First Look

Downtown's New Tortaco Wants You To Feel Its Cheesy, Manufactured 'Edginess'

Everybody wants their place to be the next "hot spot."

At a certain point, it all starts to feel a little manufactured. Welcome to downtown Dallas' Tortaco, which opened last week on Ross Avenue in what used to be Stephan Pyles' San Salvaje.

Tortaco, brought to you by the same folks who gave us Meso Maya, wants you to know it's "edgy." You can tell by the black T-shirt staff uniforms and the heavy chains hanging from the three-sided bar's light fixture — and by putting the word "diablo" in front of "shrimp" on the menu. It's not just shrimp. It's devil shrimp, y'all.

According to a press release sent out last week, Tortaco wants to give off the vibe of an "elevated biker bar and tattoo parlor," while also serving as the friendly neighborhood "hipster hangout" in its "industrial chic space." Other choice phrases from the press release: "alternative-minded," "label-defying," "offbeat fusion,""multi-cultural collision" — if their attempt is to look cool, they've already broken the number one rule: Don't try so hard.

The faux biker bar theme is evident in the gas pump water faucet in the men's room, the half-wall motorcycle display that includes a Honda CB 550 and the distressed concrete beneath your feet. It all butts up against a bar featuring 90 mezcal options and a patio with great people-watching potential.

Tortaco wants you to believe its menu is a "multi-cultural collision." You can tell by the collision of the word torta with the word taco in Tortaco's name, and the fact that you can get either filled with everything from kimchi to truffle steak to burnt ends (which aren't really burnt ends at all) to relleno to battered white fish that they're calling "tempura."

That's what the menu is based on, essentially. Your choice of one of their "edgy," "multicultural" fillings, in either torta ($6) or taco ($4) form, with mezcal, cocktails or straight-up, the latter priced by either the sip ($4) or the shot ($7).

Tortaco's most popular filling is the truffle steak, which comes with beef tenderloin, black truffle aioli, tomatoes, caramelized onions that aren't really caramelized, white cheddar, arugula and mushrooms. The "burnt ends" are really shredded brisket, but the meat is nice enough against avocado, white cheddar again and a sweet and tangy "gold sauce."

The bread used for the torta is not the comforting bolillo bread those familiar with tortas will anticipate, as, and you can probably tell by now, Tortaco is not trying to be a traditional Mexican restaurant. Its fusion feel requires something they're calling "fire-toasted artisan bread."

The plantain chips served with every tray are a crunchy and sweet surprise that, though something of an afterthought, really do glue the meal together. This place isn't without redeeming qualities, but in the end it feels as if in their efforts to be everything to everyone, the minds behind Tortaco have forgotten one of the most useful rules in the restaurant business: First, do one thing better than anyone else.

Other than the bar's focus on interesting (and expensive) mezcal cocktails, it's hard to put a finger on what Tortaco is going for, other than a sense of highly manufactured cool. The Fort Worth location, which opened in October in the West 7th district, also throws a weekend brunch into the mix. Maybe Tortaco's "edginess" will prove popular — but if they focused half as much on quality food as they do on being cool, this spot wouldn't have to rely on trendy buzzwords to gain a following.

Tortaco, 2100 Ross Ave.
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Matt Martinez is a DFW-lifer who handles the Observer's editorial social media channels when he's not waxing cynical in our news, food and music verticals. Rest assured, he hates your favorite team. Matt studied journalism at the University of Texas and then again, for some reason, at UNT. He has written for the Austin Chronicle, the Denton Record-Chronicle and currently writes sports for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Contact: Matthew Martinez