Taco Time

The Tucson Weekly's (coincidental) love affair with Gio Taco continues with this review

There are few genres of food that have the versatility of tacos. They can be basic, cheap and simply prepared, or they can feature the most delicate, exquisite combinations of exotic ingredients prepared in intricate and complex ways. Either way, deliciousness has the potential to occur. And either way, a taco is a taco is a taco.

The Metzger family has done many things well with food in Tucson and I'm glad to report that Gio Taco is yet another of its successes, joining the ranks of The Abbey and (the now closed) Jax Kitchen. The family's latest endeavor, Poppy Kitchen, hasn't been open long enough to give an official opinion.

Gio meshes perfectly with the chic new downtown vibe that we're cultivating, tucked neatly away at the Broadway/Congress/Toole/Fourth Avenue interchange, with a huge outdoor patio space. During nice weather, the entire building is an indoor/outdoor dining concept. Gio's hours are split between the dining room and take-away window. The take-away window features breakfast tacos and burritos from 8:30 to 11:00 a.m. Monday through Friday; then the dining room opens until 10:30 p.m. Take-away service resumes from 10:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.

Tacos are street-vendor style and size, and tend toward the "exotic" end of the taco spectrum (no ground beef and shredded orange cheddar here, folks), but they were all prepared well and were quite tasty. Most of the tacos are $3 (three specialty tacos were $4 each), and I found that between one appetizer and two tacos, I was pleasantly full. We tried almost all of the tacos on the menu during two visits, and there were none that I wouldn't order again. However, a few were definitely standouts.

• The Fishy Pig ($4)—bacon-wrapped albacore, avocado, picked onion and grilled corn. Bacon. Seared rare albacore. In taco form! Awesome.

• The Chipper Fish ($3)—beer-battered, deep-fried cod with lemon and herbs, malted cabbage and yucca chips. This one is absolutely excellent and the way the fish is battered, shaped and fried makes up the "shell" of the taco.

• The Tarheel ($3)—brown sugar-and-vinegar braised shredded pork, watermelon and pickled rind, celery seed slaw. The pork had outstanding flavor, salty and sweet, which combined perfectly with the tang of the pickled watermelon rind.

• The Metzger Dip ($4)—shaved prime rib, horseradish aioli, crispy mushrooms, mozzarella and an au jus dip. This is how you do a nontraditional taco. Great ingredients, well balanced.

Gio Taco also has some outstanding appetizers—the crispy duck skin chicharrones ($3) are sinfully fatty deliciousness and the squash-and-goat cheese-stuffed Brazilian hushpuppies ($5) are a delightful take on a Southern classic. And if you go with the yucca tots ($3.50), it's well worth it to spend the extra $2.50 and get them Luchador style, with mozzarella curds and duck cracklins.

Slightly less spectacular, but still very tasty, are the burrito/burrito bowl options. They're a little more standard as far as nonexotic fare goes, where $8.50 gets you a choice of a main item (chicken, steak, smoked pork, veggie mix) mixed with avocado, tomato, pickled onion, grilled corn and house-made salsa. You also can add items a la carte (meats $3; guacamole $3; cheese $1). The burritos come with plentiful portions of fresh ingredients and really good flavors.

Cocktails are available during dining room hours, and they are a bit on the steep side at $8.50 (though they are large and pack a nice punch). There are six premixed cocktails to choose from or you can have a custom cocktail mixed for you for the same price (or $12 for top-shelf choices). There is one beer tap and three wine taps (red, white, rose), and a small but well-selected range of bottled beers from $3 to $6.

The only complaint I have about Gio Taco is that it would behoove the restaurant to allow patrons to run a drink tab rather than have them purchase each round separately, especially when dealing with larger parties and patrons without cash (which is pretty much everyone under 35). Otherwise, the service was friendly, the food was tasty and I'll definitely be back for more.