It’s about 8 p.m. on the last Sunday of December. A man and woman in a white, cube-shaped vehicle pull up in front of Supremo Taco, where a diverse and enthusiastic crowd is milling about, waiting for plates of tacos, chilaquiles and crispy fried quesadillas to be handed out the walk-up window.
Before the couple can even get out of their car, Supremo partner Omar Ferrer grabs his lime-green megaphone and delivers a death knell. “We’re closed,” he barks loudly. “Sold out.”
"Whaaaat?" huffs the guy behind the wheel — obviously agitated that he'll have to wait until 5 p.m. Tuesday to get his Supremo fix.
“I don’t blame him. I’d be mad, too,” says an onlooker, his belly full of burrito, his heart too big for schadenfreude.
This is what happens when word gets out that you are making the choicest tacos in town. People get emotional.
From the minute it opened in October, Supremo has been an Insta-success, a destination that draws an egalitarian mix of scooter-riding hipsters and restaurant-industry types on a quest for authentic, Los Angeles-style street food, served late. Described by Ferrer as a "brick-and-mortar taco truck," the tiny kitchen across the parking lot from Grindhouse Killer Burgers on Memorial Drive offers practically nothing in the way of creature comforts. You get your grub from the carryout window and scarf it down on the adjacent, umbrella-shaded deck. Of course, you may eat in your car, or take your supper home. But for me, chef Duane Kulers' lovingly crafted, deeply satisfying, superbly sauced tacos taste better in their own element. (Back to that in a sec.)
Kulers — a Southern California native who has worked with Supremo partner Nhan Le since 2013, primarily at Octopus Bar — is a masterful cook who knows the history and techniques of regional Mexican cooking, the proper way to treat masa, chiles, frijoles — and present them in a modern context.
His killer al pastor, for example, is marinated with citrus and guajillo chiles and grilled on a spinning vertical spit known as a trompo (Spanish for “top”). It’s then rendered up crisp on the griddle and finished with a green salsa fresca and niblets of fresh grilled pineapple. On a good night, when the stars align over Memorial, the al pastor is a sweet-salty sensory joyride of crunchy charred bits and juicy pina. It’s the No. 1 seller, and if you take your time getting to Supremo, you may see it’s been crossed off the menu. Snooze and lose.
Lamb barbacoa is cooked in a style that could be the ancient predecessor of sous vide: The meat is wrapped in banana leaves and braised for hours. The end result is heartbreakingly tender, the taco itself pepped up with a fiery chile de arbol salsa and sprinkled with onions and cilantro.
I like to think of Kulers’ tacos as tacos with gravy: Carne asada is bathed in salsa de albanil (tomatillo, green chiles and avocado, garnished with cotija). Carnitas are mixed with chicharron and dripping with salsa roja. Shredded chicken is moistened with a poblano-based mole and drizzled with crema, with toasted pepitas for crunch.
In case you are wondering why your tortillas are speckled with blue, it’s because they are a mixture of yellow, white and blue organic, non-GMO masa, pressed in house every day. Kulers thinks of them as little plates for arranging the various elements of his creations. It took me a while to figure this out, but they are better eaten on the premises than boxed to go, because all the fat, juicy, messy stuff tends to flow to the bottom of the ecologically correct paper containers.
One of the best bites here is not a taco at all. It’s the “choriqueso,” a quesadilla filled with chorizo and cheese, fried to a delectably crispy snap, cut into triangles and drizzled with salsa verde. It’s salty, greasy and dangerously addictive. A fried quesadilla stuffed with stringy Oaxacan cheese and topped with a dollop of red salsa is also very tasty, though not as mind-blowing as its meaty cousin. Pro tip: The quesadillas hold up well, making them a smart option for taking away to enjoy with a Modelo. (Supremo does not serve alcohol; try a seasonal agua fresca — it’s been pear lately — or a horchata.)
To cool your jets, there’s a crispy tostada spooned over with shrimp aquachile, made with cucumber, avocado, onion and puya in tomato sauce. It’s not a home run, but it’s clean-tasting and a welcome diversion from the more common ceviche-topped tostadas all over town.
In all fairness, except for that previously mentioned Sunday, advertised on social media as an off-menu extravaganza, I’ve not seen Supremo run out of food. (An item or two, yes, but not the whole enchilada.) By the time I arrived on that lively night, there were no more grilled California burritos, and a “quesacoa” taco had been switched from lamb to carnitas. Yet every dish was a knockout, in particular a bowl of chilaquiles piled high with carnitas meat, shaved onion, cilantro, crema and crumbled queso. It was a drier version of chilaquiles — egg free, not overworked with chipotle salsa, rather nacho-like.
In a city awash with uneven and often weirdly stretched permutations of tacos, Supremo is a game-changer. It's the kind of place celebrity chef David Chang, taco geek Gustavo Arellano, and Jonathan Gold (the late great food critic of the Los Angeles Times) would have been giddy to discover on their taco-crawl episode of Netflix's "Ugly Delicious."
The menu and the concept could not be simpler: Pull up. Order tacos. Stand around and eat them. Everyone gathered here is on equal footing, united in a kind of food-induced love supreme.
Overall rating: 3 of 4 stars (excellent)
Food: Mainly Southern California-style tacos
Service: Friendly, efficient. Can be a tad slow when there's a line.
Setting: No public restrooms, no booze. Nary a tablecloth nor a table to put it on. It's a takeout window!
Best dishes: Al pastor, mole poblano, barbacoa, carnitas, carne asada tacos. Choriqueso. Fried quesadilla.
Vegetarian selections: Black bean and mushroom tacos. Fried quesadilla. Churros.
Price range: $$
Credit cards: all major credit cards
Hours: 5-11 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 5 p.m.-midnight Fridays-Saturdays. Open every other Sunday, from 5 p.m. until the food runs out. Open Jan. 19.
Parking: shares free parking lot with Grindhouse Killer Burgers
MARTA station: King Memorial, Inman Park-Reynoldstown
Wheelchair access: yes
Noise level: quiet to moderate (remember, it's al fresco dining only)
Address, phone: 701 B Memorial Drive SE, Atlanta. 404-965-1446
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