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Greatfully Delicious

The owner is eccentric and the tacos fabulous at this laid-back new spot.

Take a peek at Greatfull Taco's colorful interior and equally colorful food in our slideshow.

I had just polished off three tacos at Greatfull Taco and noticed that my dining companion across the table was strangely silent. And then I realized: He's too wrapped up in his tacos to talk. He was finishing off a China Cat Sunshine, tender strips of medium-rare beef topped with Napa cabbage, carrots, toasted black sesame seeds and a spicy sesame dressing. His Pigpen taco — slow-roasted pork with honey-chipotle sauce — was long gone.

He wiped his lips and sat for a second, looking at his empty trays.

Owner Paul West is serving up some damn fine tacos.
Troy Fields
Owner Paul West is serving up some damn fine tacos.

Location Info

Map

Greatfull Taco

2411 S. Shepherd
Houston, TX 77019

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: River Oaks

Details

Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Sundays.
Viola Lee: $2.50
Chicken Mole: $2.95
Mexicali Bird: $3.95
CC Sun: $3.95
Bucky's Mystery Meat: $4.25
Egg and chorizo breakfast taco: $1.99
Double egg, cheese and potato breakfast taco: $1.99
Chips and guacamole: $4.95


READ MORE
SLIDESHOW: Greatfully Delicious: Behind the Scenes at Greatfull Taco
BLOG POST: Touch of Grey News: Greatfull Taco Loses Its Chef


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"You're right," he finally said. "Those were fucking awesome."

As with nearly every person I've taken to Greatfull Taco since it opened earlier this year, every assessment of the pseudo-gourmet tacos after the style of Austin-based Torchy's Tacos has ended with a similarly glowing, expletive-laced statement. Tacos that bring people to profanity. That's what I call good.

They love the brisket taco with its smoky meat that would do any smokehouse proud, topped with crispy jalapeños, onions and an avocado slice. They love the Mexicali Bird that tastes as if someone took the legendary tortilla soup at Cafe Annie's and condensed it into a taco. They love the chicken mole with its dark, lush, cinnamon-laced mole sauce topped with crunchy almonds. And so do I. In fact, I've yet to find a taco on the menu I don't love, even if I'm not 100 percent behind the corn tortillas that can sometimes be a little too dry, a little too insubstantial to stand up to the tacos' contents. You can ask for flour tortillas, but I wouldn't recommend it — they're even more lackluster.

There is a lot to love about Greatfull Taco: Its broad, greenery-dotted, shaded patio with a view onto the manicured grounds at Saint Anne's Catholic Church across the street. The exuberant interior with a tropical feel that calls to mind Playa del Carmen by way of a very pricey interior decorator. The easy, laid-back counter service and ordering system that gives you the name of a famous musician in lieu of a number. The nonstop playlist of deep David Bowie cuts and Heart's greatest hits. The playfulness of not only the menu but the staff and its idiosyncratic routines: Fridays are Funky Fridays, when you're encouraged to come in your finest 1970s attire.

But there is a frustrating side to Greatfull Taco that stymies me on a daily basis.
_____________________

The first thing you might notice at Greatfull Taco is the names of the tacos themselves: China Cat Sunshine. Red Rooster Jerk. Pigpen. The Wharf. As the name of the restaurant suggests, these are all subtle homages to the Grateful Dead, referencing songs like "Little Red Rooster" and founding member Ron "Pigpen" McKernan.

And yet owner Paul West professes not to be that big of a Deadhead. That's the second thing you might notice about Greatfull Taco. West is a constant fixture at his restaurant, and it's clear the place is like a child to him. He's taken the utmost care to hire an extraordinary chef — Riccardo Palazzo-Giorgio, whom some may recognize as the chef from Sabetta, the restaurant which previously occupied this space at 2411 South Shepherd. He has decorated the space in bright and enchanting colors, and crafted a menu that not only includes A-plus tacos but a surprisingly thorough wine and beer selection.

Yet despite all of these promising qualities, Greatfull Taco comes very close to being overshadowed by West's larger-than-life and sometimes exasperating personality. After all, it's hard to sell people on what are truly great tacos when the owner has recently taken to Twitter and made statements like, "It was sooooo hottt today, that no illegals came in and tried to get a job!"

It was a sentiment that echoed an equally bizarre press release from March, which I interviewed West about in an article called "Self-Described 'Elitist' 'Asshole' Opening a Restaurant." In the interview, West was unapologetic about (often strangely spelled) statements from the press release such as "Greatfull Taco is best stereotyped as a tacqueria for non-Latin's (stereotypes are real)" and "planned immigration/ temporary work status is probably good, or migration will result." He was careful to point out that of his two chefs, one — the one with the Mexican name — is a "naturalized Citizen."

He's also strangely self-deprecating, describing himself as "a hedge fund, a ponzi, a patsy, an executive, a board member, sometimes bored member, a friend, a CPA, a good Samaritan, a car enthusiast, an elitist, a common man and victim of infallibilities, a staunch American," among many other things.

It's not difficult to overlook West's eccentricities if you're an average customer, but I find myself wondering how fully I can encourage people to dine at a restaurant where the employees occasionally wear shirts with "Who Is John Galt?" emblazoned on them, and where the owner will sometimes trap you in conversations about the evils of the credit system and why he prefers that you use cash in his establishment. I don't want to discuss Randian philosophy over my tacos, but perhaps others might revel in the odd atmosphere.

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26 comments
Mai Pham
Mai Pham

Has anyone had the tacos since the original chef's departure? The review makes me want to try it out (food only), but the "eccentricities" are definitely a turn-off. I'm non-Latin but I don't think I'm his target demographic either.

Jerry Sienfeld
Jerry Sienfeld

Bes tacos I ever haave, an das sayin alot, I mean des tacos are better then dose en meheeco.

Craig
Craig

What he MEANT to say is this place is for the kind of people you see in Dallas.

DrGarcia3
DrGarcia3

First of all, the tacos that I had were not "fucking awesome" as the reviewer's friend exclaimed. Not bad, but pretty much middle-of-the-road at best. I had the chicken with mole and the fried chicken tacos. The fried chicken tacos were benign, unfortunately wrapped in an unheated store-bought corn tortilla (two actually but both were soggy). I've had mole in Oaxaca Mexico (and made it from scratch), and although I was not expecting an authentic Mexican version, it was hard not to notice the lack of depth.

That the owner described his place as a "taqueria for non-Latins" speaks volumes are far as the less than inspired taste of the mole and salsa that I had. Maybe he should take some of the more traditional items one would expect in a taqueria off the menu to further expand on his culinary view. Also, I ate with two people that actually worked at Cafe Anne and they both clarified that no, the Mexicali bird taco did not taste "like someone took the legendary tortilla soup and condensed it" as described in the review.

Don't believe what the writer said about the place looking like "Playa del Carmen decorated by a pricey interior decorator". It looks like the typical American non-descript place except that someone made a trip to Best Buy and bought some flat-screen televisions. The beer and wine selections are the only thing that might set it apart.

If in fact the owner made the shitty remark on twitter (which I won't repeat), I guess it would demonstrate the same level of imagination that gave rise to the cutesy (trying hard to be Austin funky) menu and food. Lots of really good places to eat in Houston folks, I think Ms. Schilcut was wrong in her opinion of this one.

Tristandylan1
Tristandylan1

Mathematically, it won't make it. As good as it is, and the food is very good. Lack of parking could never sustain a consistent lunch or dinner rush. There's no overage parking. And valet parking, which they wisely abandoned early on, goes against the grain of 'hippie-ness' and the free-love type persona of the brand. Maybe that's why they aren't advertising: they know they can't handle potential success. Maybe they will build a garage underground or billow up, otherwise it's a vanity project where the food succeeds but the marketing lags.

Foxie
Foxie

i hear that the creative person behind greatfull taco, the chef "has left the building". perhaps too many eccentricities for him!

Edward Moselle
Edward Moselle

Amazing tacos, they are really outdoing themselves at GT. I've tried nearly half the items on their menu, and all but the chicken strip taco have been exceptional. The egg white breakfast taco and flying fish taco really stand out.

As far as the owner's idiosyncrasies go, I can't say they really take away from the restaurant. After all, it's the owner's madness that puts Coke and Pepsi next to each other at GT's soda fountain, plasters gorgeous plasma tv's all over the wall of an otherwise rustic interior, and hires a gourmet chef to cook up tacos. Brilliant!

I think I need to get my GTL (Greatfull Taco Lunch) on tomorrow.

Jay Francis
Jay Francis

I, too, was blown away by the tacos served up to me last Friday. I went for the seafood options and enjoyed every one. The only comment I would make is to find some other way to serve up the hot sauces other than those little plastic containers.

After a delightful conversation with one of the owners about vinyl and turntables, I started digging around in my attic for a poster. "Do you have any Bobbi Gentry albums?" he asked. "No", I said, "but I'm pretty sure that I have a Bob Dylan poster from a magazine of the era that has Glen Campbell and Bobbi Gentry's autograph from a concert at Jones Hall." His eyes glazed over. Unfortunately, I couldn't track down that one but I brought him an autographed Jefferson Airplane poster from '68 which I hope will be proudly displayed on one of the walls one day.

