Review: Are tacos the perfect hangover cure?
Whether it was due to one too many jungle juices, an extra shot of Tito's or polishing off those last few drops of wine, many among the 21-plus crowd have experienced it. The dull headache, the undeniable fatigue, the need to wear sunglasses inside ... the dreaded hangover. And I'm not talking about the Bradley Cooper version.
A taco joint in the former Saints Pub + Patio location in West Des Moines (owned by the same Riley Drive Entertainment company that leads the Waukee and Beaverdale Saints locations) markets itself as having the cure for what ails you after one of those rough nights. With Cinco de Mayo on the way, I made the trip to the bike path-adjacent restaurant and bar to see how the new Mexican-inspired restaurant stacks up.
In true Sunday Funday fashion, we arrived mid-afternoon on a sunny, warm weekend day to imbibe on the patio and sample a few snacks. Unfortunately, the outdoor picnic table setup was not given the green light to serve food yet, but it's only a matter of (a tiny bit more) time. Come May 5, the walk-up taco bar will be open.
For the time being, though, you can step up to the bar, open a tab and order sips like the on-tap and on-ice classic lime margarita ($6) or the peach margarita ($7), which features fresh-squeezed orange juice and peach nectar, and take them back to a picnic table. Both of the bartender's recommendations made for refreshing patio pounders, although the rows of wooden park tables don't exactly shout, "Lounge here all day!"
After a round of drinks, we closed our tab and transferred the rest of our outing to a booth inside. The slick decor, including a metal tile ceiling, plenty of shiplap on the walls and Edison bulb light fixtures is certainly on-trend and modern, and the TVs on the wall give the space a fitting sports bar vibe.
The nicely sized menu suffers from a lack of explanations (what is a "jar for the crib" or a "jalapeno bomb"?) with a heavy focus on the restaurant's namesake dish.
Since that was the case, we sampled the tender, shredded carnitas taco ($3) and the smoky achiote-rubbed flank steak taco ($5), that, while pleasantly spicy, was tough to eat since the beef was sliced in large strips. The blackened spicy shrimp taco ($4) excels more than the beer can roasted chicken taco ($3), which came out a bit dry. Regardless of your taco choice, be sure to pull a stack of napkins from the bucket on the table. Just like your hair after a rough night, these aren't very tidy.
In traditional street taco style, each protein option comes topped with a healthy amount of cotija cheese, radish, cabbage, pickled onion and cilantro, all of which add nice saltiness, crunchiness and tang. To follow the classic standard, it would be lovely if corn tortillas were offered as an option in addition to the still-pleasant flour tortillas and a different sauce for each taco would lend a gourmet touch. But overall, a couple tacos are a delightful and budget-friendly meal option.
On another night later in the week, I took the server's suggestion and kicked things off with Taco Hangover's signature cocktail, the perfect cure ($10). With ginger beer, mint and lime, it's reminiscent of a tequila take on a Moscow mule. It makes for an easy drinker, although, for the small-ish size of the copper mug, the price tag is a bit tough to swallow.
On the contrary, the chips with red stuff (aka salsa) comes in a massive bowl for just $3. The homemade fried tortillas are surprisingly light and fluffy. The salsa errs on the mild side, as does the "spicy" (in quotes since you could barely notice the heat) ruby red margarita ($7) — each of which would benefit from another jalapeno or two.
The smoky seasoning on the potato home fries ($6), roasted potatoes topped with sautéed onions, peppers and a fried egg, is overwhelmed by the oil slick that coats the dish. Certainly good for soaking up booze and coating the stomach, but not so good for providing a noteworthy culinary experience.
The only vegetarian entree, the tree hugger ($8), is basically a sampler of the meatless sides including black beans, chimichurri rice, Mexican street corn and roasted broccolini. It's filling, although it struggles with the same greasy issue.
Taco Hangover has ample staffing — almost to the point of too much. On our second visit, we had so many friendly servers checking on our status that we were interrupted every couple minutes. Still, it's early and training is still taking place, so it's likely that these issues will be remedied soon. The music pumps loudly through the speakers, making conversation a bit difficult and potentially egging on that hangover headache, but clearly hitting that sports bar vibe.
Sure, there are more authentic tacos in the area and restaurants that serve more solidly stellar cuisine. Still, this non-chain newbie is worth a "shot," come summer patio season, especially if you live or work in West Des Moines.
Critic's Rating: ★★
If you go
Address: 265 50th St., West Des Moines
Hours: 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday
What the stars mean
★★★★: (Extraordinary) Transcendent. A one-of-a-kind experience that sets the local standard.
★★★: (Excellent) Superior. Memorable, high-quality food; exciting environs; savvy service; smart concept.
★★: (Good) Solid example of restaurant type.
★: (Fair) Just OK. A place not worth rushing back to. But it might have something worth recommending: A view, a single dish, friendly service, lively scene.
No stars: (Poor) Below-average restaurant.