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Tacos Span the Globe at New R Street Eatery
By Greg Sabin
The brothers Wong—Mason, Alan and Curtis—are the driving force behind the MAC Hospitality Group, and they’re busy. In the MAC portfolio are such familiar names as Cafeteria 15L, Ma Jong’s Asian Diner, Iron Horse Tavern, MIX Downtown and The Park Ultra Lounge.
Their newest Sacramento restaurant, Mas Taco Bar, is the first of several planned openings for the Wongs in the next few months. They hope to open two more Mas Taco Bars—at Palladio in Folsom and at Arden Town Center—and another Iron Horse Tavern also at Palladio.
Located next to the Iron Horse Tavern at 15th and R streets, the first Mas Taco Bar adds another fun spot to the bustling R Street corridor. The location, formerly held by Dos Coyotes Border Café, is at the heart of a district already packed with bars, clubs, restaurants and residences. With the soon-to-be-completed Ice Blocks project between 16th and 18th streets, the R Street corridor is only getting busier and livelier as the months go by.
The new taco concept fits in pretty darned well in the humming district. The kitchen offers plenty of casual lunch fare for the hundreds of nearby state employees, and the bar serves an impressive cocktail lineup with extended hours for evening revelers who make R Street a regional destination.
Make no mistake, though, this is no standard taqueria. The menu at Mas Taco Bar puts a global spin on the taco, taking inspiration from the Americas, Southeast Asia, India and more.
Take, for example, the Banh Mi Shrimp Taco. This clever item takes inspiration from the Vietnamese sandwich of the same name, a staple of Vietnamese street food. The taco takes fried shrimp and pairs it with crunchy pickled veggies, fresh cilantro, jalapeno and an Asian barbecue sauce, served on a pillowy-soft Chinese laughing bun. This dish is a winner all the way around.
A similar dish stuffs the same laughing bun with shrimp, cabbage, peanuts and red curry. The flavors are spot on and bright like the noonday sun.
It’s another clever offering, this time with the flavors of Thailand as the jumping-off point.
Some offerings sit squarely in the “traditional taco” camp, like the fried fish taco that adds spicy avocado crema, grilled pineapple salsa and cabbage to the standard tortilla. The short-rib taco uses traditional Mexican seasonings and is topped with cilantro, onions and cotija cheese.
The majority of the menu, though, is a mashup of traditional Mexican preparations with inspired additions from the U.S. and Europe. The Drunken Chicken starts with barbecue staple “beer can chicken” and adds tomatillo. The Steak and Egg pairs chili-lime skirt steak with a sunny-side-up egg, giving off a cheeky breakfast vibe. The Baja Fish takes blackened salmon and douses it with a Mexican hot sauce aioli.
The presentation is fun and inviting, with diners instructed to jot down their orders on a pad at their table. The server brings back a metal tray covered with tacos. It’s a great way to sample the fare and share it with your people.
Many of the taco recipes also can be converted to “bowls,” which contain brown rice, onions and peppers topped with the same fillings as the tacos. Also, a good sampling of salads and small plates can be had.
Surprisingly, desserts are a standout. Or maybe not so much a surprise given the skill with which Iron Horse Tavern puts out the sweets just next door.
The key lime tart is served, of course, in a mason jar, but the flavors could not be more on point, perfectly blending the tart, sour and sweet in every bite. The churros, fried fresh and served with a Mexican chocolate ganache, are a favorite of apparently everyone who works there.
The space, like the food, is cheeky and fun. The front patio is a perfect place to throw back a few expertly made cocktails (try the watermelon basil margarita) and watch the party roll by on R Street. If you’re in the Arden or Folsom area, count yourself lucky that a Mas Taco Bar is coming your way in just a few months.