Friday, September 20, 2013

Local Review: Tacopocalypse

One of the great things about living in the Des Moines metro area is how youthful and vibrant the city has become over the past 5 to 10 years. The city has developed by growing and innovating, expanding and embracing its second ranked (nationally) farmer’s market, while focusing on and bettering its plentiful bike trails, adding new shopping options, and highlighting its beautiful downtown and riverfront area.  All of this progress has occurred alongside a boom of local culinary exploration and innovation. Des Moines and the surrounding metro has become a hotbed for young, entrepreneurial chefs to debut their creations.

These factors are why Des Moines typically ranks in the top 10 for cities to live in – especially for young professionals. It’s one of the biggest reasons Maggie and I enjoy making the short jaunt downtown or around the metro – there’s just so much to see when it comes to Des Moines.

Obviously, our favorite part of the city is its culinary offerings. We’ve tried a handful of the small restaurants, street vendors and other food purveyors and have found each to be a delightful experience. Up until this point, we had been content to share the restaurants with friends and our own personal social media platforms – but we hadn’t been giving the local eateries any “ink” on the blog.

That’s about to change.

Starting now and continuing for as long as we see fit, we’ll be featuring a local restaurant or eatery that deserves some extra attention. We’ll cover the prices, the d├ęcor and (most importantly) the food. We think it’s a great way to share the awesome culinary world of our community with our readers. Not from Des Moines or even the state of Iowa? No biggie, hopefully you can take these menu items and maybe find some inspiration to create something unique at home or even use these places as motivation to go out and find your own local establishments making up their own fresh and fun food.

Our first entry is actually the most recent restaurant we visited, the awesomely named: Tacopocalypse

Image courtesy of Tacopocalypse's Twitter Account 

621 Des Moines St. 
Des Moines, IA 50309

We’d had been hearing great things about Tacopocalypse for some time, but had yet to make the journey to Des Moines’ East Village to actually try the much discussed joint for ourselves. Saturday we decided to correct this atrocious wrong and set out for some Mexican inspired culinary adventures.

Tacopocalypse is a joint that would fit right in on Food Network’s “Diner’s, Drive-Ins and Dives” (Say what you want about Guy Fieri – we like him, most don’t -  but the show does give some great attention to smaller joints doing cool things). Tacpocalypse current storefront is the true definition of a “hole in the wall” and I mean that in every positive and praising way possible.

The modest front is accentuated only by a lone banner, bearing the name of the restaurant. The modesty continues inside as well, as the space is decorated only by bare brick and old wooden floors. The chairs and tables are basic wood, painted in neutral grays and blacks. They blend perfectly with the ‘warehouse / casual dive bar’ vibe. The space is relatively small, with roughly a dozen tables (that’s a ballpark, I forgot to actually count) spread across the room. It makes for a cozy, more causal dining experience and despite the fact that each table was filled while we were there, the place never felt crowded.

The ‘back of the house’ features the counter, which sits ahead of the small kitchen. (It’s always cool when you can see your dish being whipped up right behind the counter).  A large chalkboard menu hangs over the counter and is easily the best decoration in the joint – simply because it features the delicious menu items cooking up a few feet ahead of you.

Prices are extremely fair, ranging from $2 per taco to $8 per burrito. Maggie ordered the “Burrito of the day” which featured brisket, fresh rosemary, fried rice and spinach and was topped with house queso and a fried egg. (Obviously the burrito of the day is a rotating menu option that will vary depending on the…well…day…you’re there. So, don’t look for this one on the menu EVERY time you stop in).

I ordered the “I can’t believe it’s not breakfast burrito” which contained chorizo, eggs and fried potatoes, all covered with a white gravy and house ground sausage.

The 'burrito of the day' in all of its glory


First, let me definitively say – yes, the burrito is EXACTLY as big as it looks in the picture. I’d call it huge, but I feel that’d be selling it short. It’s a massive amount of food, so you are certainly getting your money’s worth for the modest $8 price.

Maggie was blown away by the burrito of the day – she particularly liked how the fresh rosemary accentuated the dish – adding a little freshness and lift without overpowering the final flavor (which is REALLY easy to do with rosemary). The house made queso was a huge bonus as well, Maggie referred to it as easily the best queso she’s had (and this is a girl who enjoys her Mexican cheese – she’s darn near an expert).

The “I can’t believe it’s not breakfast burrito” was equally worthy of praise. My favorite part was actually the tortilla. It’s so easy for a great burrito to be ruined by a thick, heavy or chewy tortilla. Tacopocalypse tortillas are light, flaky and don’t weigh down the dish. (In fact they –gasp- add to it!)

The chorizo within my burrito is worthy of its own blog post, but no one wants to read 800 words on a spicy sausage, so I’ll try to keep it short. It’s tough to find a good chorizo, even harder to order one on a menu. Chorizo can range from “burn off your face hot” to “ground beef with chili powder added” bland. There’s a range at play that can give chorizo a bad name – run into one of its too spicy or too bland counterparts and you’ll think bad things of the sausage for years to come.

Tacopocalypse's chorizo should be the ambassador to those unfamiliar with the Mexican staple. It was the perfectly blend of spicy (but not overly hot) sausage. It was full of flavor, accentuated the eggs and potatoes nicely and added just enough heat to let you know this wasn’t your everyday meat filling. I’m a big fan.

We left stuffed to the gills and gurgling with delight. There’s much more to the menu, and we will certainly be back to try all of it. The staff was great, while the atmosphere was simple and perfect for the laid back crowd that was continuously flowing in.

If you’re in the Des Moines metro and looking for a great burrito – the ‘best of list’ has to start with Tacopocalpyse. Check this place out!

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