When Tako’s first opened a few months ago, I thought the idea novel, not too novel, but just novel enough to be interesting, not Dostoyevsky but Grisham, if you get my drift. The whole “Korean taco” thing has been kicking around a while, most notably in the SoCal food truck scene, but it still has legs and the Sac market shows no signs of being inundated with bulgogi tostadas anytime soon.
So, I figured Tako’s, with its clever name and interestingly renovated old gas station lodgings, had something to say. Turns out, what it wanted to say was unfortunately covered up by sauce, noise, and sauce. Here’s a slowly declining series of visits to illustrate my point.
Visit 1: I strolled up on Tako’s on a beautiful summer day. The lunch rush had petered out, the air was redolent with chiles bloomed in oil, and the faint hint of techno pop wafted over the Bose system. The place felt retro-hip and appropriately kitschy. The menu was Chipotle-simple. Everything smelled great.
I ordered a trio of tacos featuring bulgogi, barbecued pork, and something called “fire chicken.” All were tasty, but the rocket-hot fire chicken was amazing, served with a healthy handful of shredded cabbage and cooling sour cream sauce. The techno pop played throughout the meal, and as my ears failed to pick up any recognizable words, I realized it was Asian techno pop, almost bubblegum pop. I’m sure it wasn’t hurting anyone, so I let it go.
Visit 2: An early fall day still held heat in the air, but not so much that driving with the windows down would have been inadvisable. Therefore, I heard Tako’s before I saw it. That bubblegum pop, pouring out of the speakers like the Sirens of the Odyssey (except in this scenario, the Sirens are auto-tuned Korean teenagers and Odysseus is guys that really dig Asian chicks), could be heard two streets away.
I pushed through the wall of sound, and repeated my trio of tacos order from the month before, grabbed a Mexican Coke (nice touch) and settled into a seat outside. If anything the music was louder outside. Somewhere between air-raid horn and jumbo jet in their volume, the pig-tailed girls continued to sing their way through endlessly repetitive choruses of syrupy tunes about, let’s say, hot dogs and yetis.
This second time around the tacos seemed neither as original nor as tasty. In fact, they were so avalanched by cabbage — probably a whole head of it for each taco — and sauce — each taco being doused in two different kinds of sauces in such copious amounts that it was as if there were a taco bukkake contest going on in that kitchen — that the flavorful meats so apparent on the first visit were pretty much lost in the excavation.
Visit 3: Being in the neighborhood, and having a hankering for a creative burrito, I stopped in at Tako’s last week. Not having remembered to bring my industrial ear protection, my eardrums burst almost immediately on opening my car door. The Korean sirens, nevertheless, continued to shriek their harpy noise through my shattered eustachian tubes.
Soldiering on, I opted for a fire chicken burrito, thinking I might skip the cabbage-and-sauce-analia I had experienced previously. Turns out I was wrong. While the burrito had little cabbage, it was a military-grade sauce ordnance. Drooling out of every tortilla fold, squishing up every bite, masking every flavor. Once agian, whatever had been good about Tako’s recipes was totally lost, we’re talking Clan of the Cave Bear lost.
I strolled down the street, away from Tako’s, the blood dribbling out my ears, enough sauce to baste a chicken on my shirt front, feeling I had given it a fair shot. I had made a good-faith effort, given it the old Korean taco try. I’m going to rest now, shut my eyes, and try to get that saccharine sound out of my head.
Tako’s- Alhambra and T, Midtown