Bright artwork adorns the walls and the open-faced tacos — with fresh ingredients layered on canvases of soft, multihued, corn tortillas — perk up palates. Vibrant sauces are served in shot glasses on the side. The piquant, green tomatillo and luscious, red tomato-arbol sauces were so good, I downed the stuff I didn’t pour onto my tacos as if they were shots of Patron.
Unfortunately for tequila lovers, no actual hard stuff will be found in the shot glasses here. Because this is a small (36 seats) and new restaurant, the owners do not have a liquor license and only offer beer, wine, sangria, micheladas (beer spiked with lime juice and spices) and “margaritas” made from high-alcohol agave wine. Savvy visitors will realize that these margaritas ($10 regular, $12 for a special version garnished with honeydew and prosciutto) are low-octane, but the ingredients were not readily announced or listed. This was one of my few quibbles about the place. Fortunately, the red sangria ($10) was tasty, fruit bits appropriately bobbing.
Lokos Takos opened in July in a Fort Lauderdale strip mall on East Commercial Boulevard, near Bayview Drive and the Coral Ridge neighborhood. Owners Carlos and Annie Pombo made a bold choice with the location — smack dab next to Eduardo de San Angel, chef Eduardo Pria’s upscale institution known for refined Mexican ingredients fused with European and Asian techniques.
Lokos Takos is a completely different animal, a cozy taqueria with popular favorites such as burritos, quesadillas and rice bowls. The restaurant fills a desperate need, a nice place to get a reasonable and satisfying Mexican meal that is a step up from no-frills taco stands and hidden kitchens in Latin convenience stores. The focus here is on food, not loud partying, unlike some Mexican meet markets on Las Olas Boulevard and touristy hotel restaurants on the beach. The vibe is cool, with the paintings from Alfonso Pombo (Carlos' brother) giving an art gallery feel. Service is friendly, helpful and attentive, and the ambitions here are not too steep, which is a good thing.
Some may find the taco prices a bit steep, particularly those people used to paying $2 or $3 apiece at bodegas or food trucks. The 13 varieties of tacos at Lokos Takos cost $5 to $8 each, with basic chicken, beef and pork at the low end and octopus ($7) and lobster ($8) at the high end. The restaurant also offers vegan options that use mushrooms and other vegetables. My suggestion for the house to make customers feel better about value: offer a combo plate with three tacos and a side dish in the $12-$15 range, a formula that seems to work at some popular regional chains.
I made two visits to Lokos Takos in recent weeks, first coming for lunch alone on a quiet afternoon. The carnitas taco ($5) was impeccable, well-seasoned shreds of roasted pork tossed with cilantro, caramelized onion and shards of purple cabbage on a white corn tortilla that tasted as if had just come off the comal. The fish taco ($5) was almost as good, with chunks of grilled mahi mahi served with citrus slaw, mango corn, honey habanero and sliced avocado. I didn’t love the blue-corn tortilla, with a heavier texture and flavor that didn’t meld with the fish.
Everyone around me seemed to be gushing over their plates, and my server (who I later learned was managing partner Rodrigo Pombo, Carlos' nephew) spoke of how business had been picking up by word of mouth, with a steady stream of customers throughout the eatery’s 11-hour day. “We did 200 covers last Saturday,” he said proudly.
When I came back with a bigger group for dinner the following week, the place was filled to capacity, and my experience was mostly good with a few hiccups. Appetizers and desserts were strong, but the tacos were uneven, with chicken that was dry and barbacoa (marinated beef) that was a bit tough. Octopus was a little chewy when eaten with a fork by itself, but better when folded and eaten in the total taco package. Lobster was sweet, but again I didn’t love the blue-corn tortilla pairing with seafood. Among the vegan options, we tried the hongos ($5), with mushrooms, onions and garlic. It seemed the kitchen might have gotten buried with the crowd. The assembly was sloppier and flavors not as sharp as during my first visit.
But we had no issue with starters. Guacamole ($8) with blue corn and jalapeno tasted fresh and lively, and tortilla chips were greaseless and warm. Queso fundido ($7) was tasty, hot and gooey, with crispy bits of chorizo on top of the melted cheese. Ceviche del mar ($9) popped, served in a martini glass with bits of fish and shrimp mixed with mango and chilies in citrus marinade.
Desserts ($8) were nice, including hibiscus cheesecake with dried cherries and bunuelos, fried fritters that are a comforting mix of Italian zeppolis and New Orleans beignets. They were served on a platter streaked with raspberry and chocolate sauces and topped with powdered sugar. Coffee was excellent, strong and piping hot.
Its spelling might be off-kilter, but it is completely rational to say that Lokos Takos is a welcome addition to Fort Lauderdale.
Lokos Takos Taqueria
2826 E. Commercial Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Cost: Moderate. Appetizers cost $3-$9, tacos $5-$8, quesadillas, burritos and bowls $6-$13, desserts $8
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. daily (until 8:30 p.m. Sunday)
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer, wine, sangria and margaritas made from high-alcohol wine
Noise level: Conversational with background music
Wheelchair access: Ground level
Parking: Metered and free lot