The name is second in taco pun sleaziness only to Hard Rock Café scion (and former Lindsay Lohan arm candy) Harry Morton's Las Vegas restaurant, Pink Taco. The logo looks like it belongs on the front of a Von Dutch hat. Add loud music and a broad visual air of trying too hard, and Velvet Taco equates to the most obnoxious fast-casual restaurant of 2002. And it's a chain, small and Dallas-based, but nonetheless, not a native Houston business. Yet after visiting last night, Velvet Taco still has my heart, or at least my tastebuds.
There are 21 tacos on the menu, touching down all over the globe, with fillings ranging from falafel to Cubano-style pickles and pork. Two would have been more than enough to fill my belly, but choosing was so difficult, even three didn't feel like enough. I ended up having to skip the aforementioned tacos, as well as the fish-and-chips, shrimp-and-grits and annatto shredded pork with grilled pineapple I was eager to try.
Choosing a side was easier. I love me some Mexican street corn, but "crisp tots & local egg" had me at "crisp tots & local egg." Who wants soggy tots, right? The egg was slightly overcooked, but not so much that the yolk didn't flow over the tots, drizzled with avocado crema. I would have been fine if the ingredients stopped there.
Herbed goat cheese was nice, smoked cheddar was admirably sharp despite its orange hue, but I had to draw the line at crisp chunks of bacon. Most of those stayed in the container, untouched by the new take on a spork (one end is a fork, the other a spoon), with which I ate the side.
The taco I was most excited to try turned out to be the least successful. The tikka masala sauce slathered over fried chicken fingers was suitably tangy, but spicier than makes sense for the dish. Fried chicken and Indian gravy sounded like a dream come true, but not surprisingly, the sauce overcame the crisp coating. I did like the buttered cilantro rice within, though.
Served in a lettuce wrap, the Israeli couscous taco took on the unexpected role of handheld salad. The round little noodles were dressed in a refreshing parsley-mint pesto and combined with thin slices of chewy portobello, salty halloumi cheese and pickled slivers of Fresno chile.
But the greatest hit was the most conventional taco I tried. Next to the other offerings, slow-roasted brisket sounds downright uninspired, but the meat-packed flour tortilla, griddled with a layer of Comté crisped on the outside, was one for the books. Balance was key, with the French cheese conspiring with queso blanco and red chile mayo for an ultra-creamy effect. Avocado relish and micro cilantro brightened up the richness, and the meat, not bursting with personality itself, endowed the whole thing with toothsome appeal.
And I'll overlook Velvet Taco's aesthetic flaws for that brisket alone.