Dallas-based Velvet Taco opened its first Atlanta location last week, bringing its “tacos without borders” offerings and lively early morning-to-“really late” hours to Buckhead.
The storefront location is in the busy Buckhead Market Place shopping center on West Paces Ferry Road, next door to Whole Foods Market. The fast casual setup has already made for long lines that stretch out the door and up the sidewalk.
Inside, the quirky-cool space is crowded with rows of communal tables, surrounded by reclaimed wood, concrete, and steel accents. The covered front patio faces the whoosh of West Paces traffic, but sitting under the high-pressure misters on a hot day gives it the feel of a tropical retreat.
The menu from Velvet Taco executive chef Grant Morgan displays some 21 different full-size tacos, divided into sections of vegetable, chicken, pork, beef and fish, plus brunch tacos served all day, a few sides, and signature Red Velvet cake for dessert.
Once an off-menu Dallas special, the Backdoor Chicken is a whole rotisserie bird with two sides, six corn tortillas, roasted corn pico and hot sauce.
The house Texas-style “Kick Ass Margarita” is made fresh and served frozen or on the rocks. The current summer seasonal variation is Watermelon Cucumber. You can grab beer, soda and other bottled and canned beverages from a self-serve cooler near the order counter.
Recently, I spoke with Morgan and director of operations Jason Snelson about the Velvet Taco concept and menu.
“This particular area in Buckhead lined up perfectly with almost everything we’re looking for in a restaurant location,” Snelson said. “It has offices in the area that drive a great lunch business. There’s a ton of bars and restaurants that create a late night scene that appeals to our diners. And then, obviously, it’s a residential area. So it checked every box.
“The first Velvet Taco was on the corner of Knox and Henderson in Dallas. It was a very small space, but it just kicked off like a rocket, and we’ve been growing ever since. A lot of people see taco and automatically assume it’s street tacos. We like to say that we’re globally inspired, chef-driven tacos. There’s not one type of cuisine that we don’t draw inspiration from. We make everything in-house, and everything from scratch, which is pretty rare in the fast-casual scene.”
For his part, Morgan develops all the menu items, including the weekly WTF taco feature.
“We have a new taco that’s available for a week, 52 weeks a year,” Morgan said. “The menu is exactly the same everywhere, and when we run our weekly taco feature, it’s the same, too. I think the coolest one on the regular menu right now is the chicken and waffle. It’s a thin tortilla that we make in-house, but it has the pattern and the flavor of a waffle, and that’s what really sets it apart.
“Our newest item that we just added to the menu is our grilled salmon taco. It’s kind of based on a Baja taco, so it has the slaw, but it’s on a hibiscus corn tortilla, which is kind of the unique thing. We use hibiscus flowers that we steep and then we use the water to make the corn tortilla. So you get this bright purple-looking taco, and you also get the flavor of the hibiscus in there.”
Asked about the inspiration for new tacos, Morgan said it mostly comes from things that don’t always necessarily wind up wrapped in a tortilla.
“All of the tacos we do have some kind of theme or are based on traditional dishes,” he said. “Like the shrimp and grits or the fish and chips tacos. Something that’s unique to an area or culture. We take that, put it in a taco, and put our spin on it. There’s a lot of protein on the tacos. And even on the vegetarian Nashville Hot Tofu, you get a big slab of crispy, deep-fried tofu. So they’re all pretty substantial.
“In my opinion, you get what you pay for. We’re using all high-quality products, like the best-grade pork and sushi-grade tuna, and we bring in everything fresh. We don’t use anything frozen. We don’t even have freezers in our restaurants. So we pay a premium for our products, and then we put a lot of time and labor into making everything from scratch. But it’s the right way to do it.”
77 W. Paces Ferry Road NW, Suite 35A, Atlanta. 470-400-3900, velvettaco.com.
Scroll down for more images from a First Look at Velvet Taco in Buckhead
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.