Torchy's Tacos Brings Tepid Tacos (and a Cold Dining Room) to Town

Categories: Leftovers

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Photos by Troy Fields
Torchy's looks great from the outside...
There is a second location of Austin import Torchy's Tacos opening soon, this one in the Heights. Along with another tenant, it will be one of two restaurants occupying the space at 19th Street at Ashland that used to house Houston clothing institution Harold's. I can only hope that the interior design team responsible for the Torchy's on Shepherd has not received a phone call yet for this new location.

Because in addition to serving consistently cold or lukewarm tacos at its first Houston location, Torchy's Tacos -- the subject of this week's cafe review -- has also managed to deliver an equally cold eating experience in its bare-bones dining room.

I'm one of those for whom ambiance is part of the holistic dining experience. It's as important to me as the service, and just a few rungs below the actual food. When I feel as if I'm eating in a nuclear bunker that's been curiously outfitted with windows and a few flat-screen TVs, it definitely detracts from my meal.

More exasperatingly, the dining room that Torchy's Tacos took over after Greatfull Taco closed was already beautiful. Look for yourselves...

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Warm. Funky. Inviting. Open. An enjoyable place to grab a bite to eat, regardless of what you thought of Greatfull Taco's actual [Torchy's-esque] tacos. (Full disclosure: I loved Greatfull Taco's food and always had a good meal there.)

And while I understand the need to revamp an interior in order to rebrand it as your own restaurant and to infuse it with the Torchy's look, I don't understand how any of that equated to this:

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Concrete blocks are only acceptable building materials if you're a broke college student and you're using them like milk crates for shelving. White walls and oddly placed TVs are bad enough, but combined with the cold concrete floor -- which is often dangerously slippery and causes sound to bounce around like an echo chamber in the loud restaurant -- it's all just too much.

This is why when I eat at Torchy's, I take my food to go or I eat on the porch. At least out there, I can pretend that I'm back at the good ol' Torchy's I used to know -- the Austin food truck that was relaxing and welcoming in its oak-shaded food court. I don't want to know this Houston Torchy's, and I'm not sure I want to meet a second one either.

Read more about Torchy's Tacos in this week's cafe review and see more behind-the-scenes photos in our slideshow.


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Location Info

Torchy's Tacos

2411 S. Shepherd Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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34 comments
sandrapbell1
sandrapbell1

The Torchy's food trucks in Austin ROCK!!

WineLush
WineLush

You should go at night, it's so dark inside I thought a band was going to start playing.  I ate there once and I commented on Allison Cook's review.  But decor aside the food was awful, truly awful, never been back, won't go back. 

nomadsheart
nomadsheart

Houston is a tough taco town.  There are so very many good tacos here that discussion over what constitutes a great taco and who makes it can be as contentious as where the best barbeque is to be found.  I appreciate that we have everything in Houston from the very traditional, to the "whitebread" as Ms. Shilcutt mentions, to the more avante garde of Korean barbecue wrapped in tortillas.  Whatever your definition, there is definitely a taco for you.  At times, Torchy's has hit that spot for me for something casual, fun, different and relatively inexpensive (really, is $7 for 2 tacos highway robbery?).

 

My comment, however, is Ms. Shilcutt's casual reference to Torchy's restauraunt having "all the charm of a bomb shelter combined with a Planned Parenthood waiting room."  Glib and meant to convey a grim and humorless space, I would suggest that Ms. Shilcutt choose another less charged - and more accurate - metaphore.  Planned Parenthood, in addition to providing women's health services and reproductive services for all who request, provides bright, cheerful and welcoming facilities. Dining at a  Home Depot, Chik-fil-A,  or Domino's Pizza present a more depressing idea, even if not as expedient to deliver her point; unfortunately, this stereotype has outlived the fact.  Time to update!

journalist
journalist

Do people in Houston really consider The Houston Press to be good journalism? It is a bar rag for bands.

LWilliams
LWilliams

I live in the neighborhood right behind Torchy's, and I've eaten there at least 50 times (no exaggeration) since it opened last year. I've got to say, maybe you have had one bad experience with a cold taco (otherwise I can't see why you'd continue to go back), but you obviously haven't had a good cross section of their food. My favorite taco is the Independent, on which the only hot ingredient is the fried poblano. Anyone with half a brain can do the simple math to see that hot ingredients + cold ingredients = warm food. Not hot food. A lot of their tacos have combinations like these, which make them interesting, but sometimes not as hot as the barbacoa tacos from whatever random taco truck everyone seems so quick to try and compare them to. Maybe you should pay more attention to what you're eating instead of worriying about whether or not they've used concrete blocks in their design scheme.

 

Also, this whole review, while significantly less well written, is eerily reminiscent of a certain Allison Cook review I read a while back. I guess you're having a hard time finding anything original to criticize about Torchy's.

