Desnudo Tacos is the new love child of Naked City Pizza Shop owner Chris Palmeri and rogue chef Christian “CutThroat Culinary” Dolias, quite the odd couple. Their taco shop is still finding its footing, but early experiences immediately thrust it into the hierarchy of the city’s best Mexican restaurants.
Next door, Naked City highlights Palmeri’s Italian heritage and Buffalo, New York, roots; Desnudo—Spanish for “naked”—is his opportunity to showcase culinary expertise from his time at the helm of the former Diego at MGM Grand. While Dolias doesn’t have a Mexican restaurant on his résumé, growing up in SoCal just north of Tijuana—in a food scene heavily influenced by Northern Mexico—served as essential experience.
Much like the pizza shop, Desnudo is about the details. Practically everything is made fresh, from the aguas frescas (refreshingly mild versions of horchata and tamarindo were available recently) to the chips with chipotle and habañero tomatillo salsas. The chips and salsa ($4) aren’t complimentary, but they’re certainly worth ordering, and salsas rotate depending on Dolias’ mood. Guacamole ($5) isn’t made to order, but it’s prepared four times daily, so yours is bound to be fresh. I’m a sucker for an upgrade, but I thought the everything option ($8), with bacon, blue cheese and red chile corn, was a little overwhelming and muddled. The plain guac stands on its own, but some toasted pumpkin seeds for texture might be the way to go.
It only makes sense that the Cali burrito ($6.50) uses Palmeri’s acclaimed French fries along with lots of al carbon-style beef. It’s not exactly authentic—due to the inclusion of quesadilla cheese in lieu of cheddar—but you have to admire Dolias’ commitment to being a cheddar-free environment. The torta de puerco is a piggy epiphany—pork belly carnitas and lime-braised pork shoulder are layered on a crispy roll with quesadilla cheese and a healthy heaping of pickled vegetable and lettuce slaw. It’s a damn fine sandwich.
Taco-wise, my favorite is the smoky tinga poblana ($6.50)—braised pork shoulder and house-made chorizo—while the guajillo chili-infused chivo (goat) taco is more approachable than it sounds. Each order is a pair, making for a substantial meal on its own.
Desnudo is a cool place. With Día de los Muertos-influenced décor, Frida Kahlo peering out from her unibrow and pages from a Rick Bayless cookbook plastered on the walls of the men’s room, it succeeds in conveying a hip authenticity. Luckily for us, the food is as authentically great as the room.
Desnudo Tacos 3240 S. Arville St., 982-6435. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.