The Taco Bar
38 Wharf St., Portland
Comfy and cool, sophisticated yet unpretentious, The Wine Bar has been a refuge from the bachelorette madness of Wharf Street for many years. Earlier this summer, the nocturnal lounge began opening most weekdays for cheap lunch, providing refuge from the factory-burger madness of Five Guys. Tuesday through Friday afternoons, The Wine Bar effectively becomes The Taco Bar.
San Diego street tacos, to be exact. I hadn’t realized America’s Finest City was also renowned for fine street meat, but if the tacos at The Taco Bar are authentic, consider me convinced.
For $3, you can choose among the traditional triumvirate of taco meats — beef, pork and chicken — or go veggie. Fish and soy meat tacos are a buck more, and there are burritos on the menu for $6 ($7 with meat).
My two companions and I started with an order of chips and salsa ($2), plus a large side of guacamole ($2). The chips are the best brand around: Montecito Roadhouse, formerly known as El Mirador, a local company. The chunky tomato salsa and smooth guac were unremarkable, but The Taco Bar is geared more toward take-out than dine-in service, so most folks probably won’t make time for this starter.
Let’s talk tacos instead. The beef and chicken versions were both quite good. The meat was well seasoned, accompanied by lettuce and cheddar cheese. The house hot sauce, served on the side, was smoky and flavorful. A fresh, mild green salsa is also available and worth a try.
The “crispy pork” taco was exemplary. Seasoned like south-of-the-border barbeque, the pulled pork tasted delicious. The fish and veggie tacos were equally excellent. The grilled fish was flakey and flavorful, topped with a “white sauce” (light sour cream, basically) that complemented its slight spiciness. The selection of sautéed veggies in the veggie taco rotates. On this day, it was a winning combination of potatoes, red peppers and chilies.
Nearly all of the ingredients are locally sourced — meats delivered by the West End butcher shop Fresh Approach, veggies picked up at weekly farmers markets, fish landed on the waterfront a block away — and you can still get two tacos and a cold Mexican beer for less than $10. (In addition to $3 Dos Equis and Pacifico bottles, those eating in can also get $6 margaritas in several flavors.)
The Taco Bar doesn’t seem destined to be a year-round thing. Like the great summer weather we’ve been having, enjoy it while you can.
— Chris Busby