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Taco 'Bout a Good Time 

Roctaco's globetrotting menu of tacos sets up the ultimate summer vibe.

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ALEX SPRINGER
  • Alex Springer

It's hard to get tacos really right or really wrong—they simply exist as a universally accepted physical manifestation of God's love for us. This cosmic truth about tacos made me skeptical to check out Roctaco (248 S. Edison St., Salt Lake City, 801-905-8016, facebook.com/Roctaco), despite the way they've been blowing up all over social media (@roc.taco on Instagram). That said, when you present a taco place with its own special vibe, for lack of a better word, you've got something that transcends a mere taqueria.

This vibe is different and elusive depending on the place—the crowded street taco carts on a balmy Friday night have it, family-owned taquerias in nondescript strip malls have it, and lately, downtown joints with a street savvy aesthetic are carving out a vibe all their own. It's on the trendy and hip side of things, but love it or hate it, the vibe pairs well with a heaping plate of tacos.

I'd say the goal of the Roctaco team is to showcase the versatility of tacos by matching up its street food roots with flavor combos from all over the world. This is something I've seen before—it's easy to add some rice and Korean barbecue to a taco and call it fusion—but Roctaco's menu ditches gimmicky undertones for flavor combos that make sense when served up in a homemade tortilla.

You've got lots of leeway for exploring traditional taco flavors as you navigate Roctaco's lean menu, divided into sections for bird, hog, cow and sea/earth. The Angry Bird ($3.50) and the Uncle Al ($3.50) are my favorites in the traditional category. The former is stuffed with sinfully tender grilled tinga chicken prepped with an extra kick of heat. A creamy tomatillo sauce helps cool things down a bit, but this one is a great way to jumpstart a meal. The Uncle Al is a classic al pastor taco with its sweet and savory mix of juicy pork and pineapple, but it gets an extra dose of citrus flavor with a mango salsa.

The dark horse of the traditional menu is known as Amy Hates Fish ($4), a beachy fish taco that combines grilled mahi with crisp purple cabbage and a drizzle of chipotle lime sauce that is destined to become a summer favorite. Part of me would like a fried fish option to go along with this, but damn if these don't represent peak fish taco innovation.

From there, it's fun to hop around the globe with options like the Bahn Mijo ($3.50), the Tikka ($3.50) and the K-Pop ($4). Of the three, the K-Pop was most impressive—likely because its flavorful Korean short rib and gochujang innards are topped with a soft fried egg. It's a bit of a mess to eat, but you get over it once you get a bite of that egg and gochujang-coated short rib. Like the other fusion tacos on the menu, these are quick snapshots of the flavors culled from some global exploration.

The Bahn Mijo, of course, borrows from the popular Vietnamese sandwich with soy sauce-infused carnitas, pickled cucumber and sliced jalapeño peppers. The bahn mi punch is definitely here, but it doesn't go too deep into that flavor territory—this is still very much a taco. The Tikka is perhaps the biggest reach across the culinary aisle. It's not bad by any stretch, but the flavors don't quite land as effectively as its cousins.

With the prices where they are, building a mammoth plate of tacos to suit whatever mood you might find yourself in is a breeze, but let's not overlook the supporting cast here. Like any good taco joint, elotes ($3) are here to provide some flavorful backup to the main menu. The corn is nicely grilled and slathered in chili lime sauce and queso fresco, evoking everything you love about this traditional snack.

For something chilled and tasty, look no further than Roctaco's menu of batidas ($3.50). They're interpretations of a Brazilian cocktail—though these are nonalcoholic—and they offer a great way to cool your jets after burning your tongue on one of the menu's spicier options. I went with the frozen horchata made with cashew milk and crushed ice and its creamy cinnamon flavors complemented my meal perfectly.

Roctaco's vibe starts with its playful incorporation of global flavors into its menu. It's not the first time you've seen a fusion taco, and it won't be the last, but the lineup works staggeringly well together. The flavors are well-balanced, and it's easy to build a diverse but cohesive all-star team of tacos on your plate. Roctaco also doesn't skimp on the sides—from the elotes to the chips and pom guac ($5), you've got some nice backup to your main course. Its location next to the Broadway Centre Cinemas makes it a prime pre-movie destination, and its hip interior decor—hello octopus mural!—makes for an attractive place to hang out during any downtown sojourn.

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