Starting April 1, Capitol Hill residents will have some new tacos to try from an accomplished chef. Ricardo Valdes’ El Xolo will replace Neon Taco just one day after the popular window at Nacho Barracho vacates the premises. Though the initial menu will be limited to ten items, the main attraction should be Valdes’ homemade tortillas. He uses a nixtamalization process that involves hand grinding masa and results in an unparalleled flavor and texture when done correctly. Valdes, who worked at critically-acclaimed The London Plane in Pioneer Square, says he has tested his tortillas “a hundred times” and hopes that they will stand out in an increasingly-crowded taco field. “I can think of maybe three places in the city that are doing [nixtamalization] from start to finish,” he says. “It’s not smart in terms of labor and costs, but it’s something that we’re going to do.”
Here are more things to expect from El Xolo.
Parsnips and pickled nopales. Valdes insists he hates the word “authentic,” so he’s using the lessons The London Plane taught him about the importance of farm-driven fare. In this case, that means trying to get parsnips onto a taco before they go out of season. He’ll also give veggie tacos a twist by topping them with roasted or pickled nopales (cactus). “There’s no reason why a $3-4.50 taco can’t be excellent and made with the best ingredients we can find,” he says.
Tres leches cake made with alternative milk. This dish was created by Valdes’ wife, Amy Brown, who was the original ice cream chef at local favorite Frankie and Jo’s. Inspired by that venue’s dedication to vegan desserts, it will feature either peanut or cashew milk. As the stand evolves, expect Frankie and Jo’s ice cream to make an appearance, and maybe even a unique spin on a Choco Taco.
Chips that taste like buffalo wings. Valdes thinks the totopos drenched in spices and cheese (priced at $6.50) will be a hit. “If you’re sitting at the bar, get them with a slushy of some sort or just a cold beer,” he says. “It’s a perfect accompaniment.”