Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

At täkō - Terrific Tacos and Tequila Are Just The Beginning

Richard DeShantz and Tolga Sevdik strike again with täkō, their taco-centric downtown eatery with an extensive tequila selection.




photos by Laura Petrilla

At täkō, Richard DeShantz and Tolga Sevdik’s newest downtown restaurant, chefs hustle on the line inside a brightly lit glass-box kitchen on display streetside. DJs spin electronica inside a cage suspended by a grated metal walkway that hovers above the concrete floor.

Hallucinogenic images of sea and land line the walls alongside a massive reproduction of Andy Warhol’s “The Last Supper.” The space is illuminated dimly by an array of Edison bulbs and bordello chandeliers bathed in red lights. Magnetic letters on the wall beg you to spell out naughty limericks and secret messages. It’s dark. And it’s loud, very loud.

From bar to banquette, service at täkō all around is excellent. Sevdik handles front-of-house training with Managing Partner Kevin Kelley, and they’ve done a terrific job of balancing the liveliness of the atmosphere with knowledgeable and attentive attention.

täkō is as much bar as it is restaurant, and in that capacity, it’s the most noteworthy opening in Pittsburgh since DeShantz and Sevdik launched two-time James Beard Outstanding Bar semi-finalist Butcher and the Rye in November 2013.
 


Spencer Warren is the beverage director of the restaurant group, which in addition to täkō and Butcher, includes nearby Meat & Potatoes. He also crafted the Desert Lily, a powdery and tart spin on a frozen daiquiri that was named the 2015 official cocktail of the prestigious Tales of the Cocktail conference in New Orleans. täkō is another notch in Warren’s belt, whose influence at now-closed Embury and later at Acacia helped to define Pittsburgh’s bar scene.

Bar Manager Maggie Meskey took the reins with Warren in creating täkō’s outstanding cocktail list, and she oversees the bar’s collection of about 250 varieties of tequila, plus 75 rums and 55 mezcals. She and the crack team of all-star bartenders will have you heading happily home; consider walking or ridesharing to täkō. Meskey may well be running the most interesting bar program in Pittsburgh right now.

Avoid the saccharine Blue Mango Mai Tai and let your mood guide you to any of the other 10 cocktails or 11 margaritas on the bar menu. Classic-cocktail fans should consider the smoky Oaxaca Old Fashioned, which swaps in tequila and mezcal for the traditional rye. Bartenders tend to use spicy cocktails as an excuse to show off, and because of that the drinks nearly always are too hot to enjoy. The passion fruit margarita, however, is beautiful: jalapeno shrub adds consistent heat backbone, passion fruit provides tartness and Sauza Hornitos blanco tequila gives the earthiness.
 


DeShantz runs the kitchen with Chef de Cuisine Dave Racicot, formerly of notion and Lautrec. The opening menu was ambitious, featuring dishes that combined DeShantz’s flair for crowd-pleasing with Racicot’s pedigree as a modernist chef. When you have a bar called täkō and an entire side of a menu devoted to tacos, however, dishes such as English Peas — despite its bright flavors and presentation — proved to be hard sells. Now it’s mostly tacos, though some side dishes, including the beet tostada and the poke, are worth considering as appetizers.

The “create-your-own” guacamole menu confuses me. Why am I allowed to make a “guacamole” with corn, smoked salmon, blue cheese and soy? As you always should do with guacamole, it’s better to stick to a traditional preparation; they do that rather well here, too.

Classic tacos such as Baja fish, carnitas and al pastor all are textbook-terrific, and by leaps and bounds they are the best echoes of Southern California and the Baja Peninsula in Pittsburgh. Of those, carnitas especially is good; the sweet fat of the braised pork is cut with bright salsa verde and textured with crispy chicharrónes.
 


Tacos stray from classic with varying degrees of success. täkō — grilled octopus, harissa aïoli, preserved lemons, crispy chickpeas, mizuna and pickled red onion — is the restaurant’s namesake (Japanese for “octopus”) and my favorite dish on the menu. It’s briny, bright and oceanic. “This is exactly why people shouldn’t be scared of eating octopus,” a friend said.

Bistec features beautifully grilled wagyu skirt steak, but the flavor is muted by excessive and bland queso fresco. The chorizo taco tastes fine, but it has a texture that feels as if I’m eating beach sand.

