TNT Diner

New taco bar offers long happy hour, cheap cocktails and 20 kinds of tacos

On the left, a happy hour-sized barbacoa taco with beef brisket. On the right is a happy hour al pastor taco with grilled pork.
On the left, a happy hour-sized barbacoa taco with beef brisket. On the right is a happy hour al pastor taco with grilled pork. skidd@thenewstribune.com

Sixth Avenue already is a destination for happy hour, but El Borracho’s opening Thursday gave the Tacoma neighborhood even more happy-hour game.

The original Seattle-based El Borracho opened in Pike Place Market in 2012 and in Ballard in 2014.

Happy hour is popular at their Seattle restaurants. I predict Tacoma will follow.

A half dozen tacos are around $1 each, and happy hour runs twice a day. The first happy hour runs until 7 p.m., a welcome departure from the typical Tacoma happy hour, which ends at 6 p.m.

Co-owners Kittie Davidovich and Adam Pomerleau are partners in business and life.

Pomerleau is the chef while Davidovich manages restaurant operations. The menu reflects both their dietary sensibilities. Pomerleau is an omnivore while Davidovich is a longtime vegan. The menu appeals to both styles of dining, much like the restaurant that was in that space before, Marrow.

Davidovich describes the concept succinctly, “basically a taco bus with a bar.” Only diners 21 and older are allowed.

Here’s a first-bite report. It’s this paper’s policy to avoid criticism of food and service in a restaurant’s first month.

Happy hour deals: 4-7 p.m. weekdays. Late-night happy hour (food only) from 11 p.m.-1 a.m. daily. Steep taco discounts, with a half dozen priced $1.10 each and another three at $2.10. Chips and salsa are $1.23, or $3.93 with guacamole. House margaritas are a buck off and draft beers and well cocktails are $4.

Fine print: They’ve got rules. At happy hour, multiple payments from a table are accepted, but no separate checks allowed. Beverage purchase required. No to-go orders allowed.

Regular menu: About 20 kinds of tacos with several noteworthy focuses. One is unusual meats, such as rabbit, goat, lamb and duck. The other is vegan-focused tacos (that also come vegetarian style). The restaurant also should become known for its slow-cooked meats: carnitas, beef brisket (barbacoa), duck carnitas and lamb, among others. This taco bar takes low-and-slow braising seriously.

Taco pricing: $3.19 to $3.59 for classic tacos, which includes carnitas, al pastor, chorizo and potatoes, shredded chicken, brisket, roasted pork shoulder (cochinitas pibil), poblano-potato (with a vegan option) and meatless chorizo (available vegan). Deluxe tacos are $3.69 to $4.39 and include shredded duck carnitas, pork with Oaxacan red chile garlic sauce, lengua (beef tongue), slow-roasted goat, beef cheeks, shredded rabbit, braised lamb, shrimp, blackened cod, vegetarian mushroom (available vegan).

Make it a burrito: Any taco above can become a burrito made with a flour tortilla. A choice of refried or black beans or red rice or green rice included, plus cheese and cabbage pico de gallo. $9.25 to $12.30 each. Add “wet style” sauce for $1.30. Three vegan burrito options offered.

Rest of menu: Nachos (vegan or meat, $10.29 to $13.58). Quesadillas ($10.29 to $13.58). Enchiladas ($12.30), pozole rojo ($5.49 cup/$8.49 bowl), salad ($5.20 to $10.33).

Dining room: The footprint shifted slightly with the removal of the half wall at the entrance during Marrow’s tenure, but the bar is in the same spot at the back. All but two of the tables are high-tops. Low-top tables for four are at the front by the windows. The decor is just as Davidovich promised, “the feel and look of a Mexican courtyard.”

Hot sauce cart: A serve-yourself tub filled with squeeze bottles of hot sauce and salsas.

Those tacos: Happy hour tacos were about half the size of the full-size tacos from the regular menu.

Slow-cooked meats are their specialty and they arrived tucked into warm, housemade corn tortillas. Carnitas tasted sweet-and-spicy after a long braise in Coca Cola and the taco was simply dressed with cilantro and onions. Barbacoa was juicier than I expected for a brisket taco, with a bite of ancho chile, also simply topped.

Grilled pork, al pastor style, carried light spice and was topped with fresh slivers of pineapple, plus cilantro and onions. Duck carnitas were deeply spiced with a brilliant accompaniment for cutting the richness of the duck meat — pickled red onions, plus cabbage pico de gallo and queso fresco. Those same red onions and pico cut the richness of the shredded pork taco with a Oaxacan chile-garlic sauce.

The potato-poblano vegetarian tacos topped with chopped tomato, onion and cilantro, carried more spice than any of the meat offerings. The mushroom taco, with an assortment of sauteed mushrooms, pico and crema, was the best version of a mushroom taco I’ve ever encountered. (Those last two also come in vegan versions).

Worth noting: The tacos were dressed beyond the usual cilantro and chopped onion toppers most taquerias serve. Different cheeses, sauces, crema and pickled vegetables topped each taco, depending on the meat or vegetable used. A-plus for a variety of flavors and textures.

Those tortillas: Handmade, pronounced corn flavor, delicious.

The booze: The $4 El Cheapo (that’s the price anytime) was just as described, a boozy tap margarita with Jose Cuervo, fresh lemon and lime juices, triple sec and served with a salt rim (not blended, but that option may be offered in the future).

Also, seven more margaritas that included tamarind, pineapple-jalapeno, coconut, hibiscus, cucumber and habanero versions ($8.50 to $10). Order the ultra spicy pineapple-jalapeno margarita with blanco tequila house infused with pineapple and jalapeno, fresh muddled pineapple, lemon and lime juices, agave syrup and served on the rocks with a chile-salt rim ($8.75).

Tequila list: One-page list of 60-plus premium tequilas-by-the-shot, including blanco ($7.50 to $13.50), reposado ($8 to $15), anejo ($10 to $15) and mezcal ($9 to$14). Other premium spirits, plus beer and wine.

No booze: Horchata, jamaica, tamarindo agua frescas over ice ($2.70).

El Borracho Tacoma

Where: 2717 Sixth Ave., Tacoma

Hour: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily

Note: 21 and older only

Contact: 253-314-5286; elborrachoseattle.com.

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