Dave Andrea and Payton Curry, the duo behind Scottsdale's Brat Haus, unveiled their newest project to guests and media on Saturday. Taco Haus, located in the same North Scottsdale strip mall as the infamous Amy's Baking Company, looks to capture the spirit of a variety of Latin American cuisines, including tacos, empanadas, and ceviche.
The wide-ranging menu could be a recipe for disaster, but Taco Haus seems to avoid that fate by embracing the fact that it is not a Mexican taco house -- despite the name. This place is a Latin food catch-all where Curry has taken broad, mostly successful, deviations from traditional recipes.
Brat Haüs received high marks in the décor department, but the atmosphere at Taco Haus misses the mark -- if only subtly. To be fair, Brat Haüs set the bar high. Unlike Brat Haüs, which is housed in a stand-alone building, Taco Haus calls a cheesy strip mall home. The restaurant's eclectic mix of rustic wood, white subway tiles, and modern light fixtures is almost successful in making you forget where you're dining.
The large patio provides a less-than-romantic view of a crowded parking lot (and on one side, the back of a dry cleaner) and lacks the bright, airy feel associated with al fresco dining, thanks to a looming shade structure. You're more likely to enjoy sitting inside at one of the sleek wooden tables or, better yet, at one of the long community tables that run down the center of the room.
The bar occupies one side of the restaurant, serving Mexican and craft beer on tap and cocktails. And at the back of the room, you'll find the white-tiled open kitchen, where the kitchen crew was busy making fresh tortillas and shucking oysters on Saturday night.
Of the two tacos we tried, the more memorable was the rotisserie chicken, which featured exceptionally moist green chile chicken with pickled cabbage and roasted corn. At $2.75 each, the carne asada tacos lacked enough flavor to justify the price. The $6 mole chicken empanada might seem pricey but at least delivers an enjoyable mole sauce and a dangerously good pastry shell.
The ceviche section of the menu features four options, three of which we tried. With mango, apple, sprouts, celery, and pickled onions, the ahi ceviche might not be the most traditional recipe but is the sort of well-balanced dish to have real mass appeal. The same goes for the shrimp ceviche with lime, avocado, cilantro, jicama, and tomato and the scallop variety, with serrano pepper vinagrette, grilled corn, shallots, and garlic. None knocked us over with spice or citrus but could be good options for those looking for milder yet still Latin-inspired flavor.
Our favorite bite of the night came from the house specialty grilled tuna. Served -- at least on Saturday -- as a salad-like mixture of quinoa, sweet potato, raisins, arugula, pickled grapes, and hunks of ahi tuna, it was a bite we'd have been happy to eat more of. But the $24 price tag seemed, again, a bit high.
Along with Central Phoenix's new Taco Guild and Joyride Taco House -- as well as Isabel's Amor in Gilbert -- it seems Taco Haus is among the new restaurants looking to fill a need (if there is one) for upscale modern Mexican and Latin eats. It's hard to imagine wanting to come back for a pricey dinner in a less-than-memorable setting but not impossible to see that Taco Haus could appeal to certain crowds.
If nothing else, moviegoers at Harkins Scottsdale and Shea will finally have a real pre-show dining option. Because we all know ABC just wasn't cutting it.