The opening page on Soul Taco’s website says it all: “Because a taco with no soul is just a sandwich.” To that, I say both “¡Absolutamente!” and “Yes, indeed, y’all!” in a nod to the restaurant’s fusion of Latin American flavors and Southern comfort food.
Opened in October 2018 by three friends, Soul Taco offers out-of-the-box tacos, a sense of play and yet another choice in the expanding restaurant corridor along Second Street in Jackson Ward occupied by Lucy’s Restaurant, Salt & Forge, Big Herm’s Kitchen and J Kogi.
On a recent night at Soul Taco, the Braised Oxtail “al Pastor” taco ($4.50) was a great way to start, featuring tender and smoky root beer-braised oxtail punctuated with the citrus zip of pineapple and roasted jalapeño salsa.
The Pulled Pork “Carnitas” taco ($4.50) was filled with sweet pulled pork, a pretty hot pink slaw and cilantro crema, which provided an enjoyable tang.
With a grin to THE staple of the American South, the Buttermilk Battered Fried Chicken taco ($3.75) combined small pieces of buttermilk-battered chicken with perfectly ripe and velvety avocado and a dash of pickled red onion.
For vegetarians, there’s the 7 Layer Dip “Gordita” taco ($4.50) with warm fried avocado — yes, fried, very cool — and earthy black-eyed peas complemented with the brightness of pico de gallo and jalapeño lime ranch.
In a detour from tacos, I also ordered the Mississippi Pot Roast Taquitos ($4.50). They were super-crunchy, stuffed with flavorful braised beef and drizzled with roasted jalapeño ranch.
Soul Taco offers a few sides, including Elote Loco ($3) — small, easy-to-eat pieces of roasted corn on the cob that offered lots of sweet and savory flavors with cilantro, lime, hot sauce aioli and agave hot sauce. Next time, I’ll also try the Hush Puppy Nachos ($4) and the Smoked Mac and Queso-dilla ($4) with chipotle mac and cheese in a flour tortilla.
When I visited Soul Taco, its ABC license was due to come through in a week or so. So if it isn’t already offering beer, wine and batch cocktails, it should be any day now. Those beverages will be in addition to its non-alcoholic offerings, including Mexican Coke; house-made tea sweetened with agave syrup; homemade limeade; and the Jose Palmer, its version of the Arnold Palmer made with its limeade and agave sweet tea.
The trio of friends who opened Soul Taco, Richmond native Trey Owens with Nar Hovnanian and Ari Augenbaum, met during the course of their careers. They chose Richmond for their debut restaurant after a Washington, D.C., opportunity fell through and then came up with the Soul Taco concept and menu together.
They’ve created a fun and welcoming experience in a small shotgun-style space with its wood floor, white-painted wall filled with offbeat framed pieces, and black ceiling strung with festive party lights. The restaurant is fast-casual, so diners place their orders at a counter before having a seat and waiting for their food to be delivered to them.
One small complaint: The music is a little loud, but conversation is still possible. (The crowd almost entirely composed of twentysomethings didn’t appear to mind in the least.) A second small complaint: The food took a while to arrive, and I heard apologies from the staff more than once as they delivered it. (Again, nobody seemed to mind.)
Those two minor issues aside, Soul Taco is a terrific new addition to the Jackson Ward dining scene. I’ll be back for the soul, the quirk and tacos that are most definitely not just sandwiches.