Thursday, January 19, 2017
Of the three things that make a good restaurant — food, service and atmosphere — the last quality is the one that often gets overlooked, if not botched. I can't tell you how many times I've walked into a new place, especially in the suburbs, and it was almost bare. It was all I could do not to pull the owner aside and say, "You want me to eat here? I don't even like to stand here. You're doomed, my friend."
But I'm not that guy, and I usually just scarf my chow—which tends not to stand out either—and get out. And soon they're gone, because there definitely is a connection between what's on the wall and what's on your plate.
You might not eat decor, it doesn't go in your mouth. But it's a bellwether, an indicator. Because if Mr. or Mrs. Would-be-Restaurateur cannot master the complexity of a nice sign, what's the odds that they'll be able to whip up a good sauce? Scant.
Then there was the reaction I had Monday at Taco Diablo, 1026 Davis Street in Evanston. Somehow, just walking up and seeing this sign, I knew. This bas relief snaggletooth devil/bull fellow was the overture, setting the tone. This would be a good place.
Then the oval name on the door. Then the paintings inside. And the bar above. Tell me you don't want to hop on one of those stools and see what bartender Andrew can pour for you.
I got the lunch special: two tacos and a small salad for $12, and it was all superb, the tacos warm and fat, the salad with an intriguing orange dressing. The service was also first rate: attentive without cloying. If I were hunting for criticisms, I suppose that the standard three tacos for $15 is a bit pricey for lunch, but they are lovely little tacos, well stuffed with chicken or pork or duck or some other interesting combination. I ate them greedily and with relish and, you know what? I don't even like tacos, as a rule. But I liked these tacos.
My younger son, the Northwestern sophomore, had bird-dogged the place for us. Unexpected Benefit of Children #263: just when you reach the stage in life when you are out of the swim, and unable to locate good new restaurants on your own, your kids swoop in and have that direct line to hot, hip new places and sometimes will invite you along, if you pay.
Taco Diablo isn't quite "new" -- it was founded in Evanston in 1992, burned down in 2013, and was rebuilt in 2015, paired with Lulu next door--they share a kitchen. And a bathroom, which is a little disorienting, since you have to wander into the kitchen, seemingly, to get there. But I managed.
"Einmal ist keinmal," as the old Mexican saying goes (okay, it's not Spanish, it's German, work with me here). "Once is never." So I can't vouch for the place on one visit and a pair of tacos. But I'm intent on going back, soon, for further investigation, and now that the base of affection is set, it's going to take some effort on their part to screw it up. Once going to Evanston meant seeing my son and eating at Lao Sze Chuan, not always in that order, and it took a few tepid, woebegone meals at the Laos downtown and in Skokie to begin the disenchantment process. Now Tony Hu has been banished to second place, and Taco Diablo is ascendant. Tienes que comer; así que come bien.