International spots offer alternatives to turkey.
When Condado Taqueria opens its first Pittsburgh location Tuesday, diners can get one free taco of their choice and half-priced margaritas all day, and hang out at a place where Day of the Dead meets street art.
The 160-seat, two-level restaurant at 971 Liberty Ave., Downtown, sits in the spot that previously housed Tonic Bar and Grill. A rooftop deck for outdoor dining is expected to open when the weather warms up and snowstorms are not in the forecast.
The Columbus, Ohio-based chain, is a taco joint with high energy, low prices and plenty of taco and beverage choices. The space downstairs and upstairs is dark but it comes alive with warmth from colorful light-up bars, marquees on the wall and urbanized Aztec-ish artworks.
Condado is spelled out boldly in graffiti-style near the entrance downstairs. Church pews make up the bench along the wall and wooden tables are set close to one another and are bare except for a pencil holder and a paper towel roll that comes in handy to work through the good-sized loaded tacos.
Owner Joe Kahn, who co-founded Barrio Tacos in Cleveland, came up with the concept 2½ years ago when he opened the first Condado (which translates to county in Spanish) in Columbus. He opened a second location in the city last year and a third is expected to open soon.
“I decided to open a store in Pittsburgh because it is very similar to Columbus,” he said. “It’s a great town, has great people and great dining. I just felt we would fit in.”
The menu is the same in both cities. Mr. Kahn defines his tacos as having a Southwestern and southern California accent, with the emphasis on creativity and fresh ingredients. Diners can craft their own taco creation from a choice of tortillas, proteins, toppings, cheeses, salsas, sauces and sides.
Interplay of textures is fabulous in tortillas named Sweet Lucy and Ju-Ju, where a thin, deep-fried hard shell is encased in a thin flour soft shell. The double-decker can be filled with endless choices that include roasted chicken or barbecue-pulled jackfruit; jicama + cabbage slaw or pickled red onions; smoked cheddar or queso fresco; pineapple or corn salsa ; and chipotle honey or habanero-mango barbecue sauce; along with sides such as rice and bacon refried beans for an additional cost.
If all that is too confusing, diners can choose from a suggested list such as Ooey-Gooey (corn shell, queso blanco, chicken, black beans, cilantro-onions and dirty sauce); Surf ’N Turf (flour shell, rice, ghost-pepper steak, shrimp, roja salsa and dirty sauce); or Dutch Dragon (double-decker, guacamole, portobello mushrooms, corn salsa, pickled jalapenos and salsa verde).
Condado also offers a long list of margaritas pureed from fresh fruits such as peach, prickly pear and banana and specials such as Delicioso (house margarita, muddled jalapeno and cucumber and soda); craft beers, whiskeys and tequilas.
The taqueria will be featuring green margaritas for $4 on St. Patrick’s Day and $4 Lent Tacos for the next five Fridays.
Tacos are typically in the $3 to $4 range, and cost more when additional meats or sides are added.
“Dining is more than eating,” Mr. Kahn said. “It’s also an experience.”
And on the soft opening day, last Friday, the tacos, drinks, packed rooms and vibe all melded together.
Arthi Subramaniam: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1494 or on Twitter @arthisub.