Restaurant Review: Into the Fold
Fork & Taco stakes a claim on Burnet Rd.'s taco row
Reviewed by Adrienne Whitehorse, Fri., Nov. 21, 2014
With Austin laying claim to being the birthplace of the breakfast taco, one would think there couldn't be too many taco joints in this town. That may be true. But can too many taco restaurants coexist on one street? Burnet Road, specifically the mile-long stretch between 40th and North Loop, makes a good case study. Torchy's Tacos, Tacodeli, Taco Flats, and two Taco Shacks reside along Bur-Ro, all within 10 blocks of Fork & Taco. Expand that radius a few blocks more and you've got Chipotle, Taco Bell, a handful of taquerias, and the textbook definition of market saturation.
Tucked between Noble Sandwich Co. and Pinthouse Pizza, Fork & Taco offers gourmet tacos for lunch and dinner. Be aware that this is not standard Tex-Mex fare. Chef Casey Fannin, an Uchi descendant, pairs high-quality ingredients with a few unlikely flavors, taking inspiration from a variety of international cuisines. It's a taco, but you won't find queso, carne asada, or al pastor here.
Several multicolored glass panels accent the otherwise blank canvas of Fork & Taco's minimalist interior. If it's busy – and it always seems to be busy – you'll notice how the dining room's sounds amplify as they echo off the many hard surfaces. Thankfully, the patio offers a peaceful retreat from the bright lights.
The menu is separated into the five major (taco) food groups: beef, pork, chicken, fish, and veggie, with three offerings of each. The kitchen sources Texas farms for all-natural meats (no hormones or antibiotics), and organic ingredients when possible – for which some customers will understandably pay a premium. That premium ranges from $3.75 for the veggies up to $5.95 (ouch!) for several of the fish and beef varieties. Still, the accompanying toppings promise taste buds a thrill ride (soy maple crema! scotch bonnet rum! watermelon salsa!) What followed was a few stomach drops.
Weekday lunch began with the Asian pear chicken taco ($3.95) – woefully devoid of any sweetness or crunch. My anticipation of the beet taco ($3.75) and its combination of tart grapefruit, nutty pepitas, and serrano-citrus crema turned to regret when a fork-swab of the crema returned nothing but the taste of plain cream. We continued: The Jerk Grouper ($5.55) was beautifully displayed – an artful layering of purple cabbage, yellow mango, and bright green avocado slices, drizzled in scotch bonnet-rum crema. There was a fantastic zesty green salsa on the taco, unfortunately unidentified. The side of Mexican street corn ($3.50) was almost too rich, dominated by smoky chipotle. It was uniform from the first bite to the last, and lacked any real acidity.
A second trip found my appetite more engaged. The pulled pork five spice taco ($4.65), with an Asian slaw, cilantro, and soy maple crema, had to be my favorite. The elements of the crema lent a sweet pungency to the pork, calling to mind Chinese barbecue with hoisin. The other two pork tacos – pork shoulder with salt pickle cucumber and sour onions, and green chili pork ($4.65 each) – were also hits. The ahi taco ($5.95), with lightly seared tuna, pickled ginger, avocado, sesame, and soy crema may have been the tastiest fish taco I've had in town – not to mention the most beautiful. A visit to Fork & Taco's website proudly displays its gorgeous colors and macro textures front and center.
From the vegetarian category came another winner: the grilled portabella mushroom taco ($3.75), filled with two kinds of squash, corn, queso fresco, and tomatillo salsa – most likely the mystery salsa I loved so much on my first visit. But a few of the other offerings needed some sharpening. For example, the chimichurri on the 24-Hour Flank Steak ($4.95) was delightful – bright and tangy – but the steak could have used a thinner cut. The "crispy" cauliflower ($3.75) lost that texture in the creamy street corn. And the jerk-dusted chicken ($3.95) offered plump slices of ripe mango, but I never would have guessed the bird was rubbed in the spicy Jamaican seasoning. All are served on house-made corn tortillas, or house-recipe flour tortillas (delivered fresh every day). The flour tortillas were good, but the corn tortillas are the winner – thick and soft and delicious. Two salsa offerings include a delectable Thai chimichurri (labeled "Fork & Hot") and a savory habanero ("Fork & Hotter"). A few in my group would have appreciated a mild salsa option.
A third of the menu knocked my calcentines off. The rest left something to be desired. With a menu brandishing Japanese, Argentine, Caribbean, and Southern cuisines, I'd have liked to see more side dishes take inspiration from these regions. I will most likely revisit Fork & Taco – but will stick to my "safe bets." And hope that in the meantime, the kitchen can tighten up its seasoning, salsa, and crema game. In the "Live Taco Capital of the World," keep it traditional or keep it weird; just keep it tasty.
Fork & Taco4801 Burnet Rd., 512/838-6768