The last five years may have been all about pig worship—what
with the endless stream of pork-belly BLTs, bacon lollipops, and roasted
suckling pigs—but chef Victor Albisu is throwing the spotlight back on the
cow. Six months ago, he opened the high-gloss Latin American steakhouse
Del Campo in DC’s Penn Quarter, where he began serving up communal
platters of fabulous rib eyes and Wagyu skirt steaks—at expense-account
prices. Now he’s opened a second meat-centric place, the more
wallet-friendly Taco Bamba in Falls Church.
The narrow carryout, a few doors from his mother’s grocery
store, has some hallmarks of real-deal Mexican-expat taquerias—strip-mall
setting, tongue and tripe on the menu, tall glass bottles of Coke. Still,
Albisu puts a cheffy stamp on things. How many taco shops have you been to
that have a sous chef (Faiz Ally)? Or brightly flavored guacamole ($3)
made with grilled avocados? Or the options of sweetbreads and bone
The corn tortillas didn’t blow us away—they’re of the papery,
packaged variety—but a few of the specialty tacos did. There’s the
excellent Bamba Ball ($4), with bite-size, chili-and-tomato-braised
meatballs, that grilled guac, and crumbles of salty cotija
cheese. The El Beso ($4) showcases crispy-fried bits of pork and beef
tongue with Sriracha-laced aïoli and grilled scallions. Less appealing: a
portobello taco ($4) that was overpowered by chipotles. A standout version
of elote ($3)—a big, mayo-slathered cob of corn—should be more
pleasing to vegetarians.
Albisu’s attention to the little things helps elevate those
creative tacos. The other, “traditional” side of the menu is a more
straightforward lineup of meats, and you’ll want to grab lots of tomatillo
salsa and lime to spruce them up, especially the shredded beef and chorizo
($3 each), which can tend toward the dry side.
But as it turns out, the best things at Taco Bamba aren’t tacos
at all. They’re sopes ($4.50), which ditch the tortillas in favor
of crunchy, deep-fried masa flatbread and add a verdant pile-up of extras:
shredded lettuce, earthy puréed beans, tomatillo sauce, cactus salsa,
jalapeños, and cilantro. They can be had with any of the meats, such as
the wonderful slow-roasted marinated pork or the seared beef.
Pig, beef—it doesn’t matter. When it’s heaped on a
sope, we’ll take it all.
This article appears in the October 2013 issue of Washingtonian.