Venue Review: Maverick Rock Taco
The Charlotte Observer
1513 Montford Drive; 704-527-1400
HITS: Nicely turned out torta and tuna taquitos.
MISSES: Tough tacos, flabby wings.
PRICES: Lunch specials (11 a.m.-4 p.m.) about $7-$9; dinner about $8-$12.
Maverick Rock Taco wants to be a nostalgic good time – from graffiti-like portraits of artists to weathered albums nailed to the walls (and so much sing-along rock!). But it also styles itself a street-taco-with-a-twist joint, and it’s here that we run into a problem.
Since opening, as sibling to Xenia Hospitality’s Nolen Kitchen, ilios noche and Big View Diner, the Maverick menu has shifted from a core of proteins sold in a variety of ways (entree with sides, in a taco, a salad, a wrap) to a more defined lineup: 15 “street tacos,” plus a handful of entrees, half a dozen burritos, four tortas and a range of appetizers.
That makes it simpler to order, and I’d endorse the change – but there’s been a distinct drop in quality.
Good stuff first: Ahi tuna, no longer a main-dish choice, shows up in taquitos on the appetizer list and is terrific – tender, beautifully meaty, set off perfectly by a little mango and avocado. You can have it on bibb lettuce, if you choose, rather than in a fried casing, and it’s a bargain at $8.50.
Clay pot enchiladas fared well, too: three 6-inch-or-so tortillas filled with chicken, beef or cheeses (Oaxaca and Chihuahua, both mild cow’s milk cheeses that are sort of Jack/mozzarella, plus the crumbly fresco), with a suitably rich smoked tomato salsa.
You mustn’t miss mango jicama slaw, light and crunchy and fresh on most of our visits, and “Mexican Street Corn,” with a little char, which you may consider getting with green chile ranch and queso on the side, since it’s typically overdressed.
Best of all was a griddled torta of short rib braised in Dos Equis, on good bread. I don’t always order tortas, but when I do, I prefer rich meat with a bit of sprightly crunch and spicy moisture, and the pickled onions and jalapeno crema (plus tiny black beans) do the trick.
But the accompanying cilantro lime fries were greasy and limp, and the rest of what we tried fell equally flat.
A mahi mahi entree wasn’t available one night “because no mahi came in today,” our server apologized – though, unfortunately, brought another of us a mahi taco without comment. (It was drab but inoffensive.) Skirt steak, chicken and calamari in tacos ($3.50-$5 singly, $9.50-$11 for two and a side) were all cooked to brutal toughness, especially sad in the first two cases, since chimichurri and mole sauces were done with some sophistication. A subsequent night’s mahi Veracruz (it came in!) featured, along with olives and capers… bones. Sizable bones.
Wings sported a chile-lime-tequila sauce but were flabby and wan. Other options among the snacks: Nachos, quesadillas and skillets of melted cheese with tortillas, and three guacs.
Margaritas form the bar menu base, with both interesting ideas – Asian pear puree and ginger liqueur replacing the lime and orange flavors of the original – and schticky ones: the Beer-Rita comes with a Coronita (the mini-bottle of Corona) upside-down as a “stirrer.” The tequila lineup relies heavily on well-knowns. Beer, mostly in cans, and 18 kinds of shots, round out the list, plus white and red sangria and a few wines.
We found servers forgetful, but happy to oblige when reminded of drinks or courses.
Diners can eat in a roomy bar or the dining area, separated by a long hallway in which resides the handsomest art in the place: A beautiful, backlit, 13-star American flag in rough, reclaimed wood. Dining-room portraits – Animal, from the Muppets, and Ozzy Osbourne leap out – cover most of the dining room’s walls, with a clientele of diverse age (even a few babies, in early evenings) tucked at heavy-wood tables and high-back booths.
Live music comes occasionally to the bar; the next time is slated for Dec. 21 and titled “End of the World Party,” “just in case” the Mayans were right.
A true maverick among the Montford majority rises above the everyday in both concept and consistency. Maverick’s halfway there.