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Texas-style treat: Casa Taco introduces ‘puffy’ version of staple to NM

The grande puffy taco, left, is larger and more expensive than its griddled cousin on the right. (Monica Garcia/Albuquerque Journal)

The “puffy” taco traces its origin to 1950s San Antonio, Texas, when an enterprising chef found that cooking a corn tortilla in hot oil transformed it into something completely different: a flaky, airy vessel that paired excellently with standard taco fillings.

These variants have yet to establish much of a foothold in New Mexico, land of wheat-flour-based sopaipillas and Navajo tacos, but that might be changing with the arrival of James Percheski’s taqueria chain, Casa Taco.

In just a few years, Percheski, former executive sous chef at Santa Fe’s storied Coyote Café, has grown Casa Taco from a seasonal operation in Elephant Butte to locations in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights and the West Side.

The Northeast Heights spot sits under a couple of lime-green awnings in a stucco building on Academy near San Mateo. Inside is a narrow dining area dominated by photo murals of the Southwest and the Caribbean.

A large menu occupies most of the wall next to the counter – a good thing for a first-timer because there’s a lot to peruse.

Along with the usual assortment of burritos, quesadillas and nachos, Casa Taco has three categories of tacos: griddled, specialty and the aforementioned puffy ones. Most of the items are sold à la carte; you can add beans and rice for $1.

My friend and I ordered selections from each of the taco categories, along with a burrito, and then went to fill up at a self-serve soda station that offers more incarnations of Dr Pepper than I ever knew existed.

The tacos and burrito came out in a few minutes, each served in a paper boat. The pork adovada puffy taco ($3.75) was stellar, with its almost pastry-like tortilla acting as a perfect foil for the tender cubes of mildly spicy pork. It’s certainly a contender for the best taco in town. Add it to your food bucket list.

The more earthbound griddled tacos are partially cooked in oil and finished on the griddle to crisp up the shell. They pair well with the shredded, smoky brisket and green chile ($3.75).

Casa Taco’s specialty offerings include the spit-grilled al pastor, top, and Jamaican jerk chicken with pineapple salsa. (Richard Dargan/For The Journal)

Casa Taco’s five varieties of specialty tacos contain artful presentations, such as the al pastor ($2.95), spit-grilled pork served with pineapple, onions and cilantro, and Jamaican jerk chicken ($3.25) accompanied by pineapple salsa. The sweet mutes the spicy in these, making a trip to the salsa bar essential. They’re good tacos, but the steamed corn tortillas suffer by comparison with their puffy cousins.

If more fillings are your thing, the brisket green chile burrito ($8.75) easily has enough for two people to share. The same brisket that worked so well in the taco is a bit overwhelming here, especially when paired with cubed potatoes. It could use something crisp to counter the heaviness.

In the unlikely event you’ve got room for dessert, Casa Taco has several offerings, including strawberry chimichanga ($5.95) and apple flautas ($5.25).

Led by its puffy tacos, Casa Taco has established itself as another great place in which to partake in the city’s taco renaissance.