Here’s one thing you might not like about Bartaco, the shrub-screened hideaway in Preston Center next to Flying Fish on Luther Lane: Chips and Salsa are not gratis, you must pay for them.
It’s a bold move to require Texans to pay for what many of us feel is our God-given right to have immediately upon sitting down at a Mexican restaurant. But here you pay, and I think that is the ONLY thing you won’t like about Bartaco.
“Some people think our name is ‘Barta-Co,’” a manager recently told me, which I thought was funny enough to spew a mouthful of a Paloma Fresca down my chin. It’s bar-taco and it’s a concept that originated in New York (which might explain the charge for chips and salsa) and currently owned by the Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group, which recently announced its sale to a private equity firm with a large portfolio of restaurants. The Preston Center location is one of two in Texas, the other in Ft. Worth.
The menu is divided into sections: tacos, not tacos, rice bowls, sides, and desserts. The taco options are robust, 13 choices including a Baja fish taco, carnitas, and a roasted duck taco.
The Baja fish taco is excellent, the fish tastes fresh and is nicely crisped in a gently spicy tempura batter and softened with slaw. The pork carnitas is another winner, with plenty of tender, flavorful pork and cilantro.
If you chose not to order their salsa and chips, they offer complimentary sauces on each table; a green jalapeno, a roja, and a habanero. The tacos taste great on their own and the sauces are all a bit too vinegary for my taste, but they are nice amenities.
Tacos are priced between $2.50 and $3.50 per which is quite reasonable considering the quality of ingredients.
Not tacos menu items include salsa, chips and guacamole starters but there is no queso on the menu, I repeat, no queso. That’s okay, though, Bartaco seems lighter and fresher than many of my south-of-the-border favorites so I don’t really miss it.
There are several soups including a chilled gazpacho and a nice, light chicken soup. Other items here include salads, a quesadilla, a baked empanada and even half of a roasted chicken, which is kind of random but a smart addition to appeasing non-taco eaters. Sides include lighter takes on rice and beans, including steamed brown rice and black beans with sofrito, pineapple chunks with lime, Asian slaw, and a light cucumber salad.
I post a lot of photos of alcoholic beverages on my Instagram account, KickshawPapers, but that doesn’t mean I drink them all. I have to say, though, that I’ve had almost every cocktail at Bartaco and they are some of the best and most photogenic I’ve had.
A hefty manual juicer sits on the bar with limes, oranges, and lemons nearby waiting for their turn to whet someone’s whistle. Fresh citrus makes all the difference in a drink and Bartaco’s margaritas and other citrus-based drinks prove it.
Standouts are the Bartaco Margarita with Joven tequila, fresh lime juice, agave nectar, and triple-sec and the Reviver, what I now call “summer in a glass,” with gin, cucumber, mint, mango nectar, and lime.
Kids and teetotalers can enjoy a selection of fun, fresh juice-based drinks such as the Sunset with pineapple and orange juices and a splash of grenadine and the Nojito, mint and lime juice mixed with club soda.
Bartaco is a pretty restaurant all the way around. They were going for a beachy taco-hut vibe and I think they got it right.
The outdoor patio is portioned from the sidewalk with planter boxes filled with shrubs and accented with wooden beams. There are plenty of ceiling fans on the patio which makes it actually tolerable on a hot summer day.
The interior is light and bright, outfitted with wooden tables and white chairs with light fixtures that look like wicker fruit baskets turned upside down allowing warm beams light to escape but not blind you. There is a semi-private room to the right of the front door that’s ideal for larger groups.
Bartaco is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. I totally get the daytime parking issue in Preston Center, but I visited three times, once at lunch and twice at dinner and it wasn’t horrible, and that was before the summer exodus.
Bartaco offers a lunch special is absolutely worth the effort any time of year – the “lunch tray” offers your choice of a rice bowl or three tacos plus a small chopped salad, chicken soup or gazpacho for $11. Y’all, that’s the best deal in town, available during lunchtime Monday through Friday.
Between the restaurant vibe and the drinks, Bartaco reminds me of one of the sexiest samba songs ever, one I reluctantly will use for this chain restaurant: “So Nice (Summer Samba)” by Bebel Gilberto just works for Bartaco. Get yourself to Preston Center, order the seasonal caipirinha and pretend you’re not in Dallas for an hour or so, it will be so nice.