A Squared: Kokopelli: A Tijuana Taco Truck in Wicker Park

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Kokopelli: A Tijuana Taco Truck in Wicker Park

Okay, so it isn't actually a truck. But, Kokopelli is the newest taco joint on the Wicker Park Mexican restaurant scene and its menu harkens back to a certain taco truck that the restaurant's owner discovered on a trip to Tijuana. As you might expect on the Baja Coast, Kokopelli's menu is heavy on the seafood dishes: from fish tacos to ceviche, there is a huge variety. Knowing that they're catering to Midwestern diners and potentially food allergies though, the restaurant's founders were careful to round out the menu with a few meat and vegetarian options too. The restaurant officially opens today, but I brought my friend Alexis over and we got a sneak peek of the menu on Tuesday and I wanted to tell you all about my favorites from the evening!

First things first: Kokopelli has an amazing cocktail menu! I loved this Tijuana Sour-- it had all the great flavor of a margarita, but was a bit lighter and was tart, not too sweet, and super refreshing with a spicy chili powder rim finish.

We also got to try some of the housemade chicharron guacamole and a sampling of their five very different and delicious signature salsas. The guacamole was creamy with crunchy chunks of pork rind throughout and was served on top of a giant chicharron. The salsas were all completely different, but tasty in their own right. While I wasn't a fan of the over the top spicy Lagrimas de Lucifer (the bright pink beet & habanero salsa), I really loved two of the more inventive salsas on the plate: The Robo de Dante, a salsa of roasted pumpkin seeds and sweet and spicy peppers. This salsa was pureed and had almost a Dijon mustard-like look and consistency and I loved the complex nutty and spicy flavor. Another salsa of note for me was the Castiga Azteca, a dark salsa of chili de arbol and peanuts that was reminiscent of a mole or Thai peanut sauce. It was great for dipping and made an excellent taco topper.

The next round was a sampling of the Black Harbor ceviche. I'm not usually a huge ceviche fan, but the flavors here were really tasty: fresh mahi mahi marinated in lemon juice and squid ink (for the crazy black color) and served with avocado, pickled onions, and a combination of two of Kokopelli's signature salsas, this was a really flavorful little bite.

We also shared the Kokopelli salad. Thinly sliced grilled beets were topped with mixed greens, candied nuts, creamy gorgonzola, tomatoes, and red onion all tossed in an agave balsamic vinaigrette. The dish is simple and not quite as memorable as some of the others on the menu, but definitely fits the bill if you're looking for a little salad on the side here.

Oh, and there were more cocktails! On the right, a tangy, smoky, and frothy cocktail. And I'm not a whiskey fan, but I really liked this El Dani cocktail (on the left) made with whiskey, lemon juice, and smoked cinnamon. It was a really yummy drink that reminded me of fall and went down quite a bit more easily than I would have liked. This drink could make me a whiskey convert!

The staff also brought out a selection of some their favorite tacos for us to try. The tacos are typically served in orders of 3 and are perfect little bites-- and would be super fun to share.

First we tried two of their signature seafood tacos: The Kraken was composed of grilled octopus tossed in a tasty Mexican pesto topped with pickled onions and that deliciously nutty castiga azteca salsa inside a grilled tortilla. The grilled octopus had a great texture and I loved the fresh and bold flavor of the Mexican pesto. Next to that, my favorite of the four tacos we tried: The Gringo en Vaccaciones (a.k.a. White People on Vacation... LOL). The main event on this taco was adobo sauteed shrimp served with melty cheese, a sweet bell pepper, grilled pineapple, that castiga azteca salsa again, and pickled onions. I absolutely loved the sweetness with the super savory shrimp. It was a perfect little bite!

For you non-seafood eaters, there were a few tasty options for you too! The Funky taco is a nice vegetarian option and almost tastes a little Italian: Chunky grilled portabello is topped with spinach, pickled onions, a creamy goat cheese sauce, and my favorite robo de dante salsa. It was a really satisfying and flavorful tacos-- and definitely a situation where you would say you didn't miss the meat. And speaking of meat, the fourth and final taco was the Steak a las Brasa taco: thinly sliced ribeye marinated in flavorful chimichurri and then grilled is finished off with refried beans, guacamole, a pickly cactus leaf salad, and a delicious salsa verde.

And while we didn't really have any room left, Alexis and I managed to put away some dessert as well. Kokopelli brought out some of their Mexican coffee for us, which I love: a slightly sweetened and cinnamon-infused coffee perfect for pairing with dessert. And dessert was a pretty little chimichanga stuffed with cinnamon apples (and with a variety of different fruits throughout the year depending on what's in season), topped with sweet rhubarb compote, rich goat cheese sauce, and finished with vanilla ice cream and pomegranate seeds. This was a perfectly sized dessert to get a little sweet fix after enjoying so many savory items. I loved how the chimichanga dough was warm and soft inside and the outside was crispy and coated in cinnamon and sugar.

Kokopelli opens on Milwaukee Ave. in the heart of Wicker Park today. They'll be serving dinner everyday and lunch on the weekends, so be sure to stop in a share a few tacos and cocktails with friends. It's a great addition to the neighborhood and their Baja-style tacos are truly tasty!
Kokopelli on Urbanspoon

Editor's Note: While my dinner at Kokopelli was complimentary, all of the opinions expressed here (as always) are my own.

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