Last Monday after a long 12.5 hour OR shift, I quickly changed out of my OR scrubs and snagged a ride with Devon, a fellow coworker, to Federal Galley. We were excited to try a new post-work happy hour spot with some other friends from work. Not only is Federal Galley a few blocks from work, but I also heard from social media sources that tacos would be on one of the menus here. This could potentially be a dangerously amazing combination.
Federal Galley is located on the Nova Place grounds at 200 Children’s Way which is adjacent to where the The Incline’s Ultimate Food Truck Challenge occurred last fall. That’s where I fell in love with Las Chicas, if you remember. I know I do! The idea behind Federal Galley is very unique. The food hall contains four different fully functioning kitchens where chefs have the opportunity to introduce their creative plates to the city of Pittsburgh without the added barriers of starting out in the very competitive food industry. The founders of Federal Galley started this movement at their first location, Smallman Galley, in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.
When I heard about Federal Gallery having tacos, I knew I would probably end up ordering tacos here. I originally told my coworkers that I was not going to take blogging notes and to come back another time to write about the tacos but they saw that taco twitch in me and they knew I would end up blogging.
After I grabbed a drink at the full service bar in the hall, I did a quick lap around the 150 seat dinning area to the side where the four restaurant concepts/ kitchens were located. I saw pizza at Michigan&Trumbell, sandwiches and bites at Supper, American cuisine with a twist at Provision PGH and eventually ended my tour at El Lugar where tacos were waiting for me to order.
As I stood there looking at the menu, the first thing I noticed were the toppings that were listed under the different tacos. Toppings mentioned like yogurt, smoked cabbage, aioli, and mint definitely caught my attention. I was not going to find straight up traditional tacos here but a blend of traditional and new age tacos. Fillings here included smoked beef, pork, shrimp, chicken tinga, veggie picadillo, potato, cod, and chicharron (crispy pork skin). Although the chicharron would put me out of my comfort zone, I was dead set on the smoked beef, chicken tinga, and potato.
After placing my order, I had many questions I wanted to ask to El Lugar staff since this place was very to me. After talking for some time with some of the employees, they called over Stephen, the chef of both El Lugar and Provision PGH, who took some time from his busy operation to talk to me about his tacos.
Stephen welcomed me back into the kitchen where I had a first hand glance of him prepping and preparing his plates. I stood back and let Stephen take control of his masterpieces while we had our taco talk. Stephen grew up in Arizona and spent some time in Mexico. From his experiences, he perfected his masa recipe for homemade corn tortillas, learned the value of pickling, how to whip up fresh sauces and dressings and construct tacos with such high flavor profiles. I could tell how excited Stephen was about the work he put into his tacos.
After disappearing for quite some time, I returned to the table as the tacos arrived. As my coworkers called it, I had that taco twitch blogging urge in me. I frantically pulled out a napkin and started to write my initial thoughts. I know there was a rumor about J.K Rowling writing parts of her Harry Potter series on napkins, but no rumor here. I know I could have used my phone to take notes, but there is just something special about physically writing down thoughts.
So from my napkin bullet points, I can tell you this about my taco experience at El Lugar. Out of the three tacos I had, my favorite was definitely the smoked beef brisket. The beef was braised and smoked which made it crispy on the ends and tender everywhere else without an inch of fat. The beef was on a bed of cheddar cheese, pickled onion, and yogurt. A homemade mole verde (I believe) was placed on top of the smoked beef. I loved the yogurt as substitution for crema or sour cream. I couldn’t even tell the difference and it was a healthier alternative. The cheese was incredibly rich and reminded me of the cheddar cheese made at Smoke. The thick homemade corn shells which also added life to these tacos with a texture that I have not came across before. This taco definitely reminds me of the quality of tacos at Smoke but coming in at half the price.
My second favorite taco I tried here was the chicken tinga. The chicken had been marinated and embedded with carmalized onions and roasted for a very long time. A thickened homemade mango sauce was drizzled on the corn tortillas and mint was sprinkled on top. This taco was beautiful from the inside and out. What really stood out from other chicken tacos was the juiciness of the chicken. As Stephen stated, “I do not believe in chicken breast.” I stand behind this statement because the chicken thighs and the marinade really made this chicken juicy. Although I did not taste the mint, the sweet hints from the mango sauce complemented the chicken perfectly.
My third favorite taco so far at El Lugar was the potato with roasted chiles and mole poblano and topped with cotija cheese and cilantro. The potato held together really well inside the taco but was a little too spicy from the roasted chiles and too sour for me from the pickled potatoes. Chef Stephen did tell me that everything should be a little pickled and he lived up to his words here.
Devon also ordered the taco plate and I asked him his thoughts and ranking in his tacos. He told me that is favorite was the beef as well. He said “the smoke flavor was on point. The yogurt was something different that I have never experienced. Holds substance. A hearty taco.” His second favorite was the fish. He called it a fresh, clean taco. Devon’s third favorite was the pork just because he thought it was bland and did not stand out to him as much as the other two.
Overall I was impressed with the tacos at El Lugar. I would say my favorite taco here so far is the smoked beef. If I had to rank my favorite brisket tacos in the Burgh so far, I would say this one here is tied in first place the brisket taco at Smoke, followed by the brisket taco at Baby Loves Tacos.
On my next visit to El Lugar after work, I will probably get the smoked beef and chicken tinga again for sure, and try the pork with pickled onions and pineapple with roasted tomatillo salsa to see how the pork compares to the very popular pork tacos in the ‘Burgh.
I am sorry Southern Tier, but Federal Galley may be in the runnings for my favorite after work spot especially since tacos are involved here. Tacos trump all things.
Price: $3.50 per taco, $14 for a taco plate (3 tacos and a side of beans or greens)