Over the years I’ve learned that people who make good food — whether it be at home or in a restaurant — tend to be the most reliable palates when dining out. That’s why I pay particularly close attention to where my favorite chefs and home gourmands are eating, rather than filtering through the general public spew on websites such as Yelp and Urban Spoon.
So, when Joe Amitrano of Joe’s New York Pizzeria and Verra-Zanno told me he had found a solid new taqueria, I didn’t hesitate.
Taqueria Del Mar (5075 Peachtree Pkwy, Norcross Tel: 678.820.9836) is owned by Andrew Hoppen, a friendly character with a rather calm demeanor for a restaurant pro.
The space is well done, made up of only recycled and reclaimed wood. It looks more like a restaurant you’d find in Virginia Highland or Midtown — not the burbs.
Every successful restaurant has that one dish that brings them back again and again. At Taqueria Del Mar that dish is going to be the fish taco — unbelievably fresh strips of tilapia with panko breading under a bed of crunchy slaw, pickled jalapeno and covered with a bright poblano tartare. Possibly the best fish taco in Atlanta, and will only set you back $2.90.
This place is good and cheap, the kind of place that sticks around for years and years. Enchiladas are only $3.90 — while there are a few options with this one, I recommend braised short rib topped with both red chili sauce and a sublime citrus cream.
Poblano corn chowder ($3.50) isn’t a small bowl, and struts a highly addictive layer of spice giving it plenty of depth of character.
The salsa duo ($3.50) is interesting, and possibly still a work in progress. A grilled local peach and poblano salsa is a pleasant summery surprise, but the wood fired roasted tomato desperately needs something to spiffy it up or to create a little complexity like its counterpart.
Taqueria Del Mar, at least in the early going, seems to be one of those restaurants whose heart and soul is most reflected in its smaller plate options. For example, shrimp and grits (an entree) would be perfectly fine if measured by the stone ground grits alone. The shrimp, however, are served in a sugary brown pool of sweet — to the point of cloying — bbq sauce. I hope they decide to tweek this one because it’s ripe with potential.
All in all, Taqueria Del Mar (only open two weeks at the time of my visits) isn’t perfect but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be a strong contender for taqueria of the year, if there is such an award.