"I know they tried to name this place after San Francisco," my friend Hala said as we walked into Heights Ashbury last Friday afternoon. "But there's no way you could accidentally mistake this for San Francisco." She looked around at the Uncle Charlie poster art on one bright orange wall and the broad entry leading to the front door, where store display cases had been ripped out and replaced with cheery outdoor seating.
"This place screams 'the Heights' to me," she grinned.
As well it should, being smack dab in the heart of the Heights on 19th Street, the old subdivision's once and future main street. Although there's a distinct "hippie" vibe from the vegetarian offerings and the fresh-squeezed juices inside Heights Ashbury, the name and its clever play on words are fitting.
The coffee shop is still very new, having only opened a few weeks ago. And as such, it still lacks that cozy vibe that will only come with time. For now, however, several groups were settled in comfortably that afternoon, mugs of lattes and mostly eaten quiches littering their tables. It's getting there.
I ordered a cortado and two different kinds of tacos, of which there are several here. My eyes also lit up at the sight of a Oaxaca-style taco cooked inside a bright green banana leaf, so I ordered that too. Hala got the soup and salad combo. I didn't have high hopes for such a boring-sounding item, but was quickly proven wrong.
It's so rare to see kale used, much less raw, so it was thoroughly refreshing to see a green salad delivered that was made with all kale, no lettuce to be found. It was dressed with sweetly pickled red onions and a tart vinaigrette that tamed the bitterness of the dark greens. To its side, a white bean soup with bright red tomatoes swimming with diced potatoes and carrots was equally vibrant and surprisingly refreshing on a hot day.
I loved both items so much, I made half a meal of her soup and salad while trying not to ignore my red cabbage-laden tacos.
Both were wonderful, although the tortillas could have stayed together better. But when fried green tomatoes and fried avocado is involved, I'm less inclined to care. Between the cornmeal-battered fried green tomato tacos here at Heights Ashbury and the tartly sweet Viola Lee tacos at Greatful Taco, I'm keen on thinking this is going to be the summer of the fried green tomato taco: the ultimate expression of East Texan cuisine and Tex-Mex as one.
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So although my tamale was ultimately disappointing, runny and unremittingly bland, I came away impressed with the food in the young kitchen -- which is serving food from Radical Eats -- nevertheless. It's certainly a welcome change from standard coffee shop fare, even if the kitchen does close each day at 2:30 p.m.
But if you come past 2:30 p.m., there are always juices and smoothies available after all. And that's what I'll be heading back to Heights Ashbury to happily try next time.