Take Another Piece of My Kart
Dia De Los TaKos hides joy in plain sight
Albuquerque is one of my favorite places for a ton of reasons. Beyond just the extraordinary selection of food, we have the ability to conceal some truly hidden gems in the places you’d least expect. The trick to eating in this city is to know about these hidden places and how to root them out. Usually you hear about somewhere amazing through word of mouth, or a friend of a friend who knows a guy. But sometimes, a menu gets dropped on your desk for a taco place inside the indoor karting track with instructions that you have to go if you truly love food. This is the magic of Dia De Los TaKos (5110 Copper Ave. NE).
I want to preface this by saying that my initial reaction to hearing about a hidden gem inside a go-kart track wasn’t shock. This is Albuquerque. Of course we’d have a killer place somewhere as secreted away as that. But the real trick is whether or not they live up to the title. So with no trepidation in my heart, I went in to find out if the hype was worth my time. Located inside the Albuquerque Indoor Karting building, it’s a small space attached to the inside of the lobby, paired with an immense menu for a kitchen that looks so small.
The aesthetic is excellent all on its own. Featuring a design that looks like it was ripped straight out of a mechanic’s wet dream, the furniture is made from engines and gears, which are complemented by the persistent humming and grinding of karts racing around the track. The theme is so on point here that you could wake up with no knowledge of how you got there and immediately realize where you are.
What struck me most about their menu was the insane variety of things found on it. Not only did it feature a pretty long list of different tacos (a dozen to be exact), but they also serve salads, burritos, burgers and a green chile BBQ brisket mac and cheese. On top of all that, there appear to be influences from other cultures that mesh well with our local flavor and brings top-notch treats to their restaurant.
Take for example the Saigon Scooter (one for $3, two for $5 or $8 for three and a drink), a taco that appears to break all the rules of what a taco should be. Featuring a Vietnamese sticky crispy chicken, pickled daikon and carrot, mint, cilantro, peanuts and jalapeno. The layout of ingredients alone intrigued me enough to try it, but the first bite sold me. There’s a surprise heat to this that I’ve really never seen anywhere else. Immediately it was like a match hit my gasoline-covered tongue and swarmed all the way back with warmth, but as soon as it appears, it’s gone, replaced by sweetness. Not a sugary sweetness but a cool and relaxing sweetness that just left me stumped. It took all my willpower not to finish this taco in two bites, because I wanted to savor the moment that it left me in, but it also tasted so good I couldn’t wait to OD on that magic feeling.
Conversely, they had the Monte Carlo, which had tender pork al pastor with guacamole and grilled pineapple, onion and cilantro. This was sweet in a more traditional way. The pork was juicy and paired well with the pineapple, I felt a dreamlike state take me over as its creamy and rich textures filled my mouth. If anyone fights the pork and pineapple combo, make sure they at least try one bite of this to illustrate the error of their ways.
There’s never been a time when I don’t want mac and cheese, and their version was no exception. For $9, you get a massive serving of that cheesy gooey goodness, loaded up with green chile and a healthy serving of BBQ brisket on top. There’s not much to say beyond that it’s wonderful. The cheese combination was fantastic, the brisket tender and full of seasoning that accentuated its strengths, and the green chile was perfectly roasted, adding the heat and flavor profile needed to up the ante of this dish to something worth noting.
Finally, I had the Nom Mi burger ($6), which has hoisin-glazed beef brisket, pickled daikon and carrot, mint, cilantro, jalapeno, lettuce and mayo. This was a mess on a bun that overtakes your senses from the very first bite. There are so many pieces working together to create an orchestra in your mouth, Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” dashing across your senses. There’s always options for good Vietnamese food in this city, but I never expected to find that option in a taco shop inside a go-kart track. I hadn’t even realized I had finished it by the time I was done, because so much was happening in my mind as I ate it, that time seemed to stop.
Along with the food, they have a number of local beers on tap to accompany the meal, as well as the standard drinks fare, so you’ll never leave thirsty. It’s honestly surprising how much is packed into such a small space and in such a bizarre location.
If ever you felt like there was a lack of weirdness in our food scene, as if the experimentation and intrigue that pushed us to inventive combinations was gone, fear not. Dia De Los TaKos is holding the torch high for all to see that creativity and boldness aren’t gone. In fact, at the rate they’re going, expect them to be taking a few well-deserved victory laps.