Amid all the closures plaguing the local restaurant industry, it’s encouraging to see the number of food trucks that have launched brick-and-mortar restaurants recently.
Places such as Soobak Seoul Bowl in Nob Hill, Urban Hotdog Co. on the West Side and Kamikaze Kitchen in the Heights have brought life to the dining scene with their inventive menus and bold flavors.
Kitsune, Tony Chiado’s popular Asian-themed food truck, became the latest to branch out to a fixed location when it opened a couple months ago inside the Taproom at Old Town. The Taproom is a partnership among Kitsune, Palmer Brewing and Cider House and Left Hand Distilling.
The new place occupies the former location of the Candy Lady at Mountain and Rio Grande NW. The building, rumpled with age, has been dressed up with new signs. The entrance to Kitsune is under an awning made up of latillas. Inside and around the corner from an unoccupied counter is a small, copper-topped bar, and beyond that, a cozy dining room with artwork for sale on the walls.
A couple of workers were arranging wooden spool-style tables on a secluded patio on the east side of the building when I visited. Finishing the day’s work, they got beers at the bar and joined an argument with patrons over which team, the Dodgers or the Giants, had a better chance of going to the World Series.
The taproom has that relaxed hangout vibe. It’s easy to imagine wiling away a chilly fall evening here or, in the winter, stepping up to the bar for some fortification before walking to the Plaza to look at the lights and luminarias.
Rob Palmer of Palmer Brewing and Cider House and Left Hand Distilling’s Brian Langwell collaborated to create a drink menu that puts a New Mexico spin on classic cocktails, such as the Nutty Mojito, made with Left Turn’s Rojo Pinon rum ($9), or a Whiskey Sour ($9), based on the distiller’s New Mexico Blue Corn Whiskey. The small beer menu offers a few brews and a hard cider from Palmer.
In Japanese folklore, the kitsune is a fox that can shape-shift into different forms. It’s a fitting name, then, for a restaurant that can shift from Thai curries to Korean fried chicken to Hawaiian comfort foods such as Spam Musubi and Loco Moco, a chuck patty in curry gravy.
An appetizer of Shishito Peppers ($8) arrived gleaming tantalizingly in a deep white bowl. The peppers, blistered from the grill, pick up a potent punch of citrus and brine from a sauce of ponzu and ginger and a topping of house-made furikake, a Japanese condiment of sesame seeds and dried seaweed. Most of the peppers retained their snap; a few, however, were tough.
The roster of rice dishes come with an assortment of proteins and one veggie option. The pile of pulled pork in the Red Curry Bowl ($16) was a marvel, a mix of soft, fatty lumps and crisp bark with the flavor of the rub concentrated in it. An egg, somewhere between raw and soft-boiled in consistency, sat in a pool of silky Hatch red chile curry. When you break the egg, it melts into the curry, adding richness. It’s a succulent, spicy dish, one I assumed I would take home for leftovers but ended up finishing at the table.
Fried chicken is served Japanese or Korean style, a difference the server said was defined by the condiments. The Korean option comes with the red chile paste gochujang, while the Japanese, or kara-age version, is served with a spicy aioli called Kitsune sauce. I got the Kara-age Rice Bowl ($15) to go, the eight boneless chicken thighs served with greens over rice in a cardboard box. The chicken pieces, fried to a ruddy brown, were crisp on the outside, the thigh meat moist. The Kitsune sauce was a fitting accompaniment, with a level of spiciness that lingered pleasantly on the tongue without sending the mucus membranes into a state of revolt.
A side of long, thin-cut fries ($5) were nicely done and paired well with the Kitsune sauce. You can get them as the base for one of the food truck’s most popular dishes, Thai fries ($8) with green curry and queso fresco.
The hot food had me reaching frequently for a terrific pale ale ($2.50 for 10 ounces) from Palmer Brewing with a refreshing touch of citrus.
Service was collaborative. The taproom’s bartender seated me and answered questions about the menu, and at some point later in the meal a server materialized. They were both friendly and well-versed on the drinks and the food, and there was never a long wait for anything.
Some of the options on the menu are gluten-free, although they weren’t marked as such. Check with the server before ordering.
Street parking on Mountain is a roll-of-the-dice proposition. Alternatively, there is a large garage a short distance to the east.
Old Town, with its kitschy gift shops and restaurants serving New Mexican food, may be geared toward the tourist, but with the opening of Kitsune in the Taproom at Old Town, it now has something intriguing to offer locals, too.