There’s hope for those less-successful tacos because DeShantz continues to tinker with the recipes. Take the duck taco, which was limpid and distracting when the spot opened; refined with deeper echoes of moo shu duck, it’s now one of my top picks.

täkō’s atmosphere doesn’t scream, “Order dessert!,” but the options are quite good. Racicot’s influence is apparent in the must-get coconut tapioca. It’s served with a tart passion fruit sorbet that cuts through the soft, comforting and subtly flavored tapioca. Diced mangoes add another layer of tropical sweetness.

If your idea of a pre- or post-theater meal downtown involves serious, hushed conversations, you’ll be happier elsewhere. If you like to get lost in the moment and carried away with the night, täkō is that kind of place. It’s my kind of place.  



 

Richard DeShantz, Executive Chef/Co-owner | täkō

What inspired you to open a place such as täkō?  
The space next to Butcher was open, and I really like Sixth Street. You have Penn Avenue, which is nighttime dining, and Market Square, which is lunch; Sixth Street is the bridge between the two. Then I was thinking, “What does Pittsburgh need?” It’s not just what I want to do, [but] it’s what this city needs. Well, we need a type of place with street food and a late-night vibe. And we needed a taco joint. I designed it to look like a food truck from the outside, and that’s what you see from the street. But behind that is a really fun tequila bar.

How did you go about recipe development?  
I brought Dave [Racicot, now Chef de Cuisine,] on two months before we opened. We worked on the menu from there, trying and testing different taco shells and meats and combinations. And we’re still doing that because you always want to get better. Both of our styles are based in French technique, and this was really exciting because we were learning how to work in a different style. [When chefs think] they know everything, that’s when they get stale.

How did you balance the more traditional tacos with the more chef-driven ones?  
I knew I didn’t want to do a straight Mexican restaurant. I didn’t want to put myself in a corner about “this is what this place is, and so this is what I have to do.” I knew I wanted to play, and that’s reflected in the design on the space and in the menu. I wanted to make the classics great since some of the best tacos I ever had were the classics, like an al pastor: pork, pineapple, onion, cilantro; that’s delicious. Then I wanted to have some twists and turns, too. It’s so much fun to experiment and learn out of your comfort zone.

What’s the importance of traveling?  
There are a couple of reasons. When you step away from what you’re doing every day, you appreciate what you’re doing even more. And you can see the things you’re doing right. It’s also motivating. You eat at places where people are doing things on a high level, and it makes you want to do that, too. Like I said, if you think you know everything, you go stale. You have to keep growing and learning. Food is a common language. Travel makes you realize there are other things out there.
 

täkō
214 Sixth St., downtown
412/471-8256, takopgh.com
HOURS: Tue-Sat, 5-11pm; bar open until 2am
PRICES: Starters: $6-$14; Tacos: $10-$14
Credit cards accepted, reservations not accepted, some vegetarian options, bar program, handicap accessible, street and garage parking


 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Director and “Mr. McFeely” Discuss “Won't You Be My Neighbor?”

The director of the forthcoming Mr. Rogers documentary sits down with the longtime Mr. McFeely and Pittsburgh Magazine.

Pittsburgh Teen Chess Phenom to Host Her First-Ever Tourney

Chess enthusiast Ashley Lynn Priore hopes to enrich the Steel City’s involvement in one of the most classic and challenging of board games.

Hungry for Something Good, Pittsburgh? Where We're Eating in June

We're obsessed with Greekfreez vegan frozen treats, taking a first look at the new menu at Independent Brewing Company and traveling to The Tavern on the Square. Plus, we talk to Poulet Bleu pastry chef James D. Wroblewski II.

Working in a Steel Mill Turns Fantastical in 'The Glass Lung'

Pittsburgher Anjali Sachdeva’s first book blends the normal with fantasy in nine short stories.

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.

Pittsburgh Flicks and Nightlife in June

PM Nightlife Editor Sean Collier explores the popularity of Coughlin's Law on Mt. Washington and the future of Jump Cut Theater.

Pittsburgh's Can't Miss Concerts in June

The Pittsburgh music calendar is packed this month. Check out some of our suggestions for the best ways to spend those steamy summer nights.

June: Best of Culture in Pittsburgh

Check out some of the finest stage plays, dance performances and exhibits taking place this month in Pittsburgh.

Undercover: What We're Reading in June

Reviews of Smoketown: The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Renaissance by Mark Whitaker and Abandoned Pittsburgh: Steel and Shadows by Chuck Beard

Perspectives: How Cold Is Too Cold for Spiders to Live?

A former Marine and Pittsburgh firefighter comes face-to-face with his biggest fear.

Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh Faces Centennial Challenges

This year marks a milestone anniversary — and questions regarding the emerging digital economy — for the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh.

