The trompo, the spit on which tacos al pastor traditionally turns, was empty. So was the salsa bar. Welcome to the pandemic.
Taqueria Picoso in Alexandria has had to downsize a bit since it opened six weeks before quarantine, but if you’re in the area, that’s no reason not to try some tacos. The incentive is chef Elio Gomez, former executive sous chef at Mexico City’s Balcón del Zócalo. That’s the kind of resume I like from the man making my tacos. Even more enticing, all the tortillas are crafted in-house using heirloom Oaxacan corn.
In order to try the tortillas in all their forms, I started with guacamole and chips, also created from the homemade tortillas. The guacamole is puréed, which is my preference, but would benefit from more acid to wake up the fresh flavors. The chips? Warm, crisp and seasoned with salt, chile and lime. Imagine a house-nixtamalized version of Tostitos Hint of Lime chips and you get the idea. They’re not just good, they’re interesting.
I still ordered a taco al pastor, despite the fact that the trompo wasn’t in action. I had read that the pork’s marinade includes 20 ingredients at Picoso, so I had high hopes for big flavor, but cinnamon overwhelms the bouquet that also includes cumin and a combination of chiles. The caramelized flavor of the roasted pineapple was the highlight when I tried it, but I got only a sliver—the griddle-crisped pork could have benefited from more. The chile-roasted oyster mushroom taco is appealingly smoky, though the beans that hold the mushrooms in place are under-seasoned.
The best of the bunch that I tried (there are 10 varieties) was barbacoa, rich, braised lamb that bursts with the flavor of its chile-laden braise. The cactus salad that comes with it was missing from my taco, but the soft tortilla, thick enough that only one is necessary to keep fillings safely in place, dipped in one of the two salsas provided was enough. Yes, I missed the salsa bar, but the pair I tried were both excellent: a tangy tomatillo dip with just enough heat to make an impact and a fiery, smoky red salsa. It left my lips burning—and tacos on my mind—as I continued with my day. // 1472 N. Beauregard St., Alexandria
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