Velvet Taco Arrives

First taste: Velvet Taco gets the little details right, but is the food worth the price?

Velvet Taco gets little details right, but is food worth the price?

Velvet Taco Houston
Chicken tikka, slow roasted brisket and ahi poke tacos. Photo by Eric Sandler
Velvet Taco Houston
The front of Velvet Taco looks onto Washington Ave. Photo by Eric Sandler
Velvet Taco Houston
Tots come fully loaded with two kinds of cheese and a fried egg. Photo by Eric Sandler
Velvet Taco Houston
Order here. Photo by Eric Sandler
Velvet Taco Houston
Velvet Taco Houston
Velvet Taco Houston
Velvet Taco Houston

After months of fevered anticipation, Velvet Taco recently opened its first Houston location on Washington Avenue. The Dallas-based chain takes a fusion perspective to every Texans' favorite hand-held meal with a globally-inspired range of fillings that range from traditional items like grilled flank steak to Indian-inspired crispy tikka chicken. 

Eager to see whether this concept that blends Torchy's something for everyone appeal with the ethos that has made Fusion Taco a somewhat underrated downtown dining option, I stopped by for dinner last Wednesday night. Despite only being open officially for three days, Velvet Taco seems to be operating fairly efficiently.

 Order at the counter then wait for someone to call your name. It all works out fine, except when two people have the same name and the wrong "Eric" shows up and tries to claim my tater tots. Wait your turn, other Eric. 

For being counter service, the dining experience is pleasant. Cheerful employees are stationed at both the front and rear entrances; they're ready to explain both the overall concept and offer suggestions on what to order. 

Order at the counter then wait for someone to call your name. It all works out fine, except when two people have the same name and the wrong "Eric" shows up and tries to claim my tater tots. Wait your turn, other Eric.

Sodas, sugar-sweetened affairs from Oak Cliff Beverage Works rather than high fructose corn syrup sodas from national brands, and ice tea are self service over pellet style "Sonic ice." It's nice when a restaurant gets a little detail like that right.

After consulting with friends in Dallas and eager to get a feel for the menu, I ordered chicken tikka, slow roasted brisket and the ahi poke tacos with a side of the loaded tater tots. Of these, the chicken tikka ($3.50) was the most successful; I didn't detect much of the "spicy pepper sauce," but the chicken tenders are crispy and the tikka sauce has the tomato soup style creaminess that makes that dish so successful.

Wrapped in a lettuce leaf, the ahi poke's ($6.50) mix of tuna, avocado, seaweed, sesame seeds, etc may be a familiar combination, but it works, especially with the crunch provided by the lettuce wrap.

The tots ($5) come fully loaded: topped with a fried egg, goat cheese, smoked cheddar, avocado cream and bacon. They're ridiculous looking, but it's a generous portion that would be easy to split between a few people. The brisket taco ($4.25) is the only one that didn't work thanks to an element that gave it a vaguely bitter aftertaste. I'm willing to chalk it up to opening week jitters, though. 

T he tots ($5) come fully loaded: topped with a fried egg, goat cheese, smoked cheddar, avocado cream and bacon. They're ridiculous looking, but it's a generous portion that would be easy to split between a few people. 

My biggest issue with Velvet Taco is that I think it's misnamed. These are "tacos" in terms of shape, but each combination has so many items that they lose the purity of traditional tacos. They're almost too large to hold with one hand, and the sauces and toppings leak out the far end. Of course, fighting the "too much stuff ruins a taco's purity" battle is quixotic at best. Writers have been making the same objection to Torchy's forever, and people line up at every location. 

Also, $23.54 for three tacos, tots and a soda seems like a lot of money for what you get, but at least the tacos all offer a generous portion. I would think two would be enough for most appetites, which would put the tab in the $10-15 range for most people — even less if one sticks to water and less expensive chicken or breakfast tacos.

Maybe I'm just missing the point by dining at Velvet Taco at 6 p.m. The chain is known for its late night hours, which, beginning next week, will last until 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Hitting the restaurant after a couple of drinks might have put me in a better frame of mind to appreciate its charms. 

Velvet Taco's crowd-pleasing menu and friendly service should have it poised for success. Personally, I think I'll still satisfy last night cravings at Ninja Ramen

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