Highmark Stadium Struggles To Accommodate Music Fans

The Station Square venue could be a good place to see a concert. It's not there yet.

CMU Launches America’s First Degree in Artificial Intelligence

Starting this fall, undergraduates at Carnegie Mellon will have the option to earn a degree in one of the world’s fastest growing fields.

Hog Wild at Fallen Aspen Farm

Owners Jake Kristophel and Desiree Sirois are committed to compassionate animal husbandry at Fallen Aspen Farm.

This is Where ‘Pittsburgh's Paul Bunyan’ Would Have Lived

The living emblem of Pittsburgh steelwork, immortalized in a Braddock statue, has been reborn with a titular space in Bloomfield.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Director and “Mr. McFeely” Discuss “Won't You Be My Neighbor?”

Director and “Mr. McFeely” Discuss “Won't You Be My Neighbor?”

The director of the forthcoming Mr. Rogers documentary sits down with the longtime Mr. McFeely and Pittsburgh Magazine.

Comments

Pittsburgh Teen Chess Phenom to Host Her First-Ever Tourney

Pittsburgh Teen Chess Phenom to Host Her First-Ever Tourney

Chess enthusiast Ashley Lynn Priore hopes to enrich the Steel City’s involvement in one of the most classic and challenging of board games.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Lorelei Will Open in the Former Livermore/Pines Space

Lorelei Will Open in the Former Livermore/Pines Space

The owners of Independent Brewing Company and Hidden Harbor plan to bring a beer hall and cafe to East Liberty.

Comments

An Inclusive Community Breaks the Ramadan Fast at Salem's Market & Grill

An Inclusive Community Breaks the Ramadan Fast at Salem's Market & Grill

The Strip District restaurant draws a diverse community to its nightly ifṭār buffet.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best Places to Introduce Children to the Performing Arts

Best Places to Introduce Children to the Performing Arts

When you see a show at one of these organizations, you may enjoy it as much as the children.

Comments

The 4 Best Sports to Try This Spring in Pittsburgh

The 4 Best Sports to Try This Spring in Pittsburgh

Looking to switch up your physical activity now that it finally feels like spring? We found four sports you can play locally that you may never have considered.

Comments


Highmark Stadium Struggles To Accommodate Music Fans

Highmark Stadium Struggles To Accommodate Music Fans

The Station Square venue could be a good place to see a concert. It's not there yet.

Comments

Take a Tricky Trip To Mars at Escape Room 51

Take a Tricky Trip To Mars at Escape Room 51

The new escape room in Pleasant Hills is a great game for newer players.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Here We Go? Steelers Have More Than a New England Issue This Time

Here We Go? Steelers Have More Than a New England Issue This Time

At this time last year the Steelers perceived themselves, and rightfully so, as a team that was a mere win over the Patriots away from returning to the Super Bowl. This year, the focus is elsewhere.

Comments

Surprising Pirates Proving to be an Acquired Taste This Season

Surprising Pirates Proving to be an Acquired Taste This Season

For the time being, at least, fans continue to send owner Bob Nutting a message wrapped in apathy.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

The 400-Word Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

The Star Wars series experiments with telling an origin story, with mixed results.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

The 400-Word Review: Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

The careful documentary is a valuable document of the pontiff's philosophy. As a film, there are issues.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Wine Classes Keep the Pre-Wedding Celebration Classy

Wine Classes Keep the Pre-Wedding Celebration Classy

Palate Partners School of Wine & Spirits offers a chance for brides- and grooms-to-be to explore libations before (or instead of) a night on the town.

Comments

He Recovers from Stroke to Officiate Granddaughter's Wedding

He Recovers from Stroke to Officiate Granddaughter's Wedding

It was always Ashley Watkins’ dream to have her grandfather perform her wedding ceremony — but a serious illness almost got in the way.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
From Milan to Pittsburgh: These are the Kitchen Concepts of the Future

From Milan to Pittsburgh: These are the Kitchen Concepts of the Future

Local interior designer Lauren Levant traveled to Italy for the influential Salon del Mobile show featuring the latest innovations in the furniture and design industry. With an emphasis on quality over quantity, these are the kitchen concepts she says will be making their way stateside.

Comments

Get Creative: Pittsburgh Podcast Inspires 'Girl Bosses'

Get Creative: Pittsburgh Podcast Inspires 'Girl Bosses'

Thinking about starting a creative business but don't know where to start? From photography to interior design, Gamechangers, the new podcast from local textile designer Savannah Hayes, gives a behind-the-scenes look at the design industry from the female perspective.

Comments