By Robin Garr
What is tikka? Based on a Punjabi word meaning “small pieces of meat,” it’s an Indian dish of marinated, tandoor-roasted meat. Eat them right up, or serve them in a creamy sauce as tikka masala.
Okay, then, what’s a taco? You’re kidding me, right? Everyone knows what a taco is.
But what happens if for some inexplicable reason someone decided to put these two things together? Shazam! Now we’ve got Tikka Tacos, a curiously delightful new spot on Preston Street near Audubon Park.
Opened recently in the former home of New Wave Burritos, Tikka Tacos promises us “Indo-Mexi Fusion.”
“Indo-Mexi Fusion”? This is a combination of words that one rarely hears. But they already had me at “Tikka” and “Taco.” I love Indian food, and I love Mexican food. How could I not leap in the car and head straight for this wondrous new experience?
Tikka Tacos’ narrow, windowless room receives little daylight, but walls painted adobe yellow and pale sky blue with pops of red chiles brighten the space. A small bar with a half-dozen tall seats fills one side of the room.
Our friendly server, who may also have been the owner, told us that the idea to merge Mexican and Indian fare came out of a conversation over a few drinks that paid off. An effort to train one chef in both cuisines didn’t work out, though, so, he said, a Mexican and an Indian cook work together in the kitchen.
The menu does lean more toward tikka than taco, but both cuisines are front and center, variously separate or blended. A dozen dishes billed as “specialties” include three or four seemingly Mexican tacos and a burrito; the rest appear to be standard Indian fare. These dishes are priced from $11 (for tuna tacos, lamb tacos, or the classic spicy, deep-fried South Indian dish chicken 65) to $16 (for butter chicken masala or chicken tikka masala).
Seven more dishes listed as “entrees” lean more Mexican, with taco, burrito, quesadilla, and loaded nacho plates from S$10-$12, plus a couple of down-home Norteamericano items such as Philly cheesesteaks ($10).
Right at the top of the menu stands that mysterious Bollywood taco, billed as the restaurant’s “Signature Fusion” offering. What is this intriguing thing?
First off, it’s not so much a fusion as a merger. The Bollywood taco ($9, pictured at the top of the page) places an Indian standard – spicy, minty, cumin-and-citrus-scented bits of tender chicken tikka and a scoop of rice – into a puffy, flaky Indian flatbread called paratha that fills in for the usual tortilla. But then it goes all South-of-the-Border with toppings of sliced avocado, pico de gallo, red onions, and fresh lettuce.
Like several of the other dishes, the Bollywood came with small tubs of mild avocado sauce and fiery salsa verde. Or was it green chutney? At Tikka Tacos, you can never be quite sure.
An odd combination? Well, yes. But the flavors were wonderful. It boasted that fresh. complex quality that makes Indian curry flavors pop, with haunting aromas and then, blasting in at the end, mild but perceptible chile pepper heat. It was an unexpected mix, but it was memorably good, and so were the other dishes we tried. The cooks – both of them – consistently hit the mark.
Vegetable somosas ($6) are billed as an appetizer, but came out after the Bollywood. No matter, it was worth the wait. Two hunks of crisp, golden fried pastry the size of baseballs but shaped as cones were loaded with an flavor-rich mix of soft, hot potato, finely chopped hot red and green peppers, onions, mint, and cilantro, all browned and stuffed into the sizzling pastry treats.
India is famous for its dal, a hearty, nutritious, and usually spicy lentil stew that comes in dozens of forms. Tikka Tacos’ dal tadka ($14) was an excellent example. It was prettily plated in a squarish white bowl with dal on one side and perfect basmati rice dotted with spices on the other. The dal, a comforting porridge-like mix of soft yellow lentils with tomatoes and plenty of garlic and peppery heat, was garnished with cilantro leaves and one long red chile pepper left on top as the ghee-and-spice tadka was stirred into the mix.
As an apparent apology for the Clover point-of-sale system being down, our host comped us to a slice of homemade carrot cake ($5) to go, an unnecessary but kind gesture. A generous slice of rich, textured, deeply flavored and sweet but not cloying cake was dotted with visible carrot bits and covered with a thick cream-cheese frosting.
A noteworthy meal for two came to a thrifty $32.86, and I shelled all the remaining singles out of my wallet to approximate a tip since the credit-card system wasn’t working. It probably wasn’t enough, but I’ll catch up next time.
3311 Preston Highway
Google business page: https://bit.ly/TikkaTacos
Noise Level: It was sporadically noisy in the crowded room, especially when Imagine Dragon’s pop rock hit Believer hit the sound system. Sound levels averaged just under 70dB, with conversation-blasting peaks to 81.9dB.
Accessibility: The restaurant appears accessible to wheelchair users, but rough and uneven surfaces and concrete car bumper blocks outside the front entrance can make for a treacherous trip from your car to the door.