If you’ve read the Taste Bud before, you probably know that tacos are one of my life’s passions. Bacon is right up there, as well, although I don’t much care for bacon in tacos, which seems strange and ironic somehow.
But pretty much any other meat in a taco? Yes, please. I apologize in advance for writing about tacos so much, but my mission with this column is not to review restaurants, but rather to turn you on to flavors and dishes that might fly under the radar. As it turns out, there are a lot of cool flavors to be found in tacos.
So, again, I apologize if it seems like overkill.
Anyway, my latest obsession involving shells and meat is barbecue tacos, specifically those served at Hilltop Tavern, located at the corner of Pope Street and Frankfort Avenue. Hilltop is one of my favorite Clifton haunts, and the tacos are one of the key reasons.
So, here’s the deal: It’s $6.99 for two tacos at Hilltop (you can get a side with that, too), or you can get them a la carte for $3.50 each. You can choose from pulled chicken, pulled pork or brisket, all of which are smoked on-site.
These tacos are fairly simple in that they are classic, soft corn tortillas, double-shelled to help hold everything together. The perfectly smoked meat is plentiful and comes topped with a generous helping of mild, fresh pico de gallo, so even though the shells rarely bust at Hilltop, you’ll probably need a fork to finish the remains that fall onto your plate.
But the secret ingredient, if you will, to these tacos is house-made mango habanero salsa. That salsa is tasty stuff, with a mild, citrusy sweetness, a nice, sharp character from the habanero peppers, and not nearly as much heat as you probably expect.
I love that salsa with the chicken — it’s really a fantastic combination of flavors — but it’s also worthwhile to try some of the other house-made salsas on the tacos. For instance, there’s Hilltop’s take on a Carolina-style mustard sauce, a vinegar-based version that is a beautiful companion for the pork tacos, or the signature Louisville Red, a traditional, but slightly spicy, tomato-based barbecue sauce. Solid stuff.
And for the brisket, I love the spicy barbecue sauce, another in-house recipe that packs a peppery kick to go with a bold and unique flavor that is urged along by habanero vodka. This sauce, a dark brown tomato-based blend with a thinner consistency than most of the sauces, has won a number of barbecue contests around town the last few years, and there’s reason for it. It is the kind of sauce I’d like to take home and blend in with burgers, or slap onto some fried eggs. Heck, I bet it would even taste good on apple pie. OK, maybe not.
Finally, not only do the tacos at Hilltop always come out steaming, but they come out fast. The meat is smoked ahead of time, so it’s a matter of the kitchen grilling the shells, and then slapping on the ingredients. So, if you walk in hungry (which I so often do) and order tacos, you won’t have to wait long. And hey, they always have an interesting selection of craft beers and signature cocktails to help wash down the smoke meats.
So, try the tacos at Hilltop Tavern. You won’t regret it. And I formally apologize yet again for writing about tacos so often but, dang it, I just feel compelled to share good news — especially when tacos are involved. Which is to say that I can sit here and type the phrase “I apologize” all day, but chances are, in a few weeks, I’m just going to be ranting about more tacos. It is what it is; just humor me, please. •