In reality, it’s an old dive bar, renovated into a home for boutiques and restaurants, decorated with old airline seats and luggage and mementos of travel past. It’s a quirky concept, housing a quirky restaurant in what is probably Cincinnati’s quirkiest neighborhood. In other words: NIA and its anchor restaurant, Tacocracy, fits right in.
Tacocracy, which opened just a couple of months ago, is the newest addition to what I’m calling “Cincinnati’s Taco Smackdown”, and I think they might win an award for “most creative”. They are not super-authentic, but they’re not trying to be. They’re taking tacos and turning them on their head to delicious effect.
We walked in one weekday night, after a friend said that I needed to try it. We ended up ordering all seven available tacos as well as some queso to get a full picture of their offerings. Seven tacos, for the record, is far too much for 2 people, though the tacos did make excellent lunch the next day. Two tacos a piece is a good amount, if you’re going to add a crock of guac or queso. For seven tacos, two sodas and some queso, the bill was $27. Not bad.
Our favorite taco, by far, was the Duck Taco: a crispy, homemade shell filled with shredded, slow-cooked, juniper-and-apricot infused duck and pear de gallo– a pear salsa– and some sharp white cheddar. I would come back just for this taco: it was unique, delicious, and well-executed.
My second favorite taco was the Korean beef, slow-cooked in a Korean BBQ sauce and topped with napa slaw. It’s different from Taco Azul’s version (I don’t recall the beef being shredded, for instance) and definitely a fun choice, particularly with the pineapple salsa.
They also have a mashed potato taco. Not kidding, here: it’s a carb-lover’s fantasy. Mashed potatoes stuffed into a homemade crunchy corn tortilla, topped with sharp white cheddar, roasted corn and black-eyed pea salsa and sriracha crema. It manages the rare combination of comfort food with sophisticated flavors (and it’s vegetarian).
If you’re a vegetarian, they also have the I Hate Tofu and Mushroom tacos. The I Hate Tofu taco, filled with braised tofu, tomatoes, onions and lettuce is good, if a little watery because of the tomatoes and lettuce. The mushroom taco has black truffles and balsamic, and is surprisingly rich and meaty.
The adobo-curry taco was just a little too overpowered by the curry that I didn’t notice any adobo spice and the green chorizo, which was just average, didn’t quite stack up to the others, but aren’t bad bets. The queso was a favorite of The Better Half, but I was not terribly enamored, mostly because the chips were thick and store-bought. I’d have preferred homemade, like their crunchy taco shells.
They’ll have a liquor license soon, and will be expanding to lunch hours as well. Keep the taco wars coming– we all benefit from some innovative taco-making. Now, if someone could just teach me how to pronounce Tacocracy without sounding obscene half the time…