First Look: Bartaco

The new Westside taco joint aims for "upscale street food"

Wednesday September 3, 2014 04:00 am EDT

Remember the pivotal scene in I Love You, Man where Paul Rudd and Jason Segel bond in Venice Beach over "the best fish tacos in the world?" The beachy restaurant was jumping, the music was loud, and the two were bathed in lamplight. That's precisely the carefree, surfer vibe Westside's new upscale street food joint Bartaco is aiming for.

Nestled within the former Dixie Packing Company building, the interior is lively and bathed in light. Two sides of the building open with oversized glass garage doors: one on the back side to a walled courtyard of white and blue seating adorned overhead with strings of twinkling lights, the other to an entrance area replete with a large outdoor fireplace. Stunning photography of landscapes and seascapes line the walls. Upside-down woven baskets hang as chandeliers over simple wooden tables and benches. At the heart of the space lies a large, U-shaped bar. The whole space feels coastal, like you would want to pull your boat up to it and chill.

Barteca, the restaurant group behind Inman Park's Barcelona Wine Bar, opened Bartaco on July 1. There are currently four other Bartaco locations, in Connecticut and New York. Two more are ahead for Atlanta, one on Roswell Road in Buckhead and one on Elizabeth Street in Inman Park, slated for later this year.

Bartaco draws its inspiration from the iconic taco stands in Baja California. The menu consists mostly of small plates meant for sampling and sharing, and is divided into seven sections: tacos, not tacos, trays, sides, rice bowls, rotisserie chicken (cooked on in-house rotisseries), and postres (desserts). Be prepared; food comes out tapas style whenever it's ready, so don't expect traditional courses.

For some, the tacos might be a little on the small side; they cost either $2.50 (three for $7) or $3.50 (three for $9.50) each. They are made with thin corn tortillas, and there are 12 types of fillings — some more traditional than others — to choose from. Among the nontraditional options is the falafel taco filled tiny housemade chickpea balls and a tangy tzatziki sauce. The confit duck taco is flavorful and chewy in a good way. The oysters — soaked in buttermilk, dredged in corn flour, and fried — were plump, subtle, and super-fresh.

There are two kinds of fish tacos on the menu. The Baja is lightly battered, fried, and topped with chipotle slaw, and the Veracruz is grilled and topped with a spicy jicama slaw. The soy-heavy sesame rib-eye seems to be every servers favorite taco to recommend. There's even super-tender, slow-cooked wild boar taco flecked with bits of hominy.

"Not tacos" is a section including the chunky guacamole ($5 for small, $9 large) with a little heat, lots of lime juice, and house-made chips about the size of a 45 record. There are two types of tamales ($5 each), pork and mushroom, both meaty, rich, and straightforward. Atlanta must not be much of a tamale town. People at several tables were spotted trying to eat the outer corn husk of the tamales.

Ordering a tray is the way to go if you want to try a wide variety of dishes and have someone with whom to share. A small tray is $24 and includes six tacos, two tamales, a couple of sides, chips, and guacamole. It easily feeds two. The menu reads "chef's selection," but servers allow you to choose.

Bartenders are knowledgeable about their spirits at Bartaco. Beverage Director and Level One Master Sommelier Gretchen Thomas is very particular. No mixtos (blended with sugar during distillation) and no sour mixes in Bartaco margaritas, ya hear? There is almost always a staff member juicing limes at a station at the bar. The Humo y Fuego ($12), with mezcal, chartreuse, lime, muddled tomatillo, jalapeño, and a paprika-pepper-salted rim is a spicy, smoky, and refreshing concoction.

If you stick to tacos, a meal here can be very affordable, but if you're not careful the prices tend to add up quickly. Two people can easily spend $50 at dinner just by getting a tray and a round of drinks. Even so, Bartaco is a welcome addition to Westside, good for tacos at lunch, a family spot in the early evening, or convivial bar at night. And the fish tacos are great. In fact, in the words of Joben in I Love You, Man, "those fish tacos are the tits."

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