Imagine Marty McPlata, a 17 year old Rio Rancho High School student who gets transported back in time seven years to 2015. With the help of his mad scientist friend Bill Resnikoff, he makes his way back to the future to the year from which he left–2022. Significant changes and burgeoning growth have transpired in the City of Vision since he left. Among one of the improvements by subtraction is the absence of one of the city’s three Burger King restaurants, a multi-national chain he drove past only because it was on the way to Corrales.
Marty smiled at the thought that Burger King’s incredibly creepy, big-headed mascot may finally driven away all of the “home of the Whopper’s” customers. That realization hit Burger King CFO Josh Kobza in 2011: “We got rid of the creepy king character that tended to scare away women and children.” Gone, Marty thought, are the gold and red colors of Burger King’s logo, ironically the same colors used by McDonald’s. Gone, too, is the empty parking lot. On some days only the drive-up window seemed to have customers.
While the iconic, standardized shape of the familiar Burger King restaurant remains, the building is now light grey and sports the name “Tap N Taco” on its roof. There are no other readily apparent vestiges of Burger King on the edifice, not even the wafting aroma of flame-grilled beef patties. Unlike the waning days of Burger King, the parking lot is nearly overfull. At the entrance, you’re greeted by a human skeleton, the type of which signify Mexico’s Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). It’s much less creepy, Marty observes, than the Burger King mascot.
Step inside the converted restaurant and you’ll espy a glorious transformation. Frida Kahlo’s stern countenance over the cashier’s station leers at guests in line. Two near life-sized masked luchadores stand guard in front of the cantina where cerveza fria flows from cool kegs. The entire space is immaculate and orderly with the ordering process clearly delineated. Immediately following a single finger instructing you to “Start Here” are the instructions: (1) Grab a tray; (2) Get in line; (3) Pick your comida; and (4) Pay at the register.
Tacos, Papas and Quesadillas are listed above the counter where you’ll place your order while a sneeze guard (there’s a Johnny Carson joke here somewhere) lists the proteins you can request: barbacoa, fish, chicken, carne asada and al pastor. All five options are available for your tacos and all but fish can be used to construct your quesadilla or papa. The menu also offers nachos and other sides. Papas come in the form of baked potatoes or fries.
Prices are a throwback to the days long before the “build back better” economy–only two dollars per taco, for example. To be fair, each taco is probably four to five bites (one if you’re in Guy Fieri’s family tree). Several years ago, author Gustavo Arellano was asked “Why do those little tiny Mexican Tacos exist?” His answer: “It’s in the United States where the taco has been super-sized. In Mexico, and in Mexican communities in los Estados Unidos, tacos continue to be best appreciated small–four bites maximum. A taco is meant to be a snack, a bit, not a full meal.” Good answer. Lower costs also mean you can order one of each of five tacos instead of one of each of two.
These are not the type of tacos Marty McPlata would have found at Burger King in 2015. You know, those hard-shelled tacos stuffed with mostly lettuce. Tap N Taco’s tacos are Mexican tacos–offered with your choice of cilantro, lime and (or) onions. A generous salsa bar is available for adorning your tacos with the piquant amelioration of your choice. During my inaugural visit, I ordered two barbacoa tacos, one al pastor taco and one fish taco. My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver ordered nine…er, two fish tacos and a carne asada taco.
Though carnitas, carne asada and more recently birria tacos seem to be the anointed favorites by taco aficionados, my favorite tacos (and burritos, tortas, chimichangas, etal.) are made with barbacoa (a method of cooking meat (historically lamb or goat, though beef or pork is often used today) that produces an irresistible melt-in-your-mouth texture and bold flavors). Alas, both the barbacoa tacos I had were overly salty…almost lip-pursing. That surprised me because Javier Chavira, one of the business partners-owners of Tap N Taco also owns Barbacoa El Primo in Albuquerque. Barbacoa El Primo’s barbacoa is exceptional.
Much better (less salty, more flavorful) was an al pastor taco with generous amounts of pineapple and onion. The spicy marinated pork from which this taco was constructed comes from a vertical spit (similar to the spit from which gyros meat is shaved). Aromatics such chiles and achiote make this popular street food taco one of my favorites. Sr. Plata enjoyed the fish taco more than I did. That’s because he didn’t let his get cold. A crispy, breaded cod extends beyond the corn tortilla.
I’ve long contended that no one (not even the British) can bake a potato as well as Mexicans. When my Kim and I see papa asada (baked potato) on a menu, it’s invariably bound for our plates. Tap N Taco loads up a baked potato with your choices which include dollops of sour cream, guacamole, shredded cheese and the protein you want. Carne asada is an excellent choice. My potato was just a bit underdone, a rarity in my experiences enjoying Mexican style baked potatoes. A little more time in the oven and it would have had the tenderness my Kim and I desire.
For dinner I took home a quesadilla stuffed with al pastor. Watching it being constructed was a fun experience. The grill master essentially grabbed a handful of shredded white queso, finely cut al pastor and a thin flour tortilla and masterfully manipulated heat and plancha to meld the ingredients into a cohesive, absolutely delicious whole. Even reheated four hours later, the flavors of the quesadilla made me wish I’d brought another one home.
Tap N Taco has a full liquor license to offer eight local beer taps, four or five brands of bottled Mexican beer and margaritas. Alas, what it doesn’t offer is aguas frescas, the refreshing Mexican beverage that’s really caught on on this side of the border. High-definition televisions are strategically placed for customers to watch sporting events. Burger King’s well-used drive-thru window remains open for those who may not want to dine-in.
If you haven’t driven by Tap N Taco at its familiar Highway 528 space, you might be surprised at just how many parking spots are occupied virtually any time you drive by. Tap N Taco has found a market in the City of Vision and is here to stay.
Tap N Taco
1120 Pat D’Arco Hwy.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 6 April 2022
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Barbacoa Tacos, Al Pastor Tacos, Pescado Tacos, Quesadilla Al Pastor