Tacos Del Cartel is a feast for every sense: the hip, Insta-ready interior design, the pulsating house music, cool translucent furniture, and (obviously) the incomparable food and beverage. It's like dipping into an alternate universe where neon cacti line the pitch-black landscape, and the mezcal flows like a river.
Owners Danny Cruz and Chef Julio meticulously built Tacos Del Cartel over the last two years, agonizing and scrutinizing over every little detail. "A cartel is a big sign like a billboard. This is like a gallery to come and eat and enjoy the art on the walls," stated Chef Julio proudly. He went on to say that the menu he created is based off of authentic Mexican dishes with some California style thrown into the mix to set it apart. "Our type of cuisine is authentic Mexican food. The recipes and processes, the way we handle the food, cure the meats, everything is exactly the same way that they do in Mexico. Every single item of the menu, we were doing research to make sure we were doing it the right way. Then we found in California, they use this way to do Mexican food, but they add more avocados and salsa, and that's what we love. So we use the authentic Mexican way, and we mix it up a little a bit with California style."
The menu includes a wide-variety of tacos including some vegetarian options like Mushroom and Tofu Tacos. Carnivores will fall in love with the Carnitas though. The meat coming out of the kitchen is full of rich, smokey flavor that can be topped with several kinds of house-made salsa. Everything I ate was so incredibly fresh and enticing. "We use real charcoal to cook our meats every day, so the flavor is very intense," Chef Julio said.
Of course, your meal at Tacos Del Cartel would not be complete without a bright cocktail to cleanse the palate. Tacos Del Cartel is a true mezcaleria, and it's the star in the signature cocktail menu. The Mezcalrita was smokey, yet light and fruity. It's sure to be a hit with those who want to take lots of selfies; the sugar skull-print glassware was absolutely adorable. "We hired a mixologist, one of the best in the world, Ismael Martinez," said Danny. He went on to say that he chose to have mezcal as the main liquor over tequila which is featured at other area Mexican restaurants because of the amount of care and work that goes into making mezcal. He believes that you can taste that hard work and tradition when you take a sip which only adds yet another layer of experience when you dine here. "The reason we decided to do that is because we have been eating at all the Mexican restaurants around the city, and we were looking for something authentic, something different, and I never found it. So that's why we wanted to do something different than everybody so that we can show our customers that there's a place they can feel different."
Feeling different begins when you enter the doorway. You are immersed into a realm blanketed by pink flowers which cover the ceiling. The stunning bar is bookended by hand-painted skeletons made by artist Danielle Hyne sitting on a glittering background. Neon lights come from behind the seats and illuminate the cacti all along the walls. Danny continued, "The look of the restaurant started with our imagination, then we decided to hire Jacquelyn Lindsey of JL Studios. She created all of this with our ideas. We tried to make every spot Instagrammable: the bar, the murals, the bookcase…There's a good energy here."
Tacos Del Cartel is located at 2901 David Dr. You can find more information and make reservations HERE.