How far is the average diner willing to walk for a really good taco? It depends on a lot of factors, including ability, weather, and the character of the neighborhood. Half a mile is generally considered the upper limit of walking distance around a transit station, assuming a favorable environment. At the east end of Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row, Taco Boy’s (Yes, the unnecessary apostrophe is part of the restaurant’s name.) is offering carne asada and other Mexican specialties good enough to justify a half-mile trek from the Roosevelt / Central light rail station.
Taco Boy’s has a Roosevelt address, but its front door actually faces the noisy chaos of Seventh Street. For the most part, however, the journey down Roosevelt is a pleasant one with new multi-story buildings providing much-needed shaded and recently arrived businesses mixing with established ones to maintain the vitality of the changing neighborhood. The last part of the trip, from Sixth Street to Seventh Street, is the diciest due to the Jimmy John’s drive-thru and the sandwich franchise’s delivery driver who routinely parks on the sidewalk near the bike racks.
After taking care to dodge those anti-pedestrian hazards, taco seekers can turn left at Seventh Street, pass a patio, and find the entrance to Taco Boy’s around the corner. Once inside, customers encounter a long, deep space with two rows of tables and a long counter where lines form and orders are placed. The decor is minimal, but look up and two sculptures of cow heads look back down from high above the counter. Those imitation cabezas indicate an emphasis on beef, and big bags of mesquite charcoal at ground level suggest how the meat is prepared.
The Boys (or is it Boy’s?) offer six options for taco fillings, four of them cow-derived. The carne asada is the house specialty, and it makes its presence known not only by the enticing scent of mesquite grilling, but also by the nearly constant “chop, chop, chop” sound created as staff in the open kitchen attack grilled skirt steak with their cleavers. The result is a filling of minced, charred beef, seasoned only with a bit of salt and lime, placed on top of, alongside, or within tortillas and ready for accessorization at the salad/salsa bar at the front of the restaurant.
Among the other beef offerings, the barbacoa is equally delicious, albeit completely different. More tender and yielding than the carne asada, this feels more like braised meat. Its supple character makes it well-suited to blending with cheese in quesadilla. The cabeza, beef cheek, is even more tender with a fattiness verging on short rib. Tripa is of course completely different with its chewy textures. The two non-beef offerings are pollo asado and pork al pastor, both serviceable choices but unlikely to displace the beef selections as the menu favorites.
All those meats can be made into tacos, burritos, quesadillas, or vampiros (a variant of the tostada in which the tortilla is crisped to order on a griddle). With tacos or vampiros, three or four should satisfy most appetites. The burrito is a meal in itself, and the quesadillas fall somewhere in between with two small ones serving as a hearty meal and one large one sufficient for two people to share. A do-it-yourself option is the plato, a generous platter of meat with a serving of creamy refried beans and a multitude of tortillas to enjoy with it all.
Although Taco Boy’s is clearly a meat-centered operation, there is a “vegetarian option” listed on the menu. It’s a cheese quesadilla with roasted onions. There’s also the option to order a bean and cheese burrito. For those not wanting an entirely meatless meal but desirous of some vegetables to balance the protein on the plate, there’s an option to upgrade any entree to “fajita style.” For half a dollar more, any burrito, taco, quesadilla, vampiro, or plato can be enhanced with grilled bell peppers and onions, adding plenty of flavor and nutrients in the process.
Of course, there’s even more flavor and nutrition at the salad/salsa bar. This well-stocked centerpiece of the dining room features three salsas: a mild, creamy avocado condiment; a green salsa of medium intensity; and a fiery red beast for the highest level of spice. Other choices include fat radishes, sliced cucumbers, pico de gallo, minced cilantro and onion, shredded cabbage, wedges of lime, and thick slabs of carrots. It’s a lot and to accommodate the ample payload, Taco Boys’ gives each customer an entire plate to fill at the bar after ordering.
With so much bounty at the salsa bar, it’s possible to view a trip there as an appetizer course. Just dip some of those radishes, carrots, or cucumbers in the avocado dip while waiting for tacos. After the second course of tacos or any other entree, there’s even an option for dessert. Taco Boy’s serves cookie cake, a pastry made with Maria biscuits, condensed milk, and cream cheese. A tall, icy cup of the house-made horchata is a beverage well suited to extinguishing the fire of the red salsa. Bottled beer, sold individually or in a bucket of six, can do the same.
Taco Boy’s is a counter-service operation with a few twists. First, there can be a wait at peak times. When that happens, the staff are up front about the time involved. Second, Taco Boy’s is one of the few counter-service restaurants where customers pay upon departure. Keep that in mind to avoid an inadvertent dine-and-dash. After eating and then paying, a walk or bike ride back to Roosevelt/Central burns some of the calories just consumed. Roosevelt Row has more taco options than ever, and Taco Boy’s is a reason to keep going all the way to Seventh Street.
620 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix AZ 85004