I know I’m supposed to love Bowls & Tacos despite—or maybe because of—its name. I’m supposed to swoon over the extremely cool reclaimed, remodeled Gulf gas station that has quietly, for over a year now, anchored a lot at that odd intersection of Commerce Street and Exposition Avenue where roads and curves seem to multiply exponentially, and you do not expect to encounter Deep Ellum’s answer to a street taco and poké destination.
I’m expected to swoon at night over the back patio with atmosphere-creating lights and a set of graffiti-style murals painted by a local artist. I’m supposed to dig the handmade flour tortillas, with their grill marks and their soft texture. To dig, too, the connection to Braindead Brewing (the man behind the menu is Braindead’s David Pena), a sister-spot whose local craft beer can be found on tap and also goes a brisket braise and the bacon that outfits a breakfast taco also filled with scrambled eggs.
The idea of a place that makes an ever-loving hybrid of poké bowls and tacos, the two most beloved hand-held foods of our current food generation, should perhaps suggest that we have reached some kind of nirvana. And the fact that the operations were of late overseen by Nicole Gosling, who works with Misti Norris at Petra and the Beast on Saturdays to help Norris with her weekly tasting menus should enamor me even more.
But I really just found that I didn’t love any of it as much as I’d hoped.
I wanted to like Bowls & Tacos. And I liked the classic poké bowl, with its plump dice of ahi tuna, ginger—soy sauce, and cheeky nod to Hawaii in strips of Spam, crisped on the flat-top. The breakfast taco, cradling egg, Asadero, and bacon, is hard not to like.
But I didn’t love the salmon taco I paid $5 for, a taco sporting a small amount of protein in tiny cubes—the blandest salmon I’ve ever been served in my life. The vinegary pickled nopales with a few black beans and some sweet potato and cilantro didn’t do it for me, either.
Nothing about these street-style tacos had much flavor, save the lengua, which was excellent, tender and succulent, in nice, big pieces in this case (rather than diced). And almost all the tacos were under-seasoned, so that even if that salmon could have popped, it didn’t.
The bottom line was that I left with a $30 tab, a few meager tacos, and a small poké bowl that was nice, but heavy in rice.
I took my time making it to this Deep Ellum outpost, and I’m going to give it more chances. For now, though, I’m not head-over-heels.