**NOTE** written by Ellen, the unofficial donut queen of Louisville and now frequent guest poster.
Welcome to the East Market District. The surge of creative entrepreneurs and hipster consumers has refurbished the area, dubbed NuLu. For weeks (probably months) I kept saying “What the hell is NuLu?” Well, as you can tell, I finally figured it out and have many positive opinions on the area so far. It is astounding to see our generation breathing new life into fallen sections of this odd and exciting city. I have dined at several East Market spots, but Taco Punk has always been foremost on my list. Maybe it was the name. Maybe it was the smell of cilantro in my dreams. Maybe I just like tacos too much. Whatever the reason, I chose to venture in around eight o’clock on a Monday night with my lovable companion, Clay Baker.
At first glance, the place itself is pretty, with draped fabrics on the ceiling and wrought iron gates ornately surrounding the patio seating. The rest is poorly set with pictures and menu item descriptions attached to the walls in thumb-tack or paste-style (some even falling off). You get the feeling of a Feng Shui gone wrong.
We decided to get one Punk Platter each which included two tacos, tortilla chips (in a portion that could be replicated by an eight year olds tiny hand full), and a side of choice. There are several regular topping to choose from without added cost: limes, cabbage, cilantro, jalapenos, and pickled red onion. The salsas and drinks are self-served.
We had to wait an exorbitant amount of time to order, but we could not bring ourselves to be frustrated when the wait meant fresh corn tortillas. I chose the Smoked Chicken Mole and the Americano (ground beef and spicy tomato sauce) with a side of Sofrito black beans and water. Clay Baker got the Grilled Adobe Chicken and the Pineapple Pork with a side of rice/black beans and a mexi-cola. After giving me the wrong side, I decided to pay extra for the mistaken guacamole (a choice that proved to be very smart in hindsight). My order was under $10, but Clay Baker’s tab was a rather disappointing $12-13. The cost would not have been an issue if the food had matched it in flavor.
Taco Punk uses grass-fed, sustainable, and etc. etc. great ingredients… but all of those amazing flavors are lost in the food which Clay Baker referred to as “the most mediocre taco of my life.” Don’t get me wrong, the food wasn’t bad, but it definitely wasn’t good either. The salsas were inadequate with the exception of the Mild Roja. The meats were always dry and the flavors all together were more awkward than my first kiss. You could tell that the great, fresh meats were in there, but you couldn’t glean much more. The flavors seemed to be lost in translation.
The Smoked Chicken and Pineapple Pork tacos were decent but dry and lacking. They were just tacos, nothing memorable (like maybe Holy Mole tacos). The Americano was like a lump of mom’s meat spaghetti sauce in my mouth, but without the savoy and spicy seasonings that make it so special. Clay Baker’s first remark after his initial bite was “don’t get the Adobe.” I did not press him for reasoning. The bean sides were banal and undercooked. The last straw came when I tried a pickled red onion by itself. To be defined as pickled, the object in question must be brined with salt and/or soaked in vinegar; this typically takes some time for the object to rest and…… pickle. I can only assume that these onions received the bare minimum (or even less) of attention when it underwent its flawed pickling process. They were limp, un-pickled slices that barely held on to their red onion timbre. By this point we were depressed after experiencing such utter disappointment. We put aside the leftovers, too appalled to continue and took solace in the few positives of the meal. The warm, thick, earthy taste of the corn tortillas shells and the rich, chunky taste of the guacamole were two items we found worthy of praise.
Some people may disagree with this review, but I only hope that you ask yourselves: Is this the best taco I’ve had? Taco Punk felt like a Moe’s Southwest but with steeper prices. I’d rather get delicious burritos that actually stay true to the flavors of the ingredients at Qdoba. I’d even be willing to pay a bit more at Qdoba if they offered the grass-fed, sustainable quality that Taco Punk boasts. Overall, Taco Punk was a disappointment. The food was mediocre at best and I don’t plan on returning.