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Tex Tubb's Taco Palace

Madison WI

2009 atwood ave, madison WI 53704
sun-weds 11am-9pm, thurs 11am-10pm, fri-sat 11am-12am

Tex Tubb's Taco Palace (Madison WI) - taco review

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Rating: 85
Price: $$$

When people hear that I've moved to Wisconsin (or, Wisco, as we may or may not like to call it) their reactions generally fall into two categories:
1. Expressions of the fact that it will be quite cold in the winter, as they understand it.
2. Skepticism of the Madison taco scene
In honor of fact #1, the Little Spaight Business Consortium and myself attempted to debunk fact #2 on the night of 2011's first snowfall. After meeting in the heart of Little Spaight, valued business associates Erin, Lindsey, Steve, Eric, and Kate joined me at Tex Tubb's Taco Palace.

My trip to Tex Tubb's has been a long time coming. When I made my Madison debut back in February, local expert Eric had breathed word of a delicious taco joint down the street from his place. After moving to Madison, I drove past TTTP on multiple occasions and was enamored with the aesthetic qualities of their decor - recently, various configurations of colorful lights have been even more appealing to me than usual. Tex Tubb advertises himself as an Austin-style taco joint. For me, this has a strong association with delicious breakfast tacos, which is a-okay with me. We arrived at TTTP during the dinner hour, so this was unfortunately not an option, but Eric confirms that they serve breakfast on some days.

One defining characteristic of Tex Tubb's is choice. The taco options numbered nearly 2 dozen, in two categories 'Austin-Style' and 'Fancy'. It was unclear how they chose the category for an individual taco. There was a salsa bar, with 4 salsas. They even had Lone Star! While puzzling over our brain-teasers, we somehow managed to order a bunch of tacos. By my count, amongst the 4 of us, we ordered 9 unique taco flavors. Personally, I selected carne asada and al pastor (while in an 'Austin-Style' mindset) and, because I was feeling a bit 'Fancy', also a Southern Comfort. Let the record show that a Southern Comfort taco is markedly different from a Southern Comfort beverage. While the beverage is a whiskey/fruit-flavored liqueur, the taco is fried chicken with hash, slaw, and chipotle mayo on a tortilla. In fact, they aren't even in the same phase of matter!!

After placing our order, we requested some chips, and received a generous 3 basketsful. This gave us an opportunity to sample the 4 salsa bar options. They were arrayed from 'Mild' (on the far left) to 'Hot' (on the far right). The spacing between salsa tubbs in the salsa bar was very pleasing to the eye and did a good job preventing crowding amongst the hordes of prospective salsa-consumers. Starting from the far right, we had two red salsas. I believe the names were 'Ancho Chile (hot)' and 'New Mexico (medium)'. Despite a somewhat similar color, they were quite different in both flavor and function. On first bite, the Ancho Chile had a strong smoky flavor and was somewhat uninspiringly spicy. Meanwhile, the New Mexico had an immediate kick and a bit more of a sweet/tomato flavor. Business associates and I remarked on the strangeness of their heat-rating scale. After subsequent bites, it became apparent that the Ancho Chile had more of a slow-burn-temporal-accumulation to it. However, the net spiciness level of each was probably about equal in the long run, and I disagree with their separation into two separate categories of Scoville Units. Of the two, I preferred the New Mexico, but perhaps that's simply due to my New Mexican heritage.

Moving on to the leftmost salsas, the Salsa Verde (medium) was quite unique in the world of verdes. It was a markedly sweet salsa, to the point that the tomatillos were almost overwhelmed. It was imperfect but also respectable; however, for a savory (non-swarthy) man such as myself, the sweetness did not leave me wanting more after each bite. Finally, we got to the Tomate (mild). As noted by business associate Erin, this was a delicious salsa. The tomato was well crushed but preserved its flavor, and the spice combination accentuated a tomato's natural tanginess and added some salt to the mix. This was clearly the preferred salsa for the Little Spaight Business Consortium, especially business associate Lindsey, who used a tremendous quantity on each of her tacos.

Oh! I notice that I have mentioned tacos. I am now honor-bound to describe them. As mentioned, I ordered 3. Tex Tubb proudly advertises the fact that his tortillas are fresh-made at Mercado Marimar (currently rated as Madison's #1 taco stop - please consult that review to for photographic evidence of their tortilla-making capabilities). I received my tacos, each on a single tortilla, with ~37.5% of a lime (~12.5% per taco). Accompanying them was a tremendous heap of sweet potato fries and a side of chipotle mayo. Feeling Fancy, I started with the Southern Comfort (taco). Unfortunately, the breading was not all that I had hoped. The chicken itself was fairly well prepared - perhaps a bit tough, but nothing too startling - but it didn't have the all-round flavor explosion that I expect from my breading. The slaw was fairly mild, the chipotle mayo delicious, and the whole thing came together to make a rather unremarkable - pleasant, but mild - taco (mildness not quite on par with the Bastion of Mildness which is Maggie Bluffs). After that, I was desiring Austin-Style tacos sensation, so I moved on to the al pastor. For the past few months al pastor has been my consistently favorite taco at many places I've tried, including the best taqueria in America. I was particularly intrigued by Tex Tubb's recipe. While most taquerias use the traditional pineapple marinade, Tex brings it back a step and uses Pina-flavored Jarritos. This is, perhaps not coincidentally, my favorite flavor of Jarritos. The pork came out nice and juicy with finely diced pineapple chunks on top. My first bite was exceedingly enjoyable - I got right into a tender pork hunk that was full of delicious juices. The marinade itself wasn't particularly strong (perhaps Jarritos is weaker than 'the real deal' pineapple juice), and the pineapple chunks weren't too powerful, but the pork was well-prepared and tasted really good. The Ancho Chile salsa didn't jive perfectly with the al pastor, but it was a worthwhile combination. Finally, I went for the carne asada. The hunks were slightly bigger than your average asada, and had an understated marinade that let the steak flavor come through. This was probably my favorite of the tacos. It was particularly good with a combination of the New Mexico and Tomate salsa. The Mercado Marimar tortilla was quite appropriate. I will note that TTTP expert business associate Eric recommends the Blackened Tilapia as the Tex's premier menu item. Needless to say, this sounds delicious, and will definitely be sampled at my earliest convenience. I will also note that the sweet potato fries were unbelievably good, especially when dipped in the chipotle mayo.

And I would be remiss to omit Tex Tubb's emphasis on fun. When our check arrived, our waiter challenged us to a simple dice game in which we could have won our food for free. While we all failed to roll correctly (lacking practice, for sure), this game is played every Wednesday night, and could be a great boon to the regular. More fun was to be found in the back: there was a pile of board games (including Hungry Hungry Hippos) and a shuffleboard table. Business associates Steve and Erin (mostly Steve) became quite excited by the shuffleboard table, and then completely and totally dismayed when it was revealed that the shuffleboard table did not have sufficient sand to facilitate gliding of the metal discs. After several failed attempts to salt the table (not dissimilar to 'salting [one's] game'), the noble Team Red put up a valiant fight before succumbing to the evil forces of Team Blue in a game.

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