XO Taco - Hugs and Kisses for Your Taste Buds
One of my greatest enjoyments is seeing an influx of new restaurant openings in the Greater Syracuse area. Not one to want to get into a rut of going to the same places over and over again, as we have been often accused of doing, the opportunity to see the excitement of patrons trying new ideas from chefs and restaurateurs really makes me happy. The nervous buzz from the wait staff and passion from the owners checking in with every guest adds to the excitement of the experience. On Thursday night, we were able to be those excited guests.
With the kids off at the ice rink with my mom, Kate and I jumped in the car and headed down to freshly opened XO Taco, just outside of downtown Syracuse. XO Taco is from the minds of the founders of Original Grain, Chris Bily and Eric Hinman, and Chef Steve Samuels. Capitalizing on the success of Original Grain, XO Taco brings the same fun and upbeat vibe to traditional Mexican tacos. In an article by syracuse.com, Bily is quoted with saying, "It's punk rock Mexican," and I agree. The restaurant was buzzing with lots of chatter from friends catching up, mostly Syracuse University students fresh back from summer break, couples on dates, and a whole lot of smiles. With on point branding, neon lights, XOs, and plenty of red, XO Taco draws you in to wanting to experience what the location has to offer.
Centered around the tortilla, XO offers a variety of tacos for the omnivores and herbivores coming to dine. After ordering drinks, I tried the Castaway which was a pleasant mix of smokey mezcal, pineapple, lime, cane sugar, ginger beer, and bitters, we were presented with a menu of nine different tacos, all to be served family style, and a list of "Other Stuff" that had some appetizers and a couple of entrees. Kate and I settled on trying the chips and guacamole and four of tacos to start:
Hot Chix - Roasted chicken, onion, and cilantro
Achiote Beef - Achiote braised beef, pineapple jicama slaw, and cilantro
Shrimp - Chili tamarind sauce, Asian slaw, and cilantro chimichurri
Bobby Vegetal - Roasted seasonal vegetables, salsa rosa, onion, and cilantro
Redfish - Tempura-battered redfish, chipotle slaw, radish, and cilantro
We had the Hot Chix in the lettuce wrap and noted that it had a wonderful flavor throughout out each bite, not too hot, but just enough to say hello and welcome to the party. The Achiote Beef was nice and the brightness from the slaw really made the flavor pop, as having a pleasant acidic bite in dishes should. I was a huge fan of the Shrimp taco, and ordered another on our second round, as it had a very pleasant "Pow in the Kisser" type heat and a good variety of texture with the Asian slaw. The Bobby Vegetal, a naming homage to Wu-Tang Clan member RZA’s 1998 album Bobby Digital in Stereo, had great texture and flavor. Where some vegetables are often over cooked and too soft, the seasonal vegetables included in the Bobby Vegetal were crisp and stood up to the salsa in the tortilla. Lastly, on round two of the tacofest, I tried the Redfish taco and was very happy with the lightness of the batter on the fish. Too often a chef will produce a thick and heavy batter that you can feel for hours after a meal, but Samuels' light and airy fish taco was one of my highlights of the night.
While we did not try two of the other must have menu items: the El Cumino Chicken – a half bird, cumin dusted, with cilantro and lime, or the Chill-ada – a black bean + rice enchilada, Nostalgia Chocolate mole, salsa verde, salsa rosa, cojita cheese, cilantro, and your choice of protein or tofu or guac, I know that we will be back to experience more of the love that the XO Taco menu has to offer. We recommend XO Taco for a night out with friends, a date night, or even bringing the kids, as menu items are on there just for them!