Although I missed the free tacos at the grand opening of Condado Taqueria in the Cultural District of Pittsburgh on March 14th this year, I knew I had to visit soon. There has been a lot of build up for this new restaurant, along with quite the following in Columbus, OH, where they have two other locations. I had a few friends of mine who already rave about this place, specifically for the reasonable prices and unbelievable queso so I could not wait to go (especially by bicycle).
Condado Taqueria opened at the former location of the restaurant/bar Tonic on 971 Liberty Avenue in the Cultural District, not far from the legendary tacos at Bakersfield and täkō. I ventured to Tonic before so I knew the layout would be very familiar to me. I also knew it would be easy to reach by bicycle with the bike lane on Penn Avenue. I found a bike rack right in front of the restaurant as well so I could watch my bike and peacefully eat tacos without a worry.
I arrived for lunch during the week with my friend Ben, who works downtown. The first thing I noticed was all the artwork directly painted on the walls. Tacos with wings, monsters (the monsters freaked Ben out), skeletons and skulls. I would describe the artwork as quirky and fun. I was intrigued by the art work and later found out that in 1910, a Mexican artist names Jose Guadalupe Posada made an etching and print of a skeleton he called “La Catrina” representing a wealthy, upper-class woman which is an iconic symbol of Dia de los Muertos, and you can see her image printed in a lot of places including here! I also noticed how loud it was too inside. I could still hear Ben but I felt like I had to raise my voice to be heard.
After we sat down, we checked out the drink menu. According the the waitress Condado Taqueria is known for their margaritas, but they also have an extensive list of whiskeys, tequilas and craft beers. I noticed that the margarita prices were super reasonable. The house margarita was only $6 and the flavored was $7. I went with the mango margarita and also eventually the house margarita. Why not try both, I was off for the day and week!
The most exciting part of the whole experience was the menu. Condado features a custom-order approach to tacos which makes the experience unique. At the table, we had a checklist style sheet to fill out. (Sort of reminded me of the build your own burger sheets from the Burgatory). On the sheet, there were options to pick ranging from the tortilla style, protein, toppings, cheese, salsa, sauces all the way to sides. There is also a column for quantity of tacos for each taco built. There can only be two different tacos per slip. So since I ordered three different tacos, I used two slips. It took me FOREVER to decide. The hardest part for me was the tortilla selection. I saved the tortilla for last because there were so many creative options. There was the option to have just soft flour shell or a crunchy corn shell included in the $3 price, but for $1 more, you could get both shells glued together by a wide combinations of guac, sour cream, bacon refried beans, or queso. This reminded me of the double decker or cheesy gordita crunch at Taco Bell.
You can get most toppings or sauces on the side if you are not sure about the spiciness. I know I liked the jicama slaw from Tres Rios but here on the menu, it was listed as spicy according to the scale of flames on the menu, so I wrote on my order slip to have it on the side.
My first taco consisted of a flour tortilla, roasted chicken, tomatoes, cilantro and onions, red cabbage, middlefield smoked cheddar, corn salsa with tomatoes, peppers, onions, salsa and a cilantro lime aioli sauce. I had so many fixings on this taco that I could not even see the chicken. When I did find the chicken, it was shredded and had a juicy rotisserie taste. Since I had three tacos I was able to put each style of cheese on each taco. The other two cheeses to pick from included queso fresco and chihuahua cheese (love) and I think I preferred both of those cheeses over the cheddar. I think next time I’ll get the roasted chicken taco, and I may skip the corn salsa and instead stick with the cilantro lime aioli sauce to cut down on the wetness from having sauce and salsa and switch to one of the other two cheeses.
For my second taco, I chose the peezler tortilla which consisted of a flour tortilla glued to a corn hard shell by bacon refried beans, guac and sour cream. I chose pulled pork as the protein with jicama and cabbage slaw, queso fresco, pineapple salsa with tomatoes, peppers, onions and no sauce. Anytime I get pork and there is an option for pineapple, I will definitely make that a combination. The pork was sweet and tender. I loved the queso fresco with pulled pork. The beans and chorizo between the shells was great but I am not sure if it completely works with this combination, especially the sour cream and guacamole. Sticking with a simple shell may work better here. I wrote in my notebook under this taco KISS to remember to “keep it simple stupid.” It is so easy to just to check everything on the order slips. Lastly, like I mentioned above, I got the jicama slaw on the side because of my fear about the spiciness, and I am glad I did because there were random bursts of heat.
My third taco, which I liked the most, consisted of homemade chorizo, cilantro, onion, corn salsa with tomatoes, peppers, onions and chihuahua cheese all on the Sweet Lucy tortilla. The Sweet Lucy consisted of a soft flour and hard corn shell together stuck together by a queso and guacamole. I would definitely get the homemade chorizo again. It was not greasy or heavy as I would expect. The queso was so rich I could taste it in every bite. I really think not having a sauce here worked because of the mild corn salsa, guac and queso. I really liked this combination because I could really taste all the components of the taco and it just worked.
I can not wait to make another trip to Condado Taqueria to custom build more tacos. I loved the creativity in building my own taco and look forward to finding more favorites like the Sweet Lucy Chorizo creation.
Because I was super overwhelmed at first, I added my suggestions below so next time there will not be any hesitations. Tips:
- Look at the menu options ahead of time online to get a general idea of what you would like. It took me 25 minutes to decide on how I wanted to build three tacos at the restaurant.
- If you get a fancy tortilla shell, I would recommend Sweet Lucy or Ju-Ju because they use queso in-between the soft flour and hard corn shell and their queso is to die for.
- Since I tried the corn and flour combination shells and checked so many items to be put in each taco, I was full after two. I was stretching my pants trying to eat three tacos here. I should have just ordered two tacos.
- I just found out there is a Happy Hour here: ½ off margaritas and $1 off tacos (in the bar area) from 5-7PM. That means you could get a taco with a lot of fixings for only $2 and a house margarita for only $3!!
- There is also a separate menu for those who can’t decide called Taco Suggestions. Even just glancing at this menu can help decide on what salsas, sauces, and proteins would work really well together.
Price: $3 per taco as base price (there are extra add-on costs for specialty items). I spent $3-$4 per taco.