They’re Not the Best Tacos in Texas, So Why do We Love Torchy's So Much?
Austin is famously home to scores of food trucks, food trailers, food wagons, and every other kind of MacGyver'd setup you could think of in which to conduct business, this side of an actual, stationary building with, say, a permanent roof. All across Texas' crowded state capital, an ever-rotating class of budding restaurateurs can be found testing out their often quite wild ideas in these spaces; more than a couple of these ideas have taken off big time, to say the very least, but only a very few are lucky enough to have had so significant an impact on the regional eating culture as Torchy's Tacos.
First launched over a decade ago in an old barbecue trailer with a menu of irreverent, more than a little bit tweaked tacos (save your authenticity arguments for another venue, maybe), you will now find Torchy's all across Texas—14 locations in Austin alone.
To say that Torchy's has hit the big time is putting things mildly—you'll find them outside of Texas now, too, in Oklahoma and Colorado, where they've opened multiple locations in Denver. This is just the beginning of their expansion plan—an East Coast capital firm took a rather significant minority stake, while founder Mike Rypka is now one on a team working hard to take Torchy's even wider.
What makes Torchy's so different from, say, everywhere else you can get tacos, burritos and the like these days? First off, Torchy's is a lot of fun; it's also upscale in that Shake Shack kind of way, making you feel like you've gone somewhere less pedestrian—Torchy's has booze, the décor is colorful, you wait in line at the counter but they bring your food to you, and, well, since you're probably wondering, the food is very good. If you don't live in Texas, Colorado or Oklahoma, it may take some time, but here are just a few reasons why you should get excited about the idea of a Torchy's opening up shop in your neck of the woods.
Torchy's is authentically Austin. Wasting your breath arguing about the authenticity of a Torchy's taco is time you could be spending appreciating the menu for what it is—one hundred percent, pure Austin. A mash-up of all the things we like to eat when we're there, from barbecue (brisket tacos) to Tex-Mex (killer queso) to just plain kitsch (how about that fried chicken/green chile taco), only one city could have really made a menu like this work, and now it's being shipped to all sorts of other places, and working out well there too, and we're struggling to see any sort of downside.
That queso, though. Austin has long been a haven for lovers of that Texas favorite, chile con queso, mostly just referred to as queso; while Torchy's hasn't been around all that long, considering queso's lengthy history in the region, they've definitely managed to become one of the local favorites—packed with green chile flavor (and actual green chiles) and topped off with a dab of guacamole, a crock of the stuff comes served with a pile of homemade tortilla chips. No first visit to Torchy's is complete until you've at least tried this stuff.
Speaking of must-haves, let's talk about the corn. Ears of roasted corn dressed in all sorts of tasty condiments are a way of life on the street in Mexico, and if you're lucky, you'll find a vendor who will pre shave the ear into a cup for you, for ease of eating—they do that at Torchy's, they call it Street Corn, and it's tucked away on the sides portion of the menu, but really, it's a total star. Here, they infuse the mayo with ancho chiles and call it an aioli, mixing in cotija cheese, cilantro and a dusting of red chile powder. You eat this mess with a spoon—all of it. Every last kernel and crumb. It's delightful.
We're gonna let the rest of the menu finish, but breakfast at Torchy's is kind of hard to beat. Luckily, it's served all day. The full menu is served all day, actually, meaning you can have a side of queso for dipping your Wrangler taco—scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, smoky brisket and jack cheese with tomatillo sauce—over, and over, and over again. It's kind of wrong, but Torchy's is very much a judgment-free zone, and thank goodness for that.
Their secret menu is even more insane than the regular one. Not enough to have a taco with jalapeno sausage or brisket? Go for the Ace of Spades, which combines the two and tops it off with queso, cilantro, cotija cheese, sour cream and Diablo sauce (it's hot, if the name didn't give it away) on a yuge flour tortilla. It's just one of a handful of over-the-top options on what's really a not-so-secret menu at this point, which is fine, because everyone deserves to try this taco—at least once.