 

And another thing, to compare this Torchy's, placed on a busy, heavily trafficked street in inner city Houston, to a trailer on an oak shaded lot with other food trucks in the small city of Austin, is completely asinine! Show me where they could even duplicate that in Houston! Sure, I see food trucks in various spots throughout the city, but I can hardly see how a gas station parking lot's ambiance is preferable. The fact of the matter is, there are like 13 or so Torchy's now, and only one is in a trailor, shaded by those oft-mentioned oak trees. Though, I could see how your tacos would stay hotter there, sitting on a picnic table, in 100+ degree weather.

 

P.S. The lines are out the door daily because the tacos are f*cking delicious. I think the fact that they continue to stretch down the sidewalk after almost a year of being open can attest to that. I'm fairly certain that if the lines were in fact a result of the staff's ineptitude, people would have caught on and stopped going by now.

darjae
darjae

Torchy's in Houston (at least) has been nothing short of disgusting....cold, greasy, over-sauced.....terrible.

SirRon
SirRon

OMG!!1! U JUST H8 TORCHY'S CAUSE IT ISN'T RUN BY ANVIL OR ROBb walsh go back to doing the other things and stuff SHIlcuT!

TayByrneDodge
TayByrneDodge

@EatingOurWords re: Torchy's. I get the concept. Have never liked the food, the atmosphere is meh & service SUX.

bentley
bentley

Chilosos in the Heights is much better.

mikecook
mikecook

do we know for a fact it will be 2 restaurants? 

JeffreyP
JeffreyP

Torchy's is garbage. Cold, sandbagged meats piled on store bought tortillas.  Long lines are only because of the staffs incompetence, the seats are never full.  But hey!!! The tacos sure have funny names!

Jalapeno
Jalapeno

I'm so glad that someone finally said this, because this is the trend in Houston.  Cement floors and metal tables make me think of prison, not a great dining experience.  Note La Fisheria's delightful color scheme and plant cascade, Feast's old country feel.  These are not expensive decors, but add so much to the experience.   

whitepunkondope
whitepunkondope

you believed the hype, you drank the kool-aid, and look where it got you

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

prefer clean and modern to that kitsch, sparse is fine. Clutter and bright colors do nothing for me.. Though I could definitely do without the god awful cock rock metal they blare -- it's nothing short of atrocious.

HTownChowDown
HTownChowDown

 @nomadsheart Torchy's tacos reek of a clever idea that's been homogenized by cost reduction and institutional laziness.  Packaged tortillas.  Mediocre quality fillings.  Containerized sauces.  I honestly think Taco Cabana does a better job with their tacos than Torchy's does.  Clever combinations of ingredients don't make up for Taco Bell quality execution.

WineLush
WineLush

 @journalist Obviously you haven't ever been nominated for a national award like Ms. Shilcutt.  So slink back to your little blog and write about the wonder that is croc shoes or whatever other pathetic excuse for a lemming you are.

HTownChowDown
HTownChowDown

 @journalist I think Katharine Shilcutt is an outstanding food critic, and I don't always agree with her.  She writes interesting prose, does her homework, has a developed palate, and isn't afraid to call out a restaurant that's not living up to the hype.  And her James Beard nomination reflects this level of excellence.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

 @journalist Not to toot my own horn, but a few organizations consider us to be at least decent journalists: I was nominated for a James Beard award after my first year as food critic and have won two Association of Food Journalists awards since then. We do alright, I think. 

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

 @journalist Well, you apparently clicked over here. But you could mosey along to the Chronicle for another bad review of Torchy's, if you like.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

 @LWilliams "Also, this whole review, while significantly less well written, is eerily reminiscent of a certain Allison Cook review I read a while back. I guess you're having a hard time finding anything original to criticize about Torchy's." I think the more logical point here is that both Cook and I had the same issues with Torchy's. Which leads me to wonder...if both major food critics in town have such a hard time getting a good meal at Torchy's, is that our fault? Or the restaurant's?

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

 @LWilliams Are you sure you read the review? You wonder if she had one bad experience with a cold taco when she says quite clearly that it took her five tries before she got a hot taco. How can you possibly vouch for the tortillas at Torchy's? They're awful, and it makes the tacos lousy as well. Your PS is a logical fallacy called argumentum ad populum.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

 @bentley Sometimes those fluffy Chilosos tortillas are the only thing that will cure my bad day blues.

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

 @mikecook They said so, and there's a signed lease, but of course, nothing ever seems certain in the restaurant business.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

 @whitepunkondope Did you know that it was actually Flavor Aid that was used in the Jonestown mass suicide? The More You Know.

nomadsheart
nomadsheart

@HTownChowDown I am glad for your passion, and you prove one point completely and miss the second all together. Tacos in Houston is a contentious business. I applaud anyone with the pluck to try and make it work in the face of people saying Taco Bell is better. If you don't like it, don't go; that says all you need to say. My second - and main point you missed but Ms. Shilcutt understood - was how incorrectly the analogy of Torchy's to Planned Parenthood was even in the review.

pmcd9
pmcd9

 @kshilcutt  @bentley I used to think Chilosos was overpriced before Torchy's came along, but I've always thought they were worth it. Torchy's is overpriced, but even if they were moderately priced the are still terrible.

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