If your idea of traditional Mexican food involves rice and refried beans, you might be surprised to find out that Wapo Taco serves neither. Instead, the authentic Mexican taqueria, which originally opened in Mexico City as El Farolito circa 1962, serves gringas, volcanes, costras, and tacos.
Half a century and 25 taquerias later, Francisco Musi decided to bring the concept to the States, opening in Hallandale Beach on September 15, which just so happened to be Mexican Independence Day.
"It's not fast-casual, it's not a restaurant, it's a taqueria," says managing partner Michael Berkman. So what does that mean? Organic tortillas made on a traditional comal smuggled straight from Mexico and loaded with grass-fed beef and charcoal-grilled pork or chicken (also known as "al pastor" in Mexico).
Walk in and grab a seat at the U-shaped bar. Depending on where you snag a chair, you'll have clear views of tortillas being made or pork slowly cooking in a spinning top (similar to how shawarma is cooked). Onions hold the pork up from falling and add an aromatic flavor to the meat, while pineapple perched on the top gets residual heat and releases some of its fruit juice down below.
Chips, pico de gallo, morita (chipotle), and guacamole are made from scratch daily. Mexican beers on tap include Pacifico, Dos XX, and Modelo. But nothing quite goes with tacos like a michelada ($4.99), a combination of tomato juice, lime, and beer. If you like and can handle a lot of heat, opt for the michelada Cubano -- it's got Worcestershire and will numb your lips.
There's a good chance you've never had the Mexican specialties found on the menu at el Wapo Taco, like the costras, which stuffs cheese into a crisp chorizo like omelet and serves it atop two flour tortillas ($10.99). All specialties are served with your choice of protein. Choose from pastor pork or chicken, skirt steak, sirloin, rib eye, or a veggie mix of char-grilled onions, mushrooms, and poblano peppers. "We decided to offer an al pastor chicken because of the kosher population and also because of America's fascination with chicken," says chef Emmanuel Garcia.
Another specialty, the Gringas, stuffs two flour tortillas with your choice of pastor meat (chicken or pork) mixed with melted Manchego and garnished with fresh sliced pineapple, onion, and cilantro ($8.99).
If you've ever had a Mexican tostada, then you'll want to go for the volcanes, which roast the handmade tortillas to a perfect crisp and top them with your choice of meat (sirloin in this case) and melted cheese ($8.99).
Tacos come three to an order and include your choice of any of the meat offered. We tried the rib eye tacos, which, by the way, slice an entire rib eye that's been cooked over lava-like charcoal right on to your handmade tortillas and then lather it with a salsa verde, onion and cilantro ($9.99).
The only disappointment? Tacos de carnitas (although on the menu) have been 86'd. The über-traditional Mexican dish of pulled pork, pork belly, and chicharron apparently isn't very popular. "Nobody was ordering it, so we decided to stop making it," says Musi. Maybe if enough lovers of carnitas request the slowly braised meat, the quintessential Mexican taco (besides al pastor) can be yet another one of the many reasons to visit Wapo Taco.
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