Mission Taco Joint
Mexican street food from the heart of California comes to The Loop.
HUNGRY PEOPLE don’t want a history lesson—they want tacos. But to fully appreciate what’s special about Mission Taco Joint, a bit of background is in order.
As the name suggests, this new eatery in The Loop takes its inspiration from the Mission District in San Francisco. California’s Mexican cuisine is influenced by early Spanish missionaries who were big into vegetables, tomatoes, pork and spices—unlike the influences in Texas, where chiles and beef came to define “Mexican” food. Case in point: Only two of the eight tacos here rely on beef fillings.
Now, back to those hungry people. At $2.50 or $3 each, the tacos nestled into the cleverly crafted metal racks are a steal. Pair a couple of them with a small side (we suggest the cheesy goodness of the roasted street corn), and a very filling, very flavorful meal is yours for less than $10.
ON THE MENU The menu lists only three main categories: tacos, burritos and tortas. But have no fear—there are plenty of options. Tacos come with cactus, slow-roasted pork, brisket, duck, fish, chicken, tofu and grilled flank steak. Our favorite was chicken marinated in the sweet-peppery spice achiote, topped with pickled onion and queso fresco.
The burritos’ protein-starch-vegetable formula lends itself to playful combinations, like the Three Little Piggies: braised pork shoulder, chorizo and pork belly with a hint of black beans, slathered with
ancho barbecue sauce. Finishing an entire torta is always a challenge, but Mission’s are paired with a seriously tasty chile-crusted potato fry that makes it next to impossible—that includes the delectable chicken torta topped with a tasty cilantro-pepita pesto. Among the rotating salsa selections, the roasted jalapeño and tomatillo had the most well rounded flavors; the fiery arbol salsa didn’t deliver as much fire as expected. Fans of Texas-style heat will be reaching instead for the hot sauce bottles on every table.
There’s a bit of overlap between Mission Taco Joint and two of the other restaurants owned by brothers Adam and Jason Tilford. For example, carne asada fries, chicken flautas and Baja fish tacos are carryovers from Milagro Modern Mexican in Webster Groves; the roasted street corn is a favorite side at Tortillaria in the Central West End.
BEHIND THE BAR In mixologist Joel Clark’s house-crafted cocktail recipes, the usual margarita workhorse, tequila blanco, appears less often than you’d expect. Instead, be prepared for brown liquors in drinks like The Bourbon Reforms (bourbon, Missouri moonshine, sweet vermouth, Benedictine and habanero shrub bitters) and light, fruity flavors like the Dove of Spain (reposado tequila, grapefruit juice, lime juice, soda water and sugar).
It turns out that quite a few local craft beers go really well with tacos, including the Schlafly Kolsch, Civil Life Vienna Lager, 4 Hands Centennial Red and Perennial Hommel Bier. Among the national craft beers on tap, the one most closely linked to the California-inspired Mexican dishes on the menu would have to be the Anchor Steam from San Francisco.
ON THE WALLS The design for the tables and bar that runs down an entire side of the main room comes from Space Architecture + Design, well known locally for its green approach to rehabs. The building itself is repurposed (it formerly housed the Delmar Lounge), as are some of the wood and materials in the back room (salvaged from a garage).
The Mission District motif appears again in a mural at the far end of the restaurant. The artist, Angie Cornish, also had a hand in the décor at another eyecatching eatery, Diablitos Cantina in Midtown.
A big tip of the sombrero to the Tilfords for adding another layer of complexity to the local Mexican food scene. From the informality of the taquerías along Cherokee Street to a destination restaurant like Milagro, St. Louisans have dozens of places to discover the diversity of the cuisines we lump together as “Mexican.” Mission Taco Joint is a good place to start that pilgrimage.
Mission Taco Joint
Mission Taco Joint
Photo credit: Jennifer Silverberg