First Look: Rreal Tacos
An authentic taqueria in the heart of MidtownMonday February 8, 2016 04:00 am EST
There are 1,200 miles or so between Atlanta and Mexico, but Rreal Tacos in Midtown aims to lessen that sense of distance through food. If your idea of Mexican fare involves queso dip and nachos, you'll be surprised to learn that Rreal serves neither. Its mission is to be an authentic taqueria south of Buford Highway.
Rreal is wordplay on the surname of chef/owner Adrian Villarreal, former chef de cuisine at the Spence and executive chef at Tap. Despite attending Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Rreal channels his abuela more than his culinary school instructors at the two-month-old taco stand. Villarreal was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico, and the menu here reflects the street food and home cooking he grew up eating.
Located in the Skyhouse building at the corner of Sixth and Juniper streets in Midtown, the space is colorful, clean, and bright. It even has a small parking lot. High ceilings with exposed ductwork and dangling red pendant lights loom above concrete floors dotted with wooden tables and booths. Abstract paintings of luchadores that looked like pigeons wearing lucha libre masks at first glance adorn the walls. A large bar with colorful, hand-painted talavera tiles sits before the open kitchen where voyeurs can watch taco assembly.
Start the experience by ordering at the counter. The enthusiastic staff is very knowledgeable about ingredients and killer flavor combinations. Take a luchador card with you when you're done so they know where to bring your food and have a seat. All the tables are outfitted with paper towels and cutlery. The food is usually delivered within 5-10 minutes, sometimes by Villarreal himself.
There are eight taco fillings to choose from, all served on soft corn tortillas. For a quarter more, you can upgrade to Villarreal's excellent house-made corn tortillas. It's worth the 25 cents. Villarreal is choosey about ingredients, and the organic-as-much-as-possible menu mentions many of the farmers he sources from by name. The tacos ($2.99) are simply dressed with diced onion and a sprinkle of cilantro, and come with lime wedges on the side for spritzing. Rreal also offers a meal deal that includes two tacos, one side, and a drink for $9.95.
If Mexico had an iconic taco, it would be the al pastor, a name that refers to the spit roasting method shepherds used. The pork trompo taco is Rreal's version. Here you can watch the marinated pork slowly spinning in vertical rotisseries (called trompos). The drippings baste the meat as the exterior slowly caramelizes. Thin slivers are plucked off with a sharp blade and cradled into a warm tortilla. The resulting meat is juicy, rich, and crisp around the edges.
There are two types of chicken fillings, adobo and braised chicken a la Veracruzana. The flavors are mild. Adding a few extras to punch things up won't hurt. Free trimmings include shredded cabbage, shaved radish, fresh jalapeño, and tomato. Premium toppings (for 50 cents each) include chayote slaw, salsa avocado, queso fresco, and more. The fish that comes in the fish taco is grilled bone-in and then stripped away in flaky chunks. (Watch out for stray bones!) Roasted serrano peppers add a lovely depth of flavor to this one. The veggie taco stuffed with crisp, creamy fried avocado and velvety refried beans is surprisingly satisfying.
Rreal's supporting cast of sides is strong, the aforementioned crisp avocado and refried beans included. There are roasted sweet potatoes ($3.25), an empanada ($3.75) stuffed with flame-roasted trompo meat, and two soups — guajillo bean ($3) and beef and vegetable ($3.50). The two salads can be ordered in two sizes as well with taco meat for an additional $2.99. The abuela's salad is a fresh mix of shredded chard, shaved radish, chayote squash, red onion, and lumps of avocado in a creamy cilantro dressing.
There are no Choco Tacos or churros on this dessert menu. Instead you'll find Mexican delights such as fried sweet plantains ($3.50), cheese served with fruit jelly ($3.50), a dessert empanada ($3.75), and a basket of crystallized fruits and vegetables ($3.75). At press time, Rreal is still waiting for its liquor license. When that comes through, expect a full bar with margaritas, Cuba libres, micheladas, Mexican and local beers, and sangria. Until then, sip on a house-made agua frescas like the tangy, tea-like hibiscus flavor.
If an authentic taqueria hinges on quality ingredients, great service, and quick ticket times, Rreal fits the bill. With prices only slightly higher than the taquerias along Buford Highway, this place is a dining asset to Midtown. The trompo alone will make your taco Tuesday.