Outside of the giggle-worthy name, I never thought to see what Velvet Taco was all about. I didn’t know the concept, or care that it was a franchise that corporate marketers sometimes shoehorn into the corridor of Cherry Street when another place closes. In this case, the old, unlamented Long John Silver’s on 15th and Peoria closed.
Based out of Dallas, it turns out Velvet Taco has been around for a decade, slowly expanding to 17 cities, with plans for up to 40 more around the country by the end of this year. The other Oklahoma location is in Norman.
Friends started using DoorDash. Eventually, I ate something. And any low expectations I might have had were quickly erased.
Essentially, global cuisine in a fast, casual environment, Velvet Taco is tapas in a tortilla. Or, in their words, a “temple to the liberated taco.” International tastes combined in a way that stands apart.
Among my favorites were (and are) the Korean Fried Rice taco, a delectable combination of egg fried rice, shredded Bulgogi-style pork, pickled red onion, jalapenos, and grilled pineapple served in flour tortilla. The shredded pork was succulent, and the combination of tart, spicy, and sweet was a winner.
The same goes for the Cuban Pig, basically a Cuban sandwich in a taco. The shredded pork was again meltingly tender, and sang alongside the honey ham, in-house pickles, mustard, gruyere cheese, and queso blanco.
But it’s not all about pork. In my head, pork is king, followed by shrimp, beef, and chicken. The Spicy Chicken Tikki Masala (among their most popular offerings) was fantastic.
Consisting of spicy tenders, basmati rice, Thai basil, and a crema—even as a leftover (and giving it a bump in the microwave) didn’t hurt the tenderness of the meat. I poured some red curry queso on it—more on that later—and it was a late-night buzz perfection.
The Chicken and Waffle, consisting of fried chicken, peppercorn gravy, red chili aioli, maple syrup, and apple slaw in a waffle tortilla with chives on top, was another pithy nod to the joys of Velvet Taco’s concept.
In the realm of seafood, I’ve revisited the Fish n’ Chips and Mexi-Cali Shrimp more than once. The former contains a base of shoestring French fries and a substantial tender of deep-fried Atlantic cod, with a curry mayo, topped by micro greens. The latter is a standout, with blackened shrimp, an avocado corn pico de gallo with a Napa cabbage slaw, topped with a Sriracha aioli and micro greens.
Then there’s the Grilled Salmon, probably the best deal for the price. All of these tacos are anywhere between six to eight dollars. They’re all substantial, though some more than others. Here, you get a fat slice of salmon accompanied by Napa slaw, roasted corn pico, citrus lime crema, topped with pickled Fresno chilis. It’s a meal. And salmon is good for you. Omega-3 fatty acids, yo.
The beef options weren’t as exciting, even though they apply to the same physics. I was kind of worried I would just gush about everything.
The Kobe Bacon burger was flavorful enough, but not as hefty—mileage varies in this regard. It’s what it sounds like. A half patty of wagyu-style beef, with pepper bacon, cheddar, pickles, lettuce, onion, and tomato, topped with “Velvet sauce” in a flour tortilla. It achieves the title, but it is definitely not a favorite.
Their Slow Roasted Angus Brisket fared better. Barbacoa-style shredded beef (as tender as the pork) is topped by queso blanco, red chili mayo, that same amazing avocado corn pico and micro cilantro. The only issue I found was with the tortilla. Fried in Comté cheese that lends a crispy texture, it’s a mess to eat since the tortilla gets rigid and everything squeezes out of the sides.
If you haven’t guessed already, I’m not a vegetarian. Though among the vegetarian and gluten-free options (you can opt for corn tortillas with any of these offerings), two were noteworthy and maintain the international vibe.
The Fried Paneer, a dense Indian cheese, includes a log of paneer, topped with tomato chutney, their tikka sauce, rita sauce (a spiced, yogurt-based sauce), and Thai basil. It’s a savory diversion from the kind of proteins that you’d normally have to kill to eat. The other is the Beer-battered Cauliflower. A crunchy amalgam of fried cauliflower, topped with that fantastic avocado corn pico, queso blanco, Texas Pete’s hot sauce, and candied pumpkin seeds. It’s a reminder that nothing with parents needs to die for complex and satisfying flavors.
Among the sides and appetizers, the red curry queso ranks pretty high in the category of why didn’t anyone think of this before? A molten stew of awesome that I would drink from a straw, it’s a red curry paste mixed with their straight queso blanco, and coconut milk, accompanied by a bag of Velvet Taco’s house-made blue corn tortilla chips for dipping. They are phenomenal.
Another standout on the sides menu is their elote. Suffused with queso blanco, queso listo (a hard cheese, like pecorino romano) and seasoned with lime, this corn concoction—normally grilled and served on the cob—is so good that you’ll tell strangers on the street about it. I’m still curious about the Brisket Nachos and the Tots with Local Eggs—though Velvet Taco seems to source locally, wherever they are.
Beverage options range between bottled Jarritos and Mexican Cokes to some potent, very tasty margaritas, in two sizes.
Velvet Taco is very integrated with its app and encourages people to come to their locations, even if you’re just running through the drive-thru. The app offers bonuses and lets you know about the Weekly Taco Feature (WTF?), which you can only get if you you’re not using DoorDash. Mine was a Poke Taco. A poke bowl in a tortilla, and excellent—with raw ahi tuna on a bed of white rice, topped by a soy vinaigrette, pickled onions, seaweed salad, wasabi crema, pickled ginger, and black sesame seeds. And arugula, just because.
The creativity of the weekly taco feature is part of why the place is so fun. And the speed of service is admirable. A dude will yell your name into a microphone way faster than you think. In October, there will be the Bulgogi Walking Dead taco.
Speaking of the app, one of its perks—if you buy enough tacos—is that it gives any taco lover their opportunity to be in an annual contest to create and name a taco that the restaurant chain will release at all of their locations, in celebration of National Taco Day on Oct 4.
This year’s winner was created by taco aficionado, Mark Jensen, which consists of chicken, bok choy, chilis, rice noodles, bean sprouts and hoisin sauce. It’s called the Pho King, based on the Vietnamese soup dish. I’ll let you figure that one out for yourself.
Velvet Taco is located at 1444 S. Peoria Ave. The establishment is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday thru Wednesday, and until midnight on Thursday, and 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.