Tacolicious is a loud and proud marriage of Mexican inspiration with California sensibility. The black-T-shirted troops have decamped in downtown Palo Alto, between Gordon Biersch and Richard Sumner, and brought in the same high-quality food as in the restaurant's San Francisco sisters, plus eye-popping colors and a fabulous wall mural by Paul Madonna.
On a recent visit, we started with roasted mussels ($11.95), in which a cast-iron pan is placed on a metal stand, like pizza. Two dozen salt-crusted mussels, popping with jalapenos and lime butter, were hot, plump and juicy.
Tacos are $3.95 each, about twice the price as at a no-frills taqueria. Even the group rates — $14 for four, $33 for 10 — are high. Besides receiving table service in cool surroundings, you are paying for mostly exceptional ingredients wrapped in two steaming fresh corn tortillas from time-honored La Palma in San Francisco's Mission District. Two tacos and a small side dish will do the job for most people.
My favorite filling was the guajillo chile braised beef, meltingly tender, followed closely by the crunchy carnitas and stringy shot-and-a-beer braised chicken. A tricolor excursion of salsa came along for the ride. Habanero, smoky roasted tomato and creamy avocado-tomatillo — yellow, red and green — beckoned from white dishes with wooden spoons that look like potato chips. No plastic specimen cups here.
The fried Pacific rock-cod taco was less successful, in a batter too reminiscent of fish and chips.
The Taco of the Week is always a good choice. Recently it was raw ahi.
Vegetarians could make a meal of tacos filled with asparagus, green garlic, mushrooms and fingerling potatoes. Other vegetarian options include fried sweet plantains with heirloom beans and cumin crema ($7.50), and kale salad with cabbage, quinoa, sunchokes, apples and carrots in a cider-cumin vinaigrette, topped with toasted pine nuts ($9.95). Again, this is not your usual taqueria fare, nor are there any burritos.
There are excellent complimentary chips and a lovely, mild tomato salsa. Made-to-order guacamole ($8.25) and chile con queso ($7.50) are very popular and very filling.
Some day I will save room for dessert, churros with Mexican hot chocolate ($6) or Meyer lemon flan ($6).
The Palo Alto Tacolicious's other features include a very attractive private dining room and a Happy Hour deal: $10 for one beer, one shot of tequila and one taco.
Children get a menu they can play with, a foldup taco truck, and for $7 their choice of taco plus rice, beans, agua fresca and chocolate sundae. Tacolicious is as good for families with young children as it is for its main demographic, young adults who know that "chupitos" on the food menu just above the tacos are shots of tequila infused with various fruits and spices. Tacolicious features 120 tequilas, but also a daily agua fresca and a half-dozen other non-alcoholic refreshers. The question is, who can say, "Meet me in the bar at Tacolicious" and still be old enough to drink?
632 Emerson St., Palo Alto
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-midnight daily
Credit cards: yes
Parking: street parking and city lots
Alcohol: full bar
Outdoor dining: no
Party facilities: yes
Noise level: high
Bathroom cleanliness: excellent