Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Heights Taco and Tamale is a fantastic throwback

Posted By on Tue, Apr 21, 2015 at 12:40 PM

click to enlarge ARK-MEX: Steamed Delta-style tamales are a highlight  of the new Heights Taco and Tamale Co. menu. - JESS ROBERTS
  • Jess Roberts
  • ARK-MEX: Steamed Delta-style tamales are a highlight of the new Heights Taco and Tamale Co. menu.

There are few things more satisfying than a menu that makes me like something I wouldn't normally seek out. Even more impressive is the showing from Heights Taco and Tamale Co., the new Yellow Rocket Concepts restaurant that held a couple of soft openings over the weekend in anticipation of their grand opening on Wednesday, April 22

I don't normally like Southernized Mexican food. I'm not the biggest fan of Delta-style tamales. But I'm already making plans to head back to the former Browning's location on Kavanaugh for more of both — it's that good.

click to enlarge DIP GOODNESS: Pick three of five possible salsas for an excellent starter. - JESS ROBERTS
  • JESS ROBERTS
  • DIP GOODNESS: Pick three of five possible salsas for an excellent starter.

So how to begin? With salsa, naturally. Like sister restaurant Local Lime, Heights Taco has a selection of starter salsas and dips in a "pick-3" format, and while I thought the sweet/spicy salsa verde and the house red were perfectly delicious, it was the creamy jalapeno and onion that really won my heart. Years ago, my folks used to make a dip similar to this, and the first bite of that cool, creamy concoction sent me back about 25 years into a simpler time. Only better. "Like (something), only better" was a recurring theme of the meal. Ever eat hot tamales from a can? Ever make your own hamburger tacos? You'll find a lot to love here. I don't mean to insinuate that any of the food tastes like it is from a can, mind you — this is a perfected, idealized version of those Deep South classics that will ring your nostalgia doorbell but still impress with innovative freshness.

Along with the dip, grab a plate of tamales. These bad boys are cheap, they are delicious and they are addictive. Slather them with chili and cheese for a decadent experience or just enjoy them right out of the husk on a saltine cracker—it doesn't really matter because these firm, tender tamales are perfection—never soggy, not too salty, and full of seasoned beef flavor that I couldn't get enough of. "Tamale" is in the name, people, so don't pass them up.

click to enlarge SKILLET EATS: Enchiladas worth shouting about. - JESS ROBERTS
  • Jess Roberts
  • SKILLET EATS: Enchiladas worth shouting about.

What else is good? We highly enjoyed the great enchiladas, served up in a full-size cast iron skillet. I hope there's somebody on staff as fanatical about cast iron as I am — no air-drying for those bad boys. It's such a great presentation, though, that I hope that it sticks around—it's hard not to feel like a cowboy when you're eating your grub directly from a skillet. Beef and cheese fillings are both fantastic with these enchiladas, and I don't know which sauce I like better, the red or green (we ordered both just to see. We may have to do this on the regular). Tasty rice and bean sides are nice to eat alone, and are even better when combined with the sauce in the skillet for something I used to do as a kid—mix everything, eat with chips.

I learned from our server that our last item, a pair of crunchy ground beef tacos, had been finalized only that day— and I would like to take this opportunity to tell the Heights Taco folks to KEEP THOSE TACOS ON THE MENU. 

I love tacos. Tripa, al pastor, carne asada — all the authentic joints in Southwest Little Rock speak to me. Pork belly and skirt steak out at Local Lime is my jam. The Cuban taco at Baja Grill is magnificent. But here's the thing: Sometimes I want an old-school ground beef and crispy shell taco. With shredded cheese, sour cream and a bit of tomato. And that is exactly what these bad boys were. Take a crunchy shell that soaks up just enough flavor from the beef to have some flexibility without getting soggy, tweak the seasonings to be heavy on chili powder and cumin, and top with shredded cheese: this isn't difficult cuisine but it's being done so well here that I'm giving the place a rare rave.

As for the space and service: Both are fantastic. Mosaic floors and walls greet diners with a real comfortable feel, and our server Davion was among the best we've ever dealt with — he had an uncanny ability to know when he was needed without our ever looking for him. Bar? Well, a Lee Edwards-led bar isn't ever going to lead you astray, and the slushy mojito should become just as much a signature drink as Local Lime's frozen margarita.

Bottom line? Just go eat there. If there's a line, wait in it. We'll be back as soon as we can, because I just might be a fan of this Southern/Mexican stuff after all.

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