picksThe real winner? Us! St John’s went from “bare minimum taco” to “full fiesta taco-town!” overnight, and it was as magical as the first snowfall before the plows come. Thank you to all the restaurants for making February a lot more colourful.

Adelaide: “It flatters us with a confidence in our palate.”
No surprise here, this is a great taco. And the only one in the challenge with real stand-out heat. It flatters us with a confidence in our palate. The fried cod is basically sushi grade fish and chips. The pile of raw shaved purple cabbage and fresh avocado wedge are the right and simple accessories. No bullshit, no f*ckery. This IS a fish taco. Shine on Adelaide, and may you fill our taco cravings long after this challenge has fallen like the price of a barrel of oil.

Bernard Stanley: “A platter worth keeping on the menu past February.”
Soft corn tortillas and chorizo make this a platter worth keeping on the menu past February. The heat of the chorizo was slow to hit but built well to balance the sweetness from the cabbage. The slaw was ace, and the southwestern spice of the accompanying chilli paired with basmati rice was oxymoronically spicy, light and filling.

Blue on Water: “A serious sensual mouth feel.”
This taco had lovely colour, with layered yellow and purple veggies sandwiching a rich chunk of salmon. Add the fried avocado and you have serious sensual mouth feel. But, except for the nice freshly made crisp shell, there were no contrasts in flavour or texture: solid, smooth, rich.

Celtic Hearth: “Would do the trick for a late night after party snack.”

Large and served on a flour tortilla, these were more burrito than taco. Nice flaky fish, but the “deep fried and sweet” theme composed of pineapple, batter, and sauce were crying for something bright in flavour and colour. Standard, white and soft, but filling and would do the trick for a late night after party snack.

Chinched: “With one bite of the carnitas, tomorrow did not exist, and all was one long, fluid now.”
It turns out you can make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. Or at least a truly poetic taco from one. With one bite of the carnitas, tomorrow did not exist, and all was one long, fluid “now.” Nirvana is sprinkled with pickled carrots and strips of pig ear.

Fixed: The taste was as bright and complimentary as its colours.”
This was the prettiest of all with its pink, white, green and orange hues. The taste was as bright and complimentary as its colours. The sweet and sour tofu (or chicken), while not traditional taco fare, cleaved well to the taco ideal of small punches of flavour. The mixed corn and flour soft shells were chewy and perfectly sized. Excellent taco. Unimpeachable taco.

Hungry Heart: “One of the best meat elements of any of the tacos.”
The seasoning of the pork was one of the best meat elements of any of the tacos. It tasted of cinnamon and possibly nutmeg and some blend reminiscent of garam masala, all of which made the pork sing. But it deserved a bit more of the pickled onion or some other straightener to lift it up. The sides were a thoughtful addition of optional toppings but all were flavoured with the same lime.

Magnum and Steins: “The turtle beans and pineapple salsa make it well rounded.”
Call us heathens but we would not have been able to call the coffee and chipotle notes in the pulled pork without a cheat sheet. But the more pedestrian, “flavourful” was obvious. Perhaps our taste buds were blurred by Felicity’s favourite Oregon pinot that they happily had in stock, but that is a first world problem we are pleased to have. The wine bar in itself makes this a “glamour taco”; the turtle beans, and pineapple salsa make it well rounded.

Mallard Cottage: Mallard never lets you down. It’s never too flashy, but still intricate and made with care.”
It may just be confirmation bias, but Mallard never lets you down. It is never too flashy, but still intricate and made with care, or, as the waiter jokingly put it when describing the flour tortillas that were “soaked in roasted beet juice: lah-TI-dah!” Pride of workmanship paired with humour and a home-y sensibility. The hot sauce, on the side, was top quality. The pork shoulder and pickled slaw were cohesive and full flavoured together. Each and every bean in the side dish was perfectly cooked.

Merchant Tavern: “They stole the whole show.”
Merchant was playing for keeps. Like a J.M.W. Turner, they didn’t just paint, they made the paint, and coined their own yellow (or in this case, salsa roja). And, like Turner, they stole the whole show with that dab of red. It was not coincidence that you could taste the smoke in these, with a special in house ‘charcoal pit’ of stainless steel inside the kitchen it is almost impossible not to make a Batman (or Jay and Silent Bob) nod to their “wonderful toys.”  Pork neck marinated in smokey red chilis and a corn tortilla formulated from a blend of Maize and Quebec sagamite to get the soft texture without relinquishing the ideals of sustainable provenance. This was the finest of Californian and Mexican tacos. The drink pairings would have been exquisite if that didn’t make them sound too precious. They were better than exquisite. They were fun. We raise our Mecheladas and tip our hats to you. You earned this.

Relish: “As Bubbles would say approvingly, “GREAAAASY”.
As Bubbles would say approvingly, “GREAAAASY”. Straight up 70’s bay-kid taco-kit standard: ground beef, plus BLT wearing a hard shell. The guacamole would need to make a case for how it had fallen so far from its original avocado, but if you like your meat and potatoes you might enjoy your meat in this hard shell.

Social House (Now the Fifth Ticket): “A dream to consume and date-ready due to its exceptional structural integrity.”
This taco is to the Relish entry what Barbie is to Skipper. Same basic idea, but now all “grown up.” Similar greasy drippings, but this time in the form of poblano-chili bison vs ground beef, and dressed up a little more with saucy creations to fill out the flavour and pretty up the plate. Unlike the other crispy shelled tacos in the challenge this one was a dream to consume and date-ready due to its exceptional structural integrity with a soft shell queso-glued over a hard shell.

St. John’s Fish Exchange: “Totally on theme for the townie element.”
The challenge here was how to remove them from their odd metal serving dish. Once lifted, they offered up a bounty of non-hot but still surprisingly full bodied flavour. The fresh, not deep fried, cod, with a creamy slaw base, with pickled carrot, turnip and strips of salt meat toppers created something neither wholly “taco” nor “jiggs dinner” but a satisfying space between. The pease pudding puree upped its local-nostalgia points. Totally on theme for the townie element were the most faithfully reproduced Ziggy’s fries outside of the actual Zig Rig and the peppermint knob (or ‘nan mint’ as the waitress called it) served at the end.

Tavola: “Tender and delicious.”
The short rib was tender and delicious. Those may not be high end words but sometimes you just gotta call a thing what it is. Tender and delicious. Pickled shallots gave this some zing, but it is another taco that could have used a little more heat and a little less flour tortilla.

YellowBelly: “The yin and yang combo covered a lot of ground.”
The yin and yang combo on shells both soft AND crisp covered a lot of ground. The “turf” short rib was dense and tender. The bluebry cheese, braised cabbage, and berry notes made it a “Christmas dinner” taco. It’s “surf” partner was kin to an event appetizer. The wasabi soy ginger aioli’s flavours alchemically recreated a great miso sauce. But the wasabi was all bark and no bite. Together they read like a high end corporate convention meal… but as tacos. High quality, nice looking and tasting but lacking some soul.