Tocayo translates to “namesake” in English. The new restaurant in the Shadyside area of Pittsburgh, Tocayo, shares the same ownership as Totopo in Mount Lebanon -hence the name. But Tocayo has the opportunity to specialize its menu and really achieve a perfect mix between traditional Mexican cuisine and the urban high-end flare. I am happy to announce that one of the menu items they chose to focus on perfecting is none other than tacos.
I chose to try out Tocayo for the first time on a Tuesday. This was because I saw that they have a Taco Tuesday special on social media. Every Tuesday at Tocayo they offer $5 tacos a la carte. Options include al pastor, chicken, chicken chorizo, barbacoa, carnitas, cauliflower and portobello tacos. Tacos not included in this special are fish, steak, octopus, shrimp, and beets.
I went with my friend David who lives within walking distance of Tocayo. We arrived shortly after 7pm and we easily had access to a table. If we had arrived an hour or so later, finding a seat would be more difficult. The cozy décor, chill Latin music, and dimmed lighting made for a perfect setup for a fancy Taco Tuesday.
I asked our waiter what tacos he recommended and he ranked the chicken chorizo, al pastor, carnitas, in that respective order, as his favorites for the Tuesday special and the shrimp for the non-special marked tacos. I ordered the chicken chorizo and barbacoa taco while David ordered the top three tacos the waiter mentioned.
I could clearly tell when the tacos arrived at the table that Tocayo fully focused on the presentation and placement of every component of each taco. Vibrant sauces drizzled over the mountains of green veggies and the clouds of crumbly cheese. Purple-hued corn shells laid underneath the perfect landscape. Avocado was either diced, sliced, or mashed into a gauc. Flour or corn shells were picked based on the taco profile. So much thought into each taco which led to a 5 out of 5 for presentation.
The first taco I ventured through was the chicken chorizo. This taco was salty as I expected. The chorizo contributed to this, as well as to a little hint of spiciness. The grilled chicken flavor profile was perfect. The salsa verde and arugula were like a small chocolate Frosty and the chicken and chorizo were like the French fries. Each bite was like dipping Wendy’s French fries into a Frosty. It was just the perfect combination. The red onions and Queso Oaxaca just made that French fry Frosty even more savory. Tocayo, like Totopo, knows how to make amazing chicken based tacos. This taco is hard for me to judge as I teetered between a 4 and a 5, but I ended up giving it a 4 because there was one taco I had later that went above and beyond even this taco.
Next up was the barbacoa taco with shredded beef and grilled onions, queso fresco, avocado, and salsa roja. The salsa roja really threw me off with its unique, tangy flavor. I loved the hefty slices of avocado which paired well with the smoky barbacoa. The onions were grilled and a little softer than the red onions. I never felt so healthy eating a barbacoa taco, but this taco did the trick. Another solid 4 out of 5 taco.
With a la carte tacos on Tuesday, David and I did not have to do a classic taco swap, but I did try a bite of his carnitas and pastor tacos. The carnitas was on a toasted flour shell. The shredded pork shoulder had clean, crisp edges like it was grilled or broiled after cooking for hours. Just like the other tacos I had, this one was loaded with veggies – guacamole, tomatoes, onions, and pickled jalapeno. I liked the bite I had of the carnitas taco, but David and I agreed that it was not as unique and full of surprises like the barbacoa and chicken and chorizo tacos. Now the al pastor was a different story…
David and I still had room for more tacos, so we both ordered one more each. After having a bite of the al pastor, I knew I wanted it to be my last taco of the night. There was actually a hunk of juicy grilled pineapple hidden underneath the rest of the toppings like a gift inside a gift. As if the pineapple taste could not get any better, a habanero pineapple salsa was drizzled on top. Cilantro and the red onions complemented the taco perfectly. I loved the hint of cinnamon in the pork shoulder too. Overall, I would not change a single thing about this pastor. It’s a “taco the town” taco coming in with a 5 out of 5 on my taco scale. Hooray!!
David’s extra taco was the grilled chicken taco with cilantro lime salsa, guacamole, pico de gallo, kale, and queso fresco. David said he was prepared to be underwhelmed when he ate this taco, but he was pleasantly surprised that this was another solid chicken taco.
All in all, Tocayo really came through for us and I recommend their tacos as some of the top notch tacos in the Burgh. Tocayo really blew me out of the water with its tacos and I can’t wait to come back for another fancy Taco Tuesday.
Price: $12-19 per two tacos or mix & match (with the higher taco price charged) and a cup of soup or house salad. Taco-spensive, but they do have Taco Tuesday and daily lunch specials.