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The Taco Shop

Madison WI

604 university ave, madison WI 53715
daily 11am-3am

The Taco Shop (Madison WI) - taco review

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Rating: 86
Price: $$$

**This review was written as part of my ongoing collaboration with The Dish, Madison's premiere culinary magazine**

The To-Go

2 tacos from a Madison-by-way-of-Copenhagen taco spot. Shredded beef was surprisingly good, shredded chicken less exciting. Salsa was great on chips, but didn't stand out on the tacos.

The Sit-Down

The Taco Shop is a unique Madison establishment; the other 4 global Taco Shop locations are in Copenhagen and Amsterdam. As a matter of fact, immediately before moving to Madison, I actually attempted to visit the Amsterdam location - however, they were closed when I was in the neighborhood, and I thought I'd have to spend the rest of my life wondering what could have been. Imagine my surprise, upon moving to Madison, and spotting Taco Shop #5! Apparently, the Madison-Scandinavia connection is familial, and this location was opened up by the founder's daughter & son-in-law.

Well, after biking by TTS on my way to work every day for the past 18 months, I figured April was the perfect time to give them a shot. The snow was recently melted, weather was cold & rainy, and I was deep in the midst of studying for my prelim exam when I needed a taco pick-me-up. I biked over to TTS from Engineering Hall and placed my order for two tacos, one apiece of the shredded beef ($3) and shredded chicken ($2.50). The place was pretty quiet when I came in, so I received my food quickly.

TTS is the sort of place that splits the difference between table service and fast food, where you order at a counter then they bring you the food wherever you're sitting. Reasonably, then, they also split the difference between free chips and salsa (to be expected at any sit-down establishment) and a la carte (as is typical of most to-go style taco spots). My tacos came out quickly, accompanied by a handful of chips, and a couple bottles of salsa (hot and mild).

The tacos were served on soft flour tortillas (I was given the choice between hard & soft when I ordered) and topped with lettuce, cheese, pico de gallo, and sour cream. They were a reasonable size, and having eating enormous meals for the preceding 3 dinners and malted milk balls all day, I was glad that I stuck with 2 tacos - it was enough to fill me up, but not leave me uncomfortably full at the end of the experience.

I started with the shredded beef taco, and it was surprisingly good. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I can't say I expected much out of TTS, mostly because neither Denmark nor the Netherlands have a strong tradition of Mexican food). The beef was well-seasoned and well-cooked, tender without being too chewy. The beef was immersed in some sort of sauce, which had a nice cumin flavor and a slight kick to it. The toppings were a nice addition to the taco, and everything felt like it was in the right proportions. I was neither overwhelmed by lettuce nor meat.

I moved on to the shredded chicken, and was a little less impressed. It's a well-documented fact that chicken is less delicious than beef in all settings (except, of course, marsala form), but I also felt that the preparation of the chicken wasn't quite up to snuff with the beef. It was a bit chewier and the marinade wasn't as flavorful. I also thought that the taco was a little overstuffed with chicken, and could have given up a bit more space to the sour cream and cheese.

The astute reader will notice that I haven't devoted any space to describing the salsas. Before any taco review, I give the salsa options a few tastes solo and on chips before applying them to my tacos so I can think about them in isolation from the taco experience. Both of these salsas tasted quite good on chips. The salsa labeled "mild" was flavorful and had a surprising amount of tanginess and saltiness, which is a great combination. The salsa labeled "hot" was, as advertised, hotter than the mild. I'm not sure I can give it a full 'hot' endorsement - maybe more like 'spicy' - but for a European-style taco shop in Madison I was pleasantly surprised. It didn't have quite as much flavor, but was still enjoyable.

Strangely, when added to the tacos, I could barely taste the salsas, no matter what the quantity. I tried putting on big dollops of the hot, mild, and a combo, with no results. I have never experienced this phenomenon before, and my initial hypothesis is that some sort of tortilla-salsa chemical reaction rendered the salsa tasteless, and I immediately submitted an application to the NSF. While this wasn't a big deal on the already-flavorful shredded beef, I think a strong salsa could have really enhanced my experience on the chicken taco.

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