A bite of brisket-and-pork-belly taco from the new Mission Taco Joint in the Delmar Loop tasted a little like something you’d get at Milagro Modern Mexican in Webster Groves, and a little like something you’d find at Tortillaria in the Central West End.
Its tender, slow-roasted beef had the same mellow spice as Milagro’s barbacoa. Its crisp-juicy pork carnitas reminded me of the ones served in a Tortillaria burrito.
Marrying them in a small, fresh-pressed corn tortilla with bits of buttery avocado and spicy arbol chile sauce brings together the best of Milagro and Tortillaria into a bite that’s uniquely Mission.
All three Mexican-inspired restaurants are the work of brothers Jason and Adam Tilford; the former runs the kitchens, and the latter handles front-of-house duties.
While Tortillaria is an entry-level Mexican eatery, and Milagro pushes to elevate that cuisine for American palates, Mission seems to be a happy middle ground.
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Tacos ($2.50-$3) make up the bulk of Mission’s menu. Order as few or as many as you like, and they’ll come on V-shape serving trays of various sizes.
I enjoyed the double-meat sensation of the aforementioned beef brisket birria taco. I also dug a meatless nopales taco, which starred tangy strips of roasted cactus with sweetly caramelized onions and creamy crumbles of goat cheese.
The bitter-on-bitter combination of charred flank steak and fresh arugula in a carne asada taco proved too harsh for my tastes.
Those homemade corn tortillas are best served and consumed right away. Their bottoms tend to get soggy and their components can lose heat if they’re left to linger in the kitchen window a minute too long.
Fresh-made chips come with tomatillo and roasted-poblano salsas for $3.
The green one started sweet and finished with a little heat, while the red one had more of a kick; both could have used more acid and more salt. In a country where we’ve come to expect free chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants, even the nominal charge was hard to swallow.
If you order one thing from the appetizer/sharing portion of the menu, it ought to be crab taquitos ($11). It’s hard to screw up taquitos of any sort, but these were devastatingly good.
Mission’s kitchen is not stingy with delicate blue crab meat, stuffing it into tortillas along with roasted corn and diced peppers, then sending them for a plunge in a deep-fryer. Crunchy, hot, sweet and spicy — crab taquitos were the best thing I ate here.
Burritos ($8-$9) give Chipotle a run for its money in terms of value, flavor and sheer girth.
Three Little Piggies featured pork three ways: roasted shoulder, belly carnitas and chorizo queso. Plenty was going on in there — so much so that it’s hard to distinguish the different piggy preparations.
South Beach was more successful, with its chunks of grilled chicken wrapped along with mild Chihuahua cheese, beans, cilantro-specked rice and guacamole. Whatever burrito you choose, you can’t go wrong spending an extra buck to have it brushed with smoky ancho-tomato sauce and topped with melted cheese.
Tortas ($9-$10), Mexican sandwiches served on thick, toasted bread from Diana’s Bakery on Cherokee Street, are just as hearty as Mission’s burritos. Chorihuevo was especially so, a perfectly runny fried egg coating a stack of housemade chorizo, pickled jalapeños and black beans.
I rarely stray from beer at Mexican joints (Mission’s draft list is spot-on with local and national craft favorites), but I felt compelled to try cocktails here, crafted by former Sanctuaria barman Joel Clark.
He knocked it out of the park with his Bourbon Reforms ($9), a Manhattan-inspired drink with bourbon, sweet vermouth, Missouri moonshine and — the lucha libre body-slam — a generous dash of habanero bitters.
Open less than two months in the space that formerly housed the Delmar Lounge, Mission already has families, Loop-goers and local food cognescenti buzzing.
The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, but people don’t take that long to eat a burrito or a few tacos, so table turnover is relatively speedy.
If you were to take Tortillaria’s Mexican street food and Milagro’s creative touches and stuff them in a taco, you’d have Mission. And you’d be happy to take a bite.
Where Mission Taco Joint, 6235 Delmar Boulevard, Delmar Loop • Two and a half stars out of four • Menu Tacos, burritos, tortas and other Mexi-Cali eats • More info 314-932-5430; missiontacostl.com • Hours Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday