Fun, funky tacos: Vinyl Taco pulls off unique menu
FARGO - Vinyl Taco is unique in Fargo. It's not upscale, working-class, retro or chic.
If it were in New York, Berlin or even Minneapolis, it would be one of the many witty little downtown bars that give the casual night out some real variety. But it's not. It's in Fargo. And that makes it unique, fun, funky and even a little serendipitous.
The menu is made up of tacos and a few interesting appetizers, most of which are of the chips-and-dressing variety.
The tacos aren't cheap, and you need three to make a meal. My two favorites are the crispy fish ($3.50) and the pork belly ($4), both served with red slaw. The fish taco comes garnished with fried capers, and the pork belly taco, if braised pork belly on an Upper Midwest taco isn't unique enough, comes with an au jus.
I know singling out these ingredients sounds a little snooty, but they make you think a little differently about tacos, fish, pork belly and capers. And that's what good cooking does. It's not comfort food, like our favorite ground beef and cheese standbys. It's a curious interpretation of a dish that's all about combinations of flavors rather than recipes.
Another example of this is the chicken and chorizo ($3.50), pairing the mild and not-so-mild, using avocado rather than hot sauce. If subtle isn't your thing, order it all with habanera salsa.
On the side, before and after, guacamole and chips are a good choice. The guac is mild and the chips are ultra-fresh and flavorful, but, again, not cheap at $5.
The bar list looks a little like a gentrified small-town tap. It's made up of good old North America whiskeys, including a good selection of Kentucky bourbons, Tennessee corn, Canadian whiskeys, a couple of decent blended scotches, and a lone single malt that will set you back $11 and is worth every penny, even from where it sits at the bottom end of the Talisker lineup.
As a matter of fact, if you come to Vinyl Taco only to drink whiskey, you've not wasted your time. It really deserves a second review leaving tacos aside and considering only the pour. It's no heartbreak to be disappointed in a $3 taco, but an $11 bourbon is another story.
For example, if you want an old-fashioned in-your-face American experience, go with Blanton's. But if you want to chat about old times and long lost loves, ask for the Woodford Reserve.
Service is good, but the servers should understand the drink list and the menu a little better. There is a fair bit of "I don't know, but I'll ask." This will get better with time, I'm sure.
The atmosphere is very uptown, casual but deliberate. In the evening, the lighting is soft and the colors are soothing. If you are old enough, the music is nostalgic. If not, it's classic. And they play it on vinyl. If you listen closely, you can hear the scratches. The scratches will get worse over time, and that's just fine.
Address: 520 1st Ave. N., Fargo
Cuisine: Mexican small plates
Hours: 4 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday; 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday
Reservations accepted: no
Dress: as you like
Alcohol: full bar
Credit cards accepted: Visa, MasterCard, Discover
Ratings (out of 4 stars)
Food: three stars
Service: three stars
Ambiance: four stars
Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.