Tools 'n' Tacos

Sir Veza's mixes cars, booze, an awesome patio and inexpensive, tasty food into a winning concept

Don't be surprised if you see Sir Veza's Taco Garage locations popping up all over the place within the next few years.

I don't know whether the Flores family—who closed their El Charro Café at Speedway Boulevard and Swan Road to open Sir Veza's last year—plans on turning the Sir Veza's concept into a chain of some sort, but it wouldn't surprise me if they did. And it wouldn't surprise me if they succeeded: It's a cool concept, mixing cars (including occasional hot-rod-themed events), booze, sports, music and youthful energy.

Johnny Vegas of Hi-Speed Rods and Customs helped decorate Sir Veza's, and the walls are covered with cleaned-up versions of everything you could possibly take from a mechanic's shop and stick on a wall: tools, hubcaps, license plates, street signs and even upholstery. And the napkins? They're rags. Yes, really. Rags.

The door handles are wrenches; part of the ceiling is covered with corrugated metal. TVs tuned to sports are everywhere. The soundtrack is classic rock music (example track: "Who Are You" by The Who), played perhaps just a little too loudly.

And then there's the patio bar. (This is not to be confused with the inside bar; Sir Veza's offers two of them.) The patio is nice, with seating both inside and outside, and fans, heaters and/or misters to make the temperature more inviting. The only problem with it is that it's located at Speedway and Swan, a part of town which will not be winning any urban-design awards anytime soon. That bar serves up "lucky 13 awe-thentic margaritas," and offers three dozen different varieties of tequila, which is "not just for breakfast anymore!" according to the menu. The beer bottles are kept in a cooler unit marked with the phrase, "Free cerveza ... mañana."

The servers we encountered were disproportionately young, female and, frankly, kinda hot. And they wrote, "Thank you!" on our checks. One of them included a smiley-face.

Yes, Sir Veza's Taco Garage is that kind of kitschy, über-friendly place. And it was doing a fine business on both of our visits.

I am 350 words in here, and I have not yet said anything about the food. The reason: Well, the food seems almost secondary to the vibe. Thankfully, like the vibe at Sir Veza's, the food is pretty good.

I can't exactly call this Mexican food—one of the most popular tacos, according to a server, is the Thai rocket taco, which features Thai peanut sauce—so I'll say it's largely Mexican-inspired. Chips and salsa arrive right away when you sit down, and about 20 different tacos, seven burgers and tortas, seven salads and five burritos/bowls join a section of "garage greats" on the menu. The most intriguing "garage great" is the chicken and churros® ($9.25), which combines Brakebush chicken with churros and syrup. I just couldn't bring myself to try it. Maybe next time.

Instead, I tried tacos on both of my visits. The Sir Veza fish taco plate ($7.55) included two tacos that combined a battered white fish of some sort (the menu says "crispy cerveza battered fish") with cheese, cabbage and avocado crema. The tacos were tasty, but all of the flavor came from the crema and the batter; the fish offered texture, and nothing more.

On my lunch visit, I tried the "hog wild" taco trio sampler ($8.55), which had two hits, and one miss. The SIRnoran hot dog recipe taco—with chopped all-beef hot dog, bacon, beans, cheddar, onion and mayo—sounded kind of disgusting to me, but it was actually fantastic. (I still prefer my Sonoran hot dogs whole, and preferably from the cart in the Food City parking lot at 22nd Street and Country Club Road, but this taco was fine nonetheless.) The chopper shrimp taco melded bacon, shrimp, pico de gallo and chipotle mayo, and it was rather enjoyable. Unfortunately, the BBQ carnitas taco was just too sickly sweet; the shredded pork couldn't stand up to the salsa piña (pineapple) and overly sweet adobo.

All taco plates come with rice and beans (a choice of refried, black and charro beans). Good news: Sir Veza's only uses non-trans-fat oils, and skips the lard. The bad news: The beans were only OK. It's cruel, but true: Lard and trans-fats taste good.

On our dinner visit, Garrett tried the grilled steak burrito ($8.25), fully loaded with cheese, red enchilada sauce and sour cream (an extra $1.99). He liked the burrito itself—although he noted that the steak could not stand up to the tasty carne seca at sister restaurant El Charro—but thought the enchilada sauce was overly bitter, and wound up scraping much of it off.

On our next visit, Garrett ordered the super-stuffed steak quesadilla ($7.95) and had no complaints. A spiced tortilla was packed with cheese, black beans, rice, roasted corn, chipotle ranch, guacamole and, of course, steak; in fact, Garrett said there were almost too many flavors. Almost.

Garrett and I had differing opinions on the chipotle chicken tortilla soup, which comes with a pepperjack cheese quesadilla ($6.95). Garrett liked it, and appreciated the fact that it had a lot of appropriately sized chicken chunks. I felt that the soup was a little too salty, and was a bit too one-note.

We were too stuffed to try dessert (or, in Sir Veza's vernacular, "sweet rides") at dinner, but we saved room at lunch. We were torn between the apple pie chimichanga à la mode ($4.95) and the chocolate milkshake cake (described by our server as like a chocolate tres leches cake, $5.95). We wound up choosing the chimi, and it was very good. There could have been more apples inside, but the splendid vanilla-bean ice cream mixed nicely with the cinnamon-y, crispy tortilla.

Sir Veza's Taco Garage offers a great vibe, fine service, low prices and food that largely satisfies. It's a winning concept, for sure—and who knows what the future will bring?

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