Fresh and flavorful Tex-Mex enhancements liven the veggie-heavy salads prepared in this bright little spot in Uptown Westerville
Folks who dine out frequently are often appreciative of an eatery that's a bit eccentric. This certainly describes me, but I'd add that I prefer a business that's genuinely eccentric rather than one that's eccentric in a calculated fashion, a la, “Look how purportedly fun our menu and decor are!”
At first, I assumed Tostadalicious was a fairly conventional, Chipotle-stye operation. But I soon discovered that the fast-casual establishment can't help but be a little eccentric.
Prospective diners must basically walk down a blind alley in Uptown Westerville to find the cute, tidy and friendly little restaurant. From its playful names — I use the plural because Tostadalicious was previously known as “Phatt Taco” — it's hardly apparent that, in addition to making money like every business, this place's raison d'etre is to offer healthful spins on quick and inexpensive Tex-Mex dishes.
This aesthetic stems from owner Jose Becerra. Becerra is a transplant from northern California whose resume includes planning nutritious meals for tech companies in Silicon Valley and, following that, doing the same sort of work for Abercrombie & Fitch in New Albany. Lately, Becerra has been applying his culinary knowledge to his own restaurants.
And he's applied an interesting sense of style to the interior of Tostadalicious. Above a smooth, blond wood floor are wooden tables that provide limited seating — nothing eccentric about that. But the room also contains what amounts to a hot sauce altar, numerous plants (some might be real) and mango-colored walls decorated with tree branches, a surfboard, mirrors, masks, framed surrealistic images, photos of Mesoamerican art and multiple allusions to the sun and moon. Largely because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, this coheres into something pleasant rather than a confounding collection of disparate elements.
I could make that same pronouncement about the mounds of food assembled onto paper plates here. While the menu lists burritos and the expected tostadas, that's not actually what you're likely to end up with. That's because what Tostadalicious specializes in — and always served in my experiences — are tricked-out salads enhanced with various taco-style proteins or other Mexican-style items.
For example, when I asked for a burrito, the super-friendly server behind the counter convinced me that what I really wanted was the restaurant's veggie-heavy version of a tostada with all the fixings. He turned out to be right. I would later watch similar scenes play out with other servers and other likewise soon-to-be-pleased customers.
So, just order a tostada with everything. You'll get loose rice punctuated with peas and carrots and brightened by turmeric; soupy, nicely seasoned pinto and black beans; a corn salad sweetened by apples and grapes; shredded cheeses; commercial crispy fried onions; chopped cucumbers; a blend of romaine lettuce, cabbage and kale; fresh cilantro; fresh jalapenos (get these fiery chilies on the side); and Charras brand fried tortilla discs, which will arrive on the side rather than underneath the toppings as in any traditional tostada dish.
You will be encouraged to enjoy four featured house garnishes on this, and you should do that, too. You'll get lime juice spritzed from what looks like a perfume bottle, plus squiggles of tangy, vegan-mayo-based cilantro-ranch dressing, zippy lemon-habanero sauce and a pleasant tomato condiment. For $1.25 extra, you can, and should, enrich your order with the rewarding guacamole-esque “avocado hummus.”
Your cost will vary from $8.50 to about $9, depending on which generally tender and flavorful, mild-chili sauce-braised meat or other warm entree topping you request. Every option I tried — chopped pork, chopped chicken, pot roast-like beef and a supple tamale studded with corn — tasted good on its own and even better with the eccentric whole shebang.
Photos by Rob Hardin