When dining at a Mexican steakhouse, it’s advisable to start with something that could be billed as a Meat Tower.
That would be the Ta Carbonada shareable grilled meat tower at newly opened Ta Carbon Mexican Asadero in Tacoma.
I suspected it would be a terrific introduction to the Mexican steakhouse, a new style of dining in Tacoma.
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The four-level meat extravaganza, $48.99, was described as feeding one to two, which I thought was adorable because clearly it was constructed for the linemen of Stadium High’s football team.
One wood plank on the tall tray offered a broadly pounded chicken breast tinged with grill marks and topped with grilled pineapple, flanking double-stacked short ribs that had me questioning my allegiance to Korean shortribs. It wasn’t until I lifted those magnificent beef ribs that I spotted grilled nopal — cactus — below.
The next plank was crowded with doubled-up swaths of deeply flavorful and fatty-edged carne asada. A smoky chorizo sausage link hung out on top like a jaunty accessory. Roasted corn and whole-roasted jalapenos finished that tier.
The final two levels were about the accompaniments — grilled tortillas sandwiching melted cheese, a crock of slow-simmered beans and four kinds of salsa.
Let me tell you that it’s likely destined for my list of best things I ate in 2018. I’m going to have to go back and eat the whole thing again, of course, just to be sure.
Ta Carbon Mexican Asadero is not just a new-to-the-area concept, it’s also in a completely unexpected location — in a strip mall — with a handsome dining room that screams date night.
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. Ta Carbon opened Sept. 5.
The owners: “Our food at Ta Carbon is authentic as Mexican food gets that isn’t in Mexico City,” said Sofia Trujillo, the restaurant’s manager and daughter of co-owners Rosy Trujillo and Moises Villasenor. The family opened the first Ta Carbon in Everett two years ago. Their relatives run restaurants throughout the region, including Asadero Mexican steakhouses in Kent and Seattle and D’ La Santa in Seattle.
Family expansion to Tacoma: The nephew of the owners, David Orozco, plans to open his own Mexican steakhouse in Tacoma’s St. Helens neighborhood in early 2019. He operates similarly themed Asadero Mexican steakhouses in Kent and Ballard. The Tacoma location will have a different name, he said.
“I started the Mexican steakhouse style and menu back in 2015 in Kent and then expanded to Ballard in 2016,” said Orozco. “I will be opening in Tacoma in early 2019 in the Stadium/Saint Helens neighborhood, more likely under a new name and slightly different concept to avoid confusions with Asado Tacoma and Ta Carbon.”
Dining room: Cushy high-back upholstered chairs encourage a lengthy tour of meat sampling in a downright handsome dining room with a chocolate-and-red palette. Banquettes spanned both sides of the compact room seating about 40. Vertical faux succulent gardens hung on the walls.
The concept: Like a high-end taqueria collided with a steakhouse. Made-over casual street foods and a wide selection of grilled steaks and meats. Nods to the family’s Jalisco roots show up in the tortilla warmers festooned with embroidered references to Guadalajara, but Oaxacan street snacks — chapulines (grasshoppers) and tlayudas — share menu space.
The modernized menu vastly shifts direction from regional chains such as Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Mis Tres Amigos, known for an older style of Mexican-American cuisine. Ta Carbon doesn’t serve rice or fried tortilla chips. There are no serapes used as decor. Mariachi music does not play on the soundtrack.
Presentation: Beautiful plating with an emphasis on artfully displayed food. Prices are higher than a typical strip-mall eatery, but concept and execution command that.
Interactive food: I haven’t seen tableside-prepared guacamole since Chevy’s Fresh Mex exited Tacoma. Here, a whole fresh avocado was mixed tableside with pico de gallo, chopped onions and cilantro. Market priced ($9.99 at the moment). Served with corn tortillas.
Starters: Filled with unexpected finds of street corn ($4.99), stuffed-and-grilled jalapenos ($4.99), roasted bone marrow ($5.99), tacos dorados ($9.50), queso fundido ($10.99) and molletes ($4.99).
Steak: In keeping with the steakhouse theme, red meat includes classic carne asada ($23.99), New York steak ($28.99), ribeye ($28.99), sirloin flap ($25.99) and wagyu zabuton ($32.99). All come with beans, salsa and other accompaniments. (Tip: Steak options can be turned into taco plates, $25.99 to $32.99). What’s a must order with steak? A baked potato, of course. Here, the papa loco is a baked potato exploding with a choice of meat, melted asadero and topped with bacon, grilled peppers and green onions ($10.99).
Handheld fare: Street tacos ($12.99 to $15.99), taco caramelo ($7.99), tacos de chapulines ($15.99), torta sandwiches ($10.99).
More unusual finds: Pozole verde ($12.99) and tlayuda, which is a tortilla loaded with beans and grilled meats ($24.99), oversized gorditas ($9.55).
For vegetarians: “There are a lot of families who have one or two vegetarians and vegans, and we make them feel welcome, even though it’s a meat-based restaurant,” said Trujillo.
Carb watchers: Tacos wrapped in cactus ($8.99), lettuce-wrapped tacos ($10.99) and many other options.
Beverages: Don’t miss the housemade horchata, a rice beverage spiked with cinnamon ($3.99), or jamaica, a hibiscus-flavored drink. No liquor license yet, but they’ve applied for one.
Try these first: Aside from the must-order meat tower, a terrific first introduction is to assemble a meal from the starter menu, which is unlike anything you’ll find on Mexican menus here.
I salivated over do-it-yourself street corn with sides of crema and cotija that I applied liberally on the roasted cobs ($4.99). I thoroughly enjoyed the thermonuclear level spicy grilled jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese and bacon ($4.99). I loved scraping the sublime roasted bone marrow, which I haven’t seen on menus since Marrow on Sixth Avenue closed, straight from the bone onto grilled tortillas with a spoonful of salsa ($5.99).
For lunch, do yourself a favor and get the torta. It came with fatty-edged carne asada and melted cheese spilling out the sides of the sandwich with a well-toasted bun smeared with a thin layer of beans ($10.99).
A trio of al pastor tacos tasted long marinated (traditionally grilled, not on a vertical spit), and served with sweet bits of pineapple. I couldn’t figure out why they were wrapped in paper until unfurling one resulted in juices dripping down my fingers ($12.99). These were divinely messy.
Save room for dessert: “Chocoflate” tasted like flan married with chocolate cake ($4.99). I spotted something hard to find here that will delight fans of Mexican desserts: bunuelos, the cinnamon-dusted fried dough dessert often associated with Christmas ($4.99).
Ta Carbon Mexican Asadero
Where: 5013 S. 56th St., Tacoma
Info: 253-267-0677 or facebook.com/TacarbonTacoma
Hours: Noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday