Taco Bamba: Some Marrow in Your Taco?

At Taco Bamba, Victor Albisu serves up soft tortillas with offbeat fillings and fabulous crispy sopes.
This taco with grilled guacamole, chorizo, and skirt steak is a favorite. Photograph by Scott Suchman.
This taco with grilled guacamole, chorizo, and skirt steak is a favorite. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

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.

Like many taquerias, Taco Bamba is a snug, dine-at-the-counter operation. Even better than the tacos are the sopes—deep-fried masa flatbreads, here topped with carnitas, jalapeños, avocado, and cactus salsa.

This article appears in the October 2013 issue of Washingtonian.

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