Chow down like a Baja surfer at Hot Taco Detroit.
Photo Credit: After 5 Detroit
Finding a good, inexpensive place to grab a bite close to the Fox Theatre, Fillmore Detroit and Comerica Park has become a no-brainer. With hours from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, the lunch trade and late crowd alike have discovered fresh and healthy Hot Taco Detroit.
The eatery exists because Leslie Harrington simply loves Mexican food. She and husband, Sean, live with their three children in the Downtown building they own: the eight-story, Art Deco Iodent Lofts on Park Street. When the couple was unable to find the right business to fill 600 square feet of vacant space on the Iodent’s street level, she had the brainstorm to start their own casual Mexican restaurant. “So, next thing you know,” Sean Harrington said, “we had blueprints on the table to build a taqueria (taco shop).”
Open since Jan. 2, Hot Taco is still pulling together its decor. In late January, the look included red walls, exposed ductwork, distressed terrazzo-tiled floor and barstool seating at floor-to-ceiling windows or the brushed metal counter. Shelves behind the counter hold beverages for sale, including Mexican-made Coca-Cola and Jarritos-brand Mexican soda pop (try Tamarind or no-alcohol Sangria varieties).
Sean Harrington trained Hot Taco’s two cooks (there is a 10-member staff in all) to make food that conjures up his fond memories of Baja Peninsula-style taco shacks.
“They’re places where surfers hang out, all along the coast,” he explained, “where the chicken for tacos might be grilled on a car’s grille used as a flattop.”
The core menu at Hot Taco will always be its tacos (corn or flour shell) and burritos, Harrington said. Each item includes a choice of protein or the veggie-style, plus shredded Muenster cheese, chopped cilantro and finely diced red onions and sauce. Beans, rice, avocado and sour cream are also in the burritos.
Hot Taco ensures freshness by purchasing most ingredients at nearby Eastern Market. Cooks grind whole spices and dry them in the oven to extract the seeds used in Hot Taco’s flavorful, house-made sauces.
A light orange, sour cream-chipotle sauce enhanced my outstanding Steak Taco — already a customer favorite. The meat is marinated for 24 hours. The Spicy Shrimp Taco had an adequate portion of middle-sized shrimp and just the right amount of heat. I also really liked the Hot Taco Chicken, the house specialty along with a pork version. The shredded meat concoction oozed a yummy salsa verde sauce. Better keep your napkin handy!
Everything comes foil-wrapped in a small paper basket, and the prices are a bargain: $2.50, $3 and $3.50 for tacos; $6-7.50 for burritos.
As the menu evolves, Harrington will offer rice and beans, and a Breakfast Burrito, featuring chorizo, beans, eggs, cheese and pico de gallo. He wants to sell Hot Taco’s spice rubs and roasted whole chickens for $7. Not being a stickler for rules, he’ll “open up our flavor palette” with items like a Korean Taco, including an appropriate sauce.
Hot Taco is the third entertainment venture for Harrington, whose resume includes “sailing other people’s yachts” and running a youth hostel and Downtown’s Cafe Park Avenue.
Harrington has owned Centaur Martini Bar in his building for six years; and on the other corner, across Montcalm Street, is his Town Pump Tavern. He’s had it for more than 17 years inside Park Avenue House, the building his parents purchased 40 years ago. A largely Jewish clientele patronized Town Pump during its 1920s heyday.
The Harringtons have benefited from the area’s revitalization, able to sell luxury condos in the converted Iodent toothpaste factory. Where visiting Park Street was a “scary” proposition in the 1970s-’90s, now the short stroll to Hot Taco from the entertainment district or Grand Circus Park People Mover Station is just kind of fun.
Hot Taco Detroit
Detroit, MI 48201
$ ($2.50-$7.50) out of $$$$