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Chasers Bar & Grille

Madison WI

319 w gorham st, madison WI 53703
mon-thurs 4pm-2am, fri-sat 11am-2:30am, sun 11am-11pm

Chaser's Bar & Grille (Madison WI) - taco review

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Rating: 68
Price: $

Recently, three-fifths of the powerful Little Spaight Business Consortium (that 60% being valued business associates Erin, Lindsey, and Steve) joined eastside business associate Kaitlin and myself in an attempt to delve to the heart of Wisconsonian culture. Step 2 in our plan was to see Wisconsin's most famous ice-fishing musical at a cut-rate price. Step 1 involved taking advantage of an extremely cheap Wednesday night taco opportunity at Chaser's. Tacos may not be an obviously heritable part of Wisconsin culture, but I strongly believe that weeknight specials are one of Wisconsin's stronger points.

The first question that comes to mind is, what are who chasing? If you've spent months on the internet trying to answer that question, you may as well incinerate your computer, because there's no new information forthcoming. If you're curious as to how a place offering 50-cent tacos can get you: well, read on, comrades! There are at least 14 ways that Chaser's attempts to get you, several of which succeeded despite our best efforts (please note any additional ways they get you in the comments section).

As a cultural stronghold, Chaser's bases their business model on Wisconsin's storytelling heritage (an unexpectedly appropriate pre-ice-fishing-musical stop). Drink menus were conspicuously absent, and we relied entirely on our server Taylor's trapperkeeper-esque memory to give us our options. Fortunately, the desire for options was quickly eliminated when we were informed that big ol' margaritas were available for $3.50, and the only decision necessary was between strawberry and lime. All 5 members of our party chose lime, which is telling of something, but it's unclear what. The margaritas arrived promptly and were as large as advertised. However, the margaritas were also primarily margarita mix (as one might expect from the rock-bottom price) and had no discernible evidence of tequila.

Unperturbed, we sallied forth to Taylor's next riddle. We were offered an opportunity to break with the Upper Midwest's strong narrative tradition and look at a menu; or, we could order tacos. Only business associate Kaitlin succumbed to temptation and looked at a menu, but she quickly righted her head and went for the tacos. Nested within the taco ordering process are several somewhat devious techniques through which they try to get you. Chaser considers a baseline taco to be a hard-shell beef taco, and this is the 50-cent item. However, there are two potential upgrades available independently: soft flour tortilla (another 50 cents) and chicken (another 50 cents). Should one choose both upgrades, a soft chicken taco would be $1.50, or triple the price of the hard-shell beef.

Faced with the classic dilemma of both wanting to eat everything available and not wanting to be got, I ended up ordering 5 tacos: 3 hardshell beef, 1 soft-shell beef, and 1 hard-shell chicken. One should note that this comes out to $3.50 due to the upgrades on the latter two tacos. Between the lot of us, I believe 19 tacos were ordered, approximately half baseline tacos and the other half in varying states of upgrade. Only business associate Erin was so bold as to acquire both upgrades simultaneously with a soft-shell chicken taco.

Upon placing our orders, Taylor verbally presented us with another set of options: salsa and sour cream? Each of us answered in turn: 'Yes' and 'yes.' Little did we know we were agreeing to another 25-cent markup in exchange for the sour cream. All our decisions made, we sat back to wait for our tacos. They came out minutes later - perhaps the shortest wait I've ever had for such a sizable order of tacos. And, apart from one missing sour cream portion (which was remedied extremely rapidly), everything was as it should be. Throughout the meal, Chaser's in general (and Taylor specifically) was quite impressive, right down to splitting our check 5 ways and accepting 4 different credit cards to pay for it all.

The food, unfortunately, was not quite up to Taylor's standard of excellent. The salsa was especially disappointing. It was a bland tomato-y mess, with little to redeem it. The strongest flavor was actually a strange bitter/vinegar combination which I had never encountered before, and hope to never encounter again. Fortuntely, Chaser had sprung for Cholula, which was a big help in seasoning our tacos. (It should be noted that the sour cream was of standard sour cream quality [i.e. delicious] and worth 25 cents).

The tacos themselves were fairly unexciting. While I was raised on hard-shell corn tortillas, and still enjoy them to this day, they have not historically been particularly impressive in a restaurant setting. This is because the sort of restaurant that serves hard-shell corn tortillas typically, and unfortunately, tops them with lettuce, diced tomatoes, and mild cheddar cheese. I've long maintained a principled opposition to lettuce in tacos; mild cheddar cheese I haven't yet ranted about, but it mostly serves to raise expectations (thought process: 'Cheese! Oh boy! This is gonna be great!') and then shatter them ('Wait, I just finished my taco and didn't even taste the cheese!'). The cheese's case was not helped by the sparseness with which it was applied. Let the record show that I have no qualms with the diced tomatoes.

The meat within the tacos was more or less as expected. The beef was a low-viscosity ground beef with standard taco seasoning flavor. A nice comfort food, but not particularly inspired. The chicken was more impressive, also fairly low-viscosity but had a bit of kick to it and didn't disappoint. As for the hard-shell vs. soft-shell debate, I'd say it's not worth the upgrade. As flour tortillas, the soft shells stick to the mouth and don't impart either texture of flavor. When your meat is not firm, the tortilla serves a valuable role (along with the bullshit lettuce) in giving your neurons a textural contrast. Obviously, an exception is made in the case of breakfast tacos, for which a 100% gooey consistency is highly preferable. In the eternal balance of quality against bargains, I would recommend a mix of hard-shell chicken and beef tortillas from Chaser's at a 2:1 ratio.

While 50 cents is awfully cheap for a taco, Chaser's tacos aren't awful. Unfortunately for them, the Official Charter mandates that tacos are rated independently of price. At Chaser's the prices are great, but the tacos aren't so good. With a litany of television screens, phenomenal customer service, and cheap calories, Chaser's is one of the rare spots that should be visited despite the unabashedly low taco quality. After all, I ate 5 tacos and drank an enormous/weak margarita for less than 10 dollars, tip included. Just make sure you only go on Wednesdays.

For those curious about Step 2 of the plan laid out at the beginning of the article, it was a stunning success, and I am now in the market for a snowmobile suit.

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