The restaurant called The Local Taco is a statement about basic dough's myriad possibilities as a multicultural platform far beyond the one its original creators imagined. Here you will find a representative spectrum of flavors from the Deep South to the Far East and points in between, some tucked into flour tortillas as tacos, others wrapped in corn tortillas as enchiladas.
Certainly, The Local Taco did not invent this concept. For years, urban food trucks have been hawking kimchee quesadillas and countless other combinations of ethnic cuisines.
But The Local Taco — a small chain headquartered in Nashville with only three stores, including the newish one in Lexington — does get credit for bringing the concept here. It also gets kudos for, as the name implies, weaving locally sourced products, including Horseshoe Bend mushrooms and meats from Critchfield's, into the menu. A gap has at last been filled.
The restaurant's biggest and perhaps only challenge seems to be its service model. It's friendly and sweet, but things can get chaotic at the front counter: the boundaries between self- and table service are fuzzy, and if things are busy, there is really no time to explain the drill.
Once you carry your drinks and silverware to your table — there is some patio seating and plenty indoors — begin with Local's delicious guacamole. It's chunky with avocado, dotted with onion and tomato, perfectly salted, and it outshines the salsas and the bland pico de gallo. It might be pricey at $4 a scoop, but when you dip into it with greaseless chips, that's almost irrelevant.
To sample the widest spectrum of entrees, order a "plate," such as the lunch enchiladas (two for $8.25 with rice and beans) made, we are told, with local corn tortillas, or the selection of four soft tacos for $10.
The enchiladas benefit from the zesty lime in the corn tortillas and various toppings of cheeses and salsas. The brisket, although ropy here and there, tasted great with melted queso fresco. I adored the pepianlike "pumpkin seed pesto" covering the shrimp enchilada; however, the shellfish themselves were tough.
Tacos, with their terrific flavors and textural contrasts, are the overall better choice.
The brisket, somewhat dry in the enchilada, stayed moist and delicious in the taco. Korean barbecue, dubbed for its grilled meat with a sweet and salty marinade, was perfect with mild, crunchy slaw and nutty sesame seeds. The barbecue sauce on the tender pulled pork packs a rich, spicy punch; pickled jalapeños bring it all together.
Chicken chunks might be light, grilled with a bright tequila-lime marinade and a dousing of tomatillo salsa, or hearty, fried with buttermilk batter, squirted with mayo and loaded with refreshing handfuls of lettuce and tomato. The taco's crisp fried shrimp are so much better than the enchilada's sautéed ones. And I would prefer a fried fish taco with tartar sauce over a heavy, bready sandwich any day.
Vegetarians also have lovely choices, including a plateful of black beans and rice covered with sautéed peppers, onions and squash with a bit of queso fresco; the kitchen could be much more generous with the cheese. A better balance is achieved with the vegetable taco, loaded with portobello mushroom strips, a fine julienne of zucchini and yellow squash, shredded cabbage and a nice, rich schmear of chevre.
Definitely try a side of chewy turnip greens with diced tomatoes in a "broth" that transitions from sweet to tangy to hot.
There are infinite ways to mix and match the rich world of global cuisine, and tacos are an ideal vehicle. Let's hope The Local Taco's example has kickstarted a trend in Lexington that experiments bravely and successfully with unexpected culinary combinations.
Wendy Miller is a Lexington-based food and spirits writer and critic.