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Taco Shop

HookUpdate 11/10/2014: Taco Shop is closed.
In a word: These are not the tacos you're looking for.

The specs: #0642  
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews at 77 Square, Restaurant DB, Yelp, The Daily Cardinal, Dane 101, Fearful Symmetries; listing at Eat Drink Madison; official web site, The Taco Shop on Urbanspoon

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JM ate the ground beef quesadilla with refried beans and a fountain drink.
Nichole ate the taco salad with chicken.
We split some chorizo wontons and a choco chimi.
The bill was $22, or $11/person, plus tip, plus $6 for 2 jars of salsa.
JM and Nichole both gave Taco Shop an A- (see our grading rubric).

The thing to know about Taco Shop is that they make their own salsas in-house and sell them in Ball jars with a fifty-cent deposit. When we learned that, we figured we were dealing with something less jivey than the usual campus-area feedbag. That said, this place is also not a taqueria. Taco Shop, which started in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, is its own thing. In that way, it reminded us a lot of Carnival's.

The house salsa is mild, but not dead, with a heavy chili powder flavor. Two other salsas (chipotle and lava) riff on the same recipe. The chipotle is smoky with a heat that hits the lips. The lava is smoother, with a cheek-flushing spiciness. We haven't tried the salsa verde yet.

Chorizo wontons and chipotle salsa

We got a three-piece basket of free-spirited and delicious chorizo wontons. The chorizo was the best we'd had since Lucky 7: rich and spicy. It was tucked into standard wonton wrappers and deep-fried with a bit of cheese, perfect for scooping salsa.

QuesadillaTaco salad

The taco salad felt like a flashback to Chi-Chi's circa 1985 and featured warm refried beans and white-meat chicken, tomatoes, jalapeños, black olives, cheddar, and sour cream, all over shredded iceberg lettuce. The fried four tortilla bowl was puffy and a little overdone on the edges, but soft inside. It came with a side of tortilla chips and sour cream.

The beef quesadilla had black olives in it, which JM doesn't care for. However, the olives didn't detract too much from what was basically a meaty, toasted sandwich cemented together with cheese. The quesadilla was another great vehicle for the fantastic salsas.

Can you guess the mystery filling of the choco chimi? We think we did. There's also a version "without peanuts" (hint). The dessert is presented as prettily as anything at a sit-down Mexican chain, with Hershey's sauce, whipped cream, and cherry pie filling garnish.

Choco chimi

Any place as brightly silly and non-self-conscious as Taco Shop deserves at least one check-in, and we'll definitely be back for salsa refills.

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B+ junkfood, 1980's Chi-Chi's or Pepe's is a good comparison. Taco Shop is more of what Taco Bell should be than great Mexican food. Better than average chain-food at more expensive prices, and good drunk eats.

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