Whether the city of Los Angeles needs another upscale taco joint is perhaps a discussion for another time. Regardless of your feelings on the matter, gourmet taquerias continue to pop up all across the city. Diablo Taco is one such establishment, having taken over a shuttered corner space on Sunset Blvd. in oh-so-trendy Silver Lake. The exposed brick, matte black chalkboard paint, reclaimed wood and craft beer all hit the necessary marks for cool, successful food space. The problem is, once you add in tattooed servers to that list, the actual food doesn't even crack the top five.
It's always a real shame when food that looks as good as this can't deliver on all the flavor it promises. I mean, look at those tacos. Gussied up? Absolutely. Packed with salivary-inducing flavor generators like 'truffled celery root' or Pt. Reyes Blue cheese, these things look primed for a taste adventure. You could certainly toss around the 'fusion' label, but there are so many disparate, independently delightful ingredients all tossed into handmade corn tortillas that the moniker doesn't quite fit. Most of the tacos don't quite work, either.
There are some successes to be found on the chalkboard wall menu. The short rib is the beefy, tender, undeniable winner in this six-taco round robin. The meat is delicate enough to fall apart quickly, with a thin stream of juice exuding from the bottom before you can even get the taco off the wave tray the bring it out on. I'd say be careful of tortilla disintegration, but you probably won't bother putting it down.
The fried chicken taco isn't bad either, with hefty square chunks of juicy bird, layered inside a crunchy, salty crust. There is enough sweet maple here to help balance the taco, while purple kale adds a delicate lightness to what might otherwise be a heavy dish. The pork belly taco - that fatty, crispy swine delicacy that's weighing down every hip restaurant in America - largely marks the beginning of the decline on the taco board. Being as naturally tender as the meat is, it's a curious decision to add a caramelized banana slice to the top. The resulting texture is more mush than smooth, and some chunky peanut relish can't do enough to bring things back from the brink.
The steak would be a better alternative if its proportions were reversed. The thick chunks of medium-rare steak take a few bites and a lot of chew to get through, but lack the salty pop that makes them worth the effort. Instead, there is a wave of fruity sweetness, from the figs and grapes falling off the top. More salt, with just a touch of fruitiness, would likely turn this taco around. The rest of the menu fares slightly worse in its execution, with the pig face taco being overrun by pickled toppings. Ordering up a side of the Jidori chicken skins proved no better. Once again, despite their beautiful appearance, the oversalted crisps lacked serious crunch, coming off more like a bad bag of pork rinds than a Jidori-flavored bit of wonderful excess.
There are things to like about Diablo Taco, and in many ways the style (again, despite what you may think of the type of cuisine) fits the area perfectly. The tacos themselves are mini works of visual art when they arrive at your table, but without the kitchen foundation to make the flavors pop, the whole experience ends up being a bit unsatisfying. Which, at $5 to $8 a taco, might be reason enough to stick to the beers or micheladas instead.
3129 W Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake 90026
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