Until the Northside restaurant Django Western Taco opened last month, I'd never heard of the dusty, violent, low-budget Spaghetti Western by Sergio Corbucci, which is its namesake. Django (pronounced, "Jang-oh") is the latest in a new wave of gringo-interpreted takes on South-of-the-border grub.
The restaurant has some stiff competition when it comes to great tacos in Cincinnati: you've got the authentic Taqueria Mercado, La Mexicana, Taqueria Yolandita, and Taqueria Maya. You've got food trucks like Taco Azul and Tacos Locos. Then you've got the trendy Over-The-Rhine fare in Bakersfield OTR.
Django's distinction is both its unique atmosphere and the group-style servings of its taco selections. When first stepping through the door, one can definitely get a sense of being in a scene from Pick-Your-Favorite-Spaghetti-Western. There's a haunting graveyard mural along the far wall, indirectly referencing the star in the movie, "Django," who drags around a coffin, a la the guitar case-carrying mariachi in "Desperado."
The menu here is very simple: there are the obligatory chips and salsa; fresh guacamole and two kinds of queso dip (one with chorizo, the other with mushrooms). There are five types of tacos: the lengua, a slow-cooked, cubed beef tongue; Al pastor pork; chicken; beef and a vegetarian taco. Single tacos are just $3, while bowls of taco fillings meant for sharing are $8. A mixture of pickled vegetable toppings, called the "Pickled Six," is required when ordering the bowls. This includes thinly-sliced jalapenos, onions, okra, jicama root, potatoes and cucumber slices.
One can certainly order a single taco, but for anyone who grew up enjoying "Ortega Night," where family members built their own tacos, starting with a base shell and spooning on toppings from a variety of bowls set on the table, the method at Django will seem very familiar.
The most expensive menu item was the $22 Molcajete seafood stew served in a clay pot. It's shrimp, okra, tomatoes and scallops in a shrimp stock and topped with cotija cheese. I really, really wanted to try it but couldn't blow our weekend food budget on the first night.
We tried the chips and guacamole; a bowl of the al pastor pork; a bowl of the "veggie" option; and a single lengua (tongue) taco. For dessert: tres leches, with caramel ice cream.
The house-made tortilla chips have an herb and paprika dusting on them, giving them a Doritos-like feel. The guac tasted fresh, with chunks of avocado, onion and tomato. The Al Pastor pork, with its combo of spices, slices of pineapple and chopped mint was quite tasty, as was the marinated veggie mix of peppers and squash topped with cheese. The lengua taco had a bold cumin flavor, the meat was tender --one of the best tongue tacos I've tried. I also enjoyed the two bottled sauces offered at the table: a tomatillo-based verde sauce and a red, smoky habanero.
Our Tres Leches dessert was a pleasant surprise: the sweet cornbread grittiness of the cream-soaked cakes went well with the caramel ice cream.
We were admittedly jarred by the flour tortillas over the more authentic corn, but got over it pretty quickly. I found out afterward that Django does offer corn tortillas, but you have to specifically ask for them.
I'm not much of a drinker these days, but Django's unusually mysterious drink menu has been a bone of contention for a few bloggers. Django doesn't label beers, spirits or wines on the menu, and you apparently must ask the server generally what kind of beer/spirit you want and they will bring something out that matches your taste.
When I first heard about this, it kind of made sense in that it reminded me of those old Spaghetti Western movie scenes, where the drifter rolls into town, bursts through the saloon doors and mutters one word to the bartender: "Whiskey." It's always something generic. You never hear the guy say, I'd like a "Jack Daniels Single Barrel Select, please!" Still, I can understand why many would find this approach unusual and how it can lead to confusion.
Django Western Taco succeeds in offering a distinctive, Spaghetti Western-style setting for serving delicious tacos. It's a welcome addition to an increasingly diverse array of quality taco options in Cincinnati.
Price: Moderately Expensive ($11 - $16 per person)