($8) was sneaky hot from the “Diablo broth,” Serrano jasmine rice, and sliced garlic. The plump pacific white shrimp were sautéed perfectly.

I pick on the Mc7th area a lot in this space, but the douche factor just keeps getting worse. I think if there weren’t honest-to-goodness cool places to go in the development (Fred’s, Thirteen Pies, Rodeo Goat), I could at least be grateful that the district acts as a barrier between restaurants I like and people I don’t –– like the Swiss Alps keeping barbarians out of Rome.

The area has an image problem, at least for adults who would rather share bottles of wine than body shots. But is it really a problem if people keep showing up by the jacked-up truck-full? I guess those folks need something to do in between sets of squats.