Torchy's Tacos Brings Tepid Tacos (and a Cold Dining Room) to Town

There is a second location of Austin import Torchy's Tacos opening soon, this one in the Heights. Along with another tenant, it will be one of two restaurants occupying the space at 19th Street at Ashland that used to house Houston clothing institution Harold's. I can only hope that the interior design team responsible for the Torchy's on Shepherd has not received a phone call yet for this new location.

Because in addition to serving consistently cold or lukewarm tacos at its first Houston location, Torchy's Tacos -- the subject of this week's cafe review -- has also managed to deliver an equally cold eating experience in its bare-bones dining room.

I'm one of those for whom ambiance is part of the holistic dining experience. It's as important to me as the service, and just a few rungs below the actual food. When I feel as if I'm eating in a nuclear bunker that's been curiously outfitted with windows and a few flat-screen TVs, it definitely detracts from my meal.

More exasperatingly, the dining room that Torchy's Tacos took over after Greatfull Taco closed was already beautiful. Look for yourselves...

Warm. Funky. Inviting. Open. An enjoyable place to grab a bite to eat, regardless of what you thought of Greatfull Taco's actual [Torchy's-esque] tacos. (Full disclosure: I loved Greatfull Taco's food and always had a good meal there.)

And while I understand the need to revamp an interior in order to rebrand it as your own restaurant and to infuse it with the Torchy's look, I don't understand how any of that equated to this:

Concrete blocks are only acceptable building materials if you're a broke college student and you're using them like milk crates for shelving. White walls and oddly placed TVs are bad enough, but combined with the cold concrete floor -- which is often dangerously slippery and causes sound to bounce around like an echo chamber in the loud restaurant -- it's all just too much.

This is why when I eat at Torchy's, I take my food to go or I eat on the porch. At least out there, I can pretend that I'm back at the good ol' Torchy's I used to know -- the Austin food truck that was relaxing and welcoming in its oak-shaded food court. I don't want to know this Houston Torchy's, and I'm not sure I want to meet a second one either.

Read more about Torchy's Tacos in this week's cafe review and see more behind-the-scenes photos in our slideshow.

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Katharine Shilcutt