Tacbar – Raising the bar with tacos
Highlighting the growing scope of gastronomic offerings in Jamaica, a new Mexican-themed bistro and bar appropriately named Tacbar recently opened at Devon House, the historical property synonymous with food, fun, and now fiesta.
Business partners PJ Wright and Carlton Hume wanted to ensure they didn’t create just another Mexican taco joint with guacamole and cheese-topped enchiladas and nachos, instead, the menu, which Wright describes as a “foodie playground at a lifestyle restaurant and bar”, is art-like, inspired and quite original.
“The idea of pairing tacos and a bar just felt right. Giving persons food they can explore paired with fun cocktails is a concept that has been proven in the restaurant space to be welcoming to all,” added Wright.
There are tacos, of course, which are far more creative than the usual and often go far afield from Mexico, ‘the homeland of the tacos’, varying slightly in price from about $400 for the ackee and callaloo with candied plantain combination to $600 for the stout-braised oxtail tacos paired with chipotle chutney and tamarind sauce. Both the fried chicken with beet mayo, and the crispy pork belly cooked in honey, Hoisin BBQ sauce complemented with tomato salsa and slaw tacos are customer favourites. Depending on its availability, there is a mouth-wateringly tender ahi tuna taco that is officially on the must-try list. The waitress assigned will more than likely advise you to take a walk on the wild side (and save money) by ordering at least three of one or more types to tantalise all your taste buds.
The meat on the pork ribs covered in Hoisin-BBQ sauce fell off the bone. Other non-taco items like the chorizo smoked sausage burrito bowl came in a healthy serving, and callaloo which seems to be a popular menu item comes wrapped in spring rolls or is creamed into a dip with fresh herbs that goes well with the nachos that were all ‘muy delicioso’.
UPSCALE STREET FOOD
Separating professional from the amateur reviews, Wright explained that persons who understand the concept of authentic street tacos have embraced the verity and size of the tacos on offer, and how flexible the Mexican cuisine is to everyone’s palate, but there have been comparisons to the larger-than-life taco that is designed to meet the North American markets’ expectations of a meal in your hand.
“Travel is key when it comes to food, you have to experience spaces and see how customers interact with the food in the space. Inspiration for restaurants sometimes come from unique experiences that give you that ‘ah-ha’ moment that makes you realise that this concept can work in your home country,” he said.
Wright, who owns Chillin’, which is 100 per cent Jamaican food, expressed that the addition of Tacbar, “is more meeting and planning, but the beauty of it is, I have a solid management team that is dedicated and passionate about each restaurant, its customers and team members. Persons love the food and the ambiance and our service is getting better with every day that our doors are opened.”
Moderate prices and the creative offerings may have something to do with Tacbar’s popularity, but the head chef is also intriguing. Now and again, Chef Haleem Card pops his head outside of the kitchen to check on the customers. “The menu is a product of sleepless nights; being entrusted and given full confidence to develop upscale street food means taking regular items and putting a spin on them so that it is different and gets the ‘wow’ at the end of the customer’s experience here,” Card offered.
The elote is probably one of the most traditional recipes, known popularly as Mexican Street Corn usually slathered in mayonnaise, chili powder, and lime juice and topped with cilantro that is the perfect vehicle for all sorts of savoury add-ons. It is usually messy to eat. Card’s elote creation is the real deal. He switches up the mayonnaise just a little by adding the reddish-brown beetroot for a distinct sweet taste and its richness in taste is counterbalanced by crushed spicy nachos on top replacing the usual herbs, that blend well with the corn juices.
“I like being able to have the freedom to be myself in the kitchen. Tacbar is incomparable, we’re raising the bar. There’s no turning back once you enter this upbeat spot,” he said.