Food Quests Halifax

Halifax Taco Quest: Al Fresco Edition

This is the third installment of my Halifax Taco Quest. I previously wrote about Vegan Tacos and the Classics, but today we’ll be addressing al fresco tacos. With the summer wrapping up, time is running out to enjoy seasonal sunshine patio tacos and your goddam watermelon beers. We ventured to the Stillwell Beer Garden, where Beverley Taco Service is enjoying its inaugural season, and to Shubie Park, where Lemon Dogs has run the canteen for several years.

Joining me today: The Side Dish, AJ, Mach, Moxey Munchies, LA, Halifax ReTales, JC & Sharon (from the Nacho Finals!).

Lemon Dogs

54 Locks Rd, Dartmouth

Pork Belly w/ Peach Habanero Glaze (left), Chicken w/ Chorizo (right)

$5.25/taco, or 3/$14 

Options (that day):
Carnitas
Chicken Tinga w/ Chorizo
Pork Belly w/ Peach Habanero Glaze
Market Greens w/ Potato
Fried Egg

Our first stop on the taco quest was Lemon Dogs, located in the Shubie Park canteen, and a wonderful stop after a walk in the park or boat ride on the canal. They are making traditional tacos, like cochinita pibil and carnitas, but also some fusion and vegan offerings, with house-made corn tortillas! You can see them taking balls of masa and pressing them to order before grilling. The menu changes daily, but there should be something for everyone. The lemonade is also outstanding!

The tacos are served relatively plain, and there is a condiment bar with hot green salsa, medium red salsa, lime, diced onions and pickled onions to dress your tacos.

They ran out of the Carnitas tacos before I got to the counter, but luckily JC sacrificed one of his so that a few of us could try a bite.

Lemon Dogs cooks their carnitas sous vide in lard for 24 hours and then it is seared to order and topped with chicharrones and fried corn crumble.

“The crispy carnitas was the best taco filling I’ve had in a long time,” says Moxey. “Perfect, crispy, fatty and tender,” adds JC.

When the Carnitas sold out, Lemon Dogs replaced it with a Pork Belly Taco, which had a peach habanero glaze.

The Side Dish proclaimed…. yet again: “I don’t like sweet and meat!” But to my surprise, she followed up:  “…but with that said, the spicing was balanced.” Indeed, the peach component was not overpowering and was complimented by the habanero, collectively complimenting the pork belly. This wouldn’t have been my first choice, but now that I’ve had it I find myself craving it.

I was warned that the green salsa, combined with the habanero glaze, would be spicy, but I didn’t find either component challenged my heat threshold.

Carnitas (top), Chicken w/ Chorizo (right), Market Greens w/ Potato (left)

The Chicken w/ Chorizo taco was not my favourite. I could see the chorizo, but it was back stage, and while there was a generous portion of chicken, it was not very flavourful. “Chicken was cooked perfectly, stringy, juicy but missing a kick,” concludes Mach.

Those who tried the Market Greens taco also felt it needed more seasoning. “White potato mash was an “interesting” choice that could have been helped by more spices and/or texture and the greens were bland,” laments Sharon. LA admitted that it was her own fault for not adding lime, but that she would have liked more sauce options.

We didn’t try the fried egg tacos, which may have been an amateur mistake. I hear they are very good, so I’ll be sure to try them next time.

The tortillas are very nice, but the group complained that they became soggy as they sat and/or got dripped on. My first taco was perfection. My second taco was a bit mushy and didn’t hold together well. I’m not sure how to avoid this, other than ordering individual tacos and eating them right away. But that isn’t very efficient. Someone suggested they could have been cooked longer or crisped up more, but I’m more of a tortilla eater than a consultant.

“They are relying on the customer to set the spice. Smart, but it leaves the meat somewhat bland. The tortilla is beautiful and the lemonade is delicious.” – AJ

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Beverley Taco Service (Stillwell Beer Garden)

5688 Spring Garden Rd, Halifax

Options (that day):
Carnitas ($5.22) 
Carne Asada ($4.79) – 
Chorizo ($4.79)
Chicken Tinga (4.35) 
Zucchini  ($4.79)
Bean ($4.35)

The Stillwell Beer Garden is the pinacle of Halifax Summer. What could be better than craft beer, tacos and ice cream at communal tables in a glorified alleyway?

