Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Tacos 4 Life is a welcome addition to what used to be called Hamburger Row in Conway, the strip of Oak Street in between downtown and Interstate 40 that literally every fast food chain known to the developing world has called home at one point or another.
Inside, the decor is new, clean, familiar, well lit. To use a good Conway-grown analogy, it's the Kris Allen of restaurants. There's a nice sheen to it and you know, even though it's not advertised, there's a Christian undercurrent to the whole thing (not that there's anything wrong with that).
Part of the restaurant's business model is what made brands like Toms Shoes and Warby Parker glasses so appealing. You buy something you need and the company donates in kind to a worthy cause. Tacos 4 Life donates $0.22 for every taco, quesadilla, burrito, salad or rice bowl to Feed My Starving Children, a Christian nonprofit that provides meals to starving and malnourished children in orphanages, schools, clinics and refugee camps around the world.
But you're reading this to find out whether the food is any good or not. And it is. It's really good. But a taco truck it ain't. Tacos 4 Life is more of a sandwich restaurant that uses tortillas for bread. We're fine with this, by the way. In a perfect world, we'd eat tacos for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The restaurant has a set menu and then some seasonal options, like the Grilled Street Corn ($3.95), a flame-kissed ear coated in a fine layer of mayo and topped with cotija cheese, cilantro and spices. This was an excellent appetizer and one we'd recommend to diners when it pops up on the menu again.
The Ultimate Trio ($6.92), always on the menu, was a solid appetizer to share with friends, as we did. Cheese dip, guacamole and salsa come with freshly fried tortilla chips. The chips were substantial enough to handle a piling of guacamole and then some. The salsa was sharp and fresh, and the guac was hearty with lots of cilantro, some lime juice and just enough onion. We could have made a meal of it had we allowed ourselves to keep going. The cheese dip was good and creamy. Not mind-blowing, but solid.
When it came time for tacos, our spouse went with a tropical theme. We loved the flavor combination of pineapple, toasted coconut and shrimp (ours were fried) on the Ono Shrimp Taco ($4.89). The crunch from the green onions and lettuce was nice and cut the sweetness of the ono sauce, a light cream sauce with a subtle pineapple flavor. We found the dollop of sauce to be a bit too generous, but the flavors were spot on.
We also tried one of the tacos from the summer specials menu — the Island Jerk Chicken ($3.79). We're big jerk chicken taco fans, and this one stood up to the ones at some of our other favorite taco joints. Tacos 4 Life's grilled jerk chicken was sweet, juicy and well seasoned, with a little bit of a kick and served with mango-pineapple salsa and fresh cabbage. The fruit was fresh, the cabbage crunchy. What more can you ask for from a summer taco?
We weren't as pleased with the Cuban Taco ($4.04). Generally, any pork option is our favorite on the menu, but this one missed if only for one ingredient: cheese. We love cheese and we love pork, but mixing the two can be precarious. The shredded pork taco was topped with bacon, sweet pickle, a "sweet secret sauce" and gouda. The sweet pickles, rich cheese and the bacon were just too much at once. Knock a couple of toppings off this one and it has a chance.
The Counselor was one of our favorite tacos. It was strips of flank steak, topped with Korean barbecue sauce, shredded cabbage, fried wonton strips that added a nice crunch and yum yum sauce. Don't ask us what yum yum sauce is, but it hit the mark. Our server told us it's one of the more popular choices, and for good reason.
The Fried Chicken Taco ($3.49) was a table favorite: comfort food wrapped in a warm tortilla. Chunks of deliciously fried chicken were drizzled with chipotle aioli and honey and then topped with shredded, crisp iceberg lettuce. All we can say is it hinted at perfection. The chicken is obviously fried in the kitchen (not in some distant food lab), the slightly spicy sauce provided a nice little kick, the lettuce gave everything a nice, clean crunch, and the addition of honey was inspired. If it sounds like we're overselling it, just go try it. It was everything you like about food at once. It was warm, soft, cool, crispy, sweet, tender, spicy and just good. They might be able to get away with a restaurant that sold only this kind of taco.
Tacos 4 Life is fun without the fuss. You order, then sit. The staff is helpful and friendly. And there's a ton of stuff on the menu. We couldn't get close to sampling it all, something we'll try on future trips.
And say what you will about Kris Allen, the kid can sing.
Tacos 4 Life
716 W. Oak St.
2235 Dave Ward Drive
1572 N. College Ave.
A Little Rock location is set to open at the Shackleford Crossing shopping center in early 2017.
Hours vary depending on location. Find hours at tacos4life.com.
No alcohol. Credit cards accepted.