Attyrose3
Attyrose3

First, I thought that we agreed that we would not be eating food served hot until it cooled off outside and I am confused. THe one and only time I subjected myself to Greatful Tacos, the food was served hot. Second, I had the mole taco and it was full of bits of broken bones. When the owner repeatedly asked me how I liked the tacos on my way out, I told him and the chef was standing next to him. The owner said his own mole taco had been full of very small bits of broken chicken bones. Martha Stewart would most likely say that very small broken chicken bones are not a good thing and if she would not say that, I will. Third, I read this article and the desciption of the interior and environment of Greatful Taco and I thought I must have been in a completely different space. The Greatful Taco I went to had all of the warmth and charm of a McDonald's There are about a half dozen large flat screen televisions on causing visual polllution and the noise level was so loud that I could not heard the voices in my head asking myself why I had not just driven to Laredo on Washington for tacos that are just as good, if not better, at half the cost. Despite the restaurant being less than three blocks from my home, I see no reason to return. Instead I did drive out to Tan Tan No. 2 where the security guard could not have been nicer and reports that business has been up since the Press' very negative review. Funny how that has worked out for Tan Tan No. 2.

Tex
Tex

I would rather eat tacos at a Mexican owned restaurant than give this eccentric (read racist) place any of my business.

Like Sabetta this place wont be around long either.

Rufus
Rufus

The tacos sounds great, the banter and atmosphere not so much. I may just stick Torchy's whenever I'm in Austin.

Cherokeechf
Cherokeechf

Greatfull Taco is the place Robb Walsh et al SHOULD have opened.

Nemekf
Nemekf

I've tried Greatfull Taco exactly twice and loved the tacos, no matter which I tried, just like you. I feel sadness, however, that Paul ran out of money after opening and has resorted to placing Now Open signs, in various screaming forms, all over the property.

Developing a concept like Greatfull Taco and then opening without advertising it, is like arriving at your vacation destination and finding yourself with no spending money.

MadMac
MadMac

This is a well written, concise and helpful review. Well done, Ms. Shilcutt.

Fiorellofello
Fiorellofello

Agree with the salsa lameness, as in being served in thimble-sizes plasticos!Yes, the salsa has value and some is very good (piquin!) but christ, it's like going to Ziggy's.

Not sure what the answer is....has anyone tried the salsa at Tacos a Go Go, or Jarro Cafe (the gold standard of free-served salsa varieties)? I like take as you like.

MadMac
MadMac

"There are about a half dozen large flat screen televisions on causing visual polllution and the noise level was so loud that I could not heard the voices in my head," Yeah, Attyrose3, medication will help you with that, too. Please, pretty please, do your 'single-white-female' stalking-Katharine-Shilcutt schtick somewhere else. I'm trying to kill time at work, here. Your bit is neither informative nor entertaining.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

This ongoing obsession with the Tan Tan No. 2 review from several weeks ago is getting to the point where I'm no longer annoyed by your obstinacy but amused by it. Please continue telling us all about the flat noodles you're enjoying there! I look forward to your mini-review of Tan Tan No. 2 in every single comments section of every single restaurant review that is not Tan Tan No. 2 from this point out.

MadMac
MadMac

Tex, substantiate your claim. Racist based on what? **Note, I just re-read (fully read, while awake) the review and I apologize, Tex.

Ms. Shilcutt, first I want to say I respect your work (in spite of what you did to me with that "Sheba" recomendation, haven't had that much porcelain time since my eight weeks at Great Mistakes).

Second, I get it that you want this guy to be eccentric but if Chef Bruce or Jim Goode posted a comment like: "It was sooooo hottt today, that no illegals came in and tried to get a job!" I can't help but wonder if your reaction would be the same. This cat ain't eccentric, he's a bigot. And I'm cool with that as long as I know it and can avoid supporting this mo-mo with my business.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

See, here's the thing: I don't think West is racist. I wouldn't eat there or promote his business if I thought he was. I think he's just, as I said, eccentric.

Genevieveww
Genevieveww

Score with that! While Walsh and Caswell are serving bland,overpriced food for nostalgia's sake, this guy actually gets it, and serves something with flavor that draws on what Walsh was gushing about when he christened Reef as being so cool: a fusion of local flavor and worldwide resident tradition.

Who knows? The guy can develop a rockin concept. Good flavor and value and atmosphere. Then he does stuff like opens for breakfast and not late-nite. No sense. And flags his building with please!! come in!! banners. Extreme unction. Wtf?

Attyrose3
Attyrose3

Actually I am currently obsessed with the Shrimp and salted fish fried rice and crispy shrimp and walnuts at FuFu this weekend but I will keep everyone up-to-date what hot food is good this summer, even in the heat.

DrGarcia3
DrGarcia3

promote and spin away.........I'm not buying.

tee-wee
tee-wee

I went three weeks ago and still can't figure out what I missed. I had three different tacos, all of which were fine, but not really even return trip-worthy. Add in the stack of beer suitcases for sale near the entrance, and it smells like eventual failure to me. I will also confess to not thinking that Torchy's is extremely tasty.

wendywoogirl
wendywoogirl

Went after reading the article. Chips were not paper thin, rather from-the-bag variety, and my guac had gone bad on the bottom. While my taco was good, I think $4 is pretty steep for what you get.

 
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