Bartaco, 1701 River Run, Ste 183, FW. 817-663-8226. 11am-12am daily. All major credit cards accepted.
Connecticut isn’t exactly known as a station of the cross for taco lovers. Lobster rolls? Steamed cheeseburgers? White clam pizza? Definitely. But the Barcelona Restaurant Group, which hails from the Nutmeg State and is better known for its tapas lounges, has opened a smattering of Bartaco joints across the country in trendy neighborhoods: Pearl Street in Boulder, Biltmore Avenue in Asheville, and now WestBend in Fort Worth.
Bartaco isn’t exactly authentic Mexican fare. The newly opened eatery’s chilled-out seaside vibe calls to mind the beach cultures of SoCal, Uruguay, and Brazil. The kitchen’s easygoing street-style cuisine has a Latin soul with a strong American accent.
My guest and I arrived at the crack of lunch on a 100-degree day and laughed at the idea of patio dining before snagging a booth inside. Bartaco claims to evoke a “stylish beach resort,” but it felt more like an expat’s cozy coastal home with shelves of English-language books, vintage globes, and more wicker than a Pier 1 storage warehouse.
Shiny silver hand-juicers stood ready for a squeeze on the giant wooden bar that man-spreads in the middle of the restaurant. Hefty basket lights hang between white shiplap walls, a breezy contrast with the bushels of color-popping limes, lemons, and oranges situated on the bar. It was easy to picture the place turning into a Trinity River Margaritaville on weekend nights.
We dived right in with velvety guacamole and two salsas, a green tomatillo relish and a punchy, pineapple-based red. The fried plantains delivered an uppercut of deep chile pepper with a soupçon of sweetness, an eager match for its accompanying sour cilantro dipping sauce. I ate every bit and would order them again.
The ceviche appeared at the same time as our tacos. An abundance of leafy cilantro and onions lorded over chunks of lime-pickled fish. I would have liked it more had I not been distract-
The tacos! Oh, the tacos. Each filled with gleaming cubes of candied pork belly, ruby-red slices of tuna, shredded rib-eye, or spicy Argentinean sausage, the street-style tacos were small, with thin corn tortillas, and our server recommended three to four for each person. I ate five. Service was perfect besides the ceviche snafu — attentive but never annoying. Two different managers stopped by our table to check in.
Our hands-down favorite taco was the caramelized pork belly, topped simply with pickled onions, cilantro, and a splash of lime. The Mojo pork carnitas tacos disappeared in a flash, followed by the crispy rock shrimp tacos doused with a slug of hot sauce that was preset on the table.
The shredded duck taco’s tamarind glaze imparted a fantastic sweet-but-not-cloying flavor. A tangy tzatziki added a much-needed creamy citrus kick to the falafel taco. The tuna tatako toyed with the edge of too much soy, Thai basil, and a potent ancho crust –– but its lettuce shell calmed down the riot inside.
Bartaco’s menu lists tacos only by their proteins, forcing curious types like myself to ask the server what’s inside. But you can ask only so many questions before you start feeling like an ass. When my guest received a rib-eye taco dosed with teeth-kicking kimchi, he was not impressed. He attempted, to no avail, to trade half of it for my pork belly taco. If you’re interested in specific ingredients, you’ll find a more detailed menu online.
Alongside the seductive tacos, the stewed black beans were competent if bland, but the pungent cotija-encased corn with pineapple tasted sweet as a kiss. Not as sweet as the key lime pie in a jar, however, or the fresh-from-the-fryer churros. I savored each cinnamon wand in the warm chocolate sauce with delight.
My citrusy sangria broke through the richness of the meal with a push of tequila that could have been a shove, but its flavor was pure vacation. All of a sudden, I was no longer on the Trinity River but lost in a daydream on a beach somewhere in Brazil – or maybe Connecticut.
Mojo pork carnitas taco $2.50
Falafel taco $2.50
Tuna tatako $3.50
Glazed pork belly taco $3.50
Sesame rib-eye taco $3.50
Roasted duck taco $3.50