Beverley Taco Service has taken over the kitchen at the beer garden this summer, and are differentiating their taco game by grinding their own corn for their house-made tortillas.

“Watching the man make the tortillas by hand really lent to the experience,” notes The Side Dish. “They were worth the wait and the extra $$,” adds Sharon.

These tortillas were, indeed, incredible! Flavour, texture, and structural integrity – all perfect.

Carne Asada Taco

These tacos are dressed for you (for better or for worse, depending on how picky you are. But I had no problem requesting a “sans cilantro” for The Side Dish). We all felt the sauces were quite complimentary to the meats.

On a previous occasion I had found the Carne Asada taco sort of tough. Not today! It was amazingly tender with a burst of flavour from the smoky salsa. This was the group’s favourite taco of the day.

I was also a huge fan of the carnitas. “Chewy, crispy.. primal,” say my notes. But opinions were mixed on this one. Mach, Moxey, and JC all complained that the carnitas was too dry.

Halifax Taco Quest: Stillwell

Carnitas Taco at Stillwell

Moxey says: “The pork wasn’t crispy, it was hard (overcooked or sitting out). One bite I couldn’t get through with my teeth,”

They also complained that the chicken was a bit dry. I likened it to grilled BBQ chicken, and I actually appreciated the texture. Meanwhile, AJ’s stance: “Meat was flavourful. I felt like it could carry the taco. Would have preferred a little more sauce, but the clear winner was the chicken taco.”

As for me? I never get excited about a chicken taco. Next!

Chicken Tingas (upper left), Carne Asada (top right), Chorizo (front)

I love a good Chorizo Taco. This was was basic, but solid. “Chorizo had a hint of spicy which was lovely. Really good flavours,” notes LA.

The Zucchini Taco was aesthetically quite pleasing, but I found the chunky zucchini kind of awkward even though it was cooked perfectly. The pumpkin seed “salsa” reminded me of red pepper hummus. It was tasty, but not exactly taco-like in texture or flavour.

Halifax Taco Quest: Beverley Taco Service

Zucchini Taco

My pick for veggie taco is the Frijoles y Queso, as I’m a sucker for a bean taco. Earthy stewed black beans and queso cotija? Sign me up! While my taco stayed intact, Sharon was not so lucky. The heavy beans and sauce had their way with her tortilla, which was the only tortilla to break that day. Despite her luck, she thought favourably of them: “Veggie tacos were filling and pretty, with lots of substance. Spice was perfect.”

Frijoles y Queso Taco

There is no doubt that these are exceptional tacos. However, there were two main concerns.

  1. These tacos are quite small, and it is hard to fill up on them based on the price you would generally expect to pay for a meal. Then again, do you go to the beer garden for a hearty supper?
  2. Moxey and Mach complained that their tacos were cold: “Not tepid. Cold.” wrote Moxey. Nobody else reported this problem, but I suppose it is a chance you take when dining al fresco.

“I would eat again but the $ makes it not a real meal. $16.50 (with tax) for 3 tacos is a bit steep.” – Halifax ReTales

Halifax Taco Quest: Al Fresco Edition Winner:
Beverley Taco Service (Stillwell)!

I hate to pick a winner here, because both of these taco joints are incredible. Beverley Taco Service has the edge on tortillas and sauces, but Lemon Dogs’ carnitas is not to be overlooked! Both venues offer unique ways to enjoy an al fresco taco experience, and since they are in different parts of the city they aren’t exactly in direct opposition. No matter what side of the harbour you are on, you can find a good taco. At least, in the summer…

JC writes that Beverley Taco Service is “the superior taco and {that} the price point is justified”. You are getting heirloom corn made into beautiful tortillas, after all.

Prices are comparable at each venue, but you get a little more value at Lemon Dogs.

The Halifax Taco Quest is far from over! Next week we’ll be exploring some of the “authentic” (i.e. Latin American owned) tacos in Halifax. Stay tuned!

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