Aug 4, 2016

An earnest look at Tex Tubb’s Taco Place, Madison, Wis.

Madison, Wis., may have been just about the last place I expected to find true-to-its-roots Tex-Mex food, but fortunately I discovered Tex Tubb’s Taco Place, another gem that shines not far from the city’s funky Williamson Street neighborhood.

Located near the triangulation of Atwood Avenue and Winnebago Street (it’s an odd intersection that kind of defies logic), Tex Tubb’s smallish yet bright storefront stands out.  And seeing as how I love authentic street-style tacos and classically prepared margaritas, I took a chance one night that I might be able to find both there.

It turns out my instincts were on point.

Here's a bartender who looks like he knows what he's doing.

I took care of the margarita craving first.  It was happy hour, after all, so I made a beeline toward the bar which I easily located near the check-in for seating.  Plus, by the appearance of the bartender, I figured he’d be the type whom I could engage in some conversation to learn more about the place. I credit the mutton chops.

While the tequila selection was impressive and tempting, I began with their “standard” Palace Margarita, a happy hour deal for $6.   I then began to ask the bartender how Tex Tubb’s came about and got its name.

As fate would have it, the “Tex” is owner Kevin Tubb, a true Texan and distant relative of Ernest Tubb, a country and western (he played both kinds) performer who sadly may be better known today for his record shop in Nashville rather than his music.  According to the bartender, Kevin was a chef and musician who moved to Madison and wanted a place that reminded him of those great Austin “holes in the wall” that served great Tex-Mex food and powerful drinks. The bartender also talked about how Kevin’s band also used to play at Tex Tubb’s, beginning a tradition of live music there that continues today.  It was a thoroughly memorable and entertaining conversation.

As I finished my first margarita, I looked behind me at at what I thought was the only seating in the place.  The colors of the walls definitely echoed Austin …

… as did the exposed brick wall.  But why wasn’t this place much busier?  My fresh, hot tortilla chips arrived, and the bartender directed me to Tex Tubb’s salsa bar.  And that’s where I found a much larger, similarly decorated -- and packed -- room of patrons.  It all made sense.  

I turned my attention to the four varieties of salsa before me.  Of course, I was going to try them all.  The green tomatillo salsa was the mildest of them all but still an excellent showcase for the tomatillo flavor.  Second to the left was the Serrano salsa, which probably most closely represented the standard salsa most would recognize.  A little further on the heat meter was the New Mexico ranchero.  But the hottest, and my favorite, was the creamy chile arbol.  It brought a great kick to everything you dipped in it.

The salsa sampling made me thirsty again, so I ordered a second margarita.  My mouth was already on fire, so I figured a mezcal margarita wouldn’t hurt.  The description on the menu helped sell me, as well.  Maybe it was that hint of smokiness I tasted, but Tex Tubb’s mezcal was one of the best margaritas I’ve had … well, anywhere.

Thankfully, after two strong beverages, my main course arrived.  Either the photo was blurry, or the photographer was, but don’t let my presentation fool you. The grilled shrimp taco platter was perfectly prepared. The shrimp had the wonderful taste of the tequila and lime they were marinated in.  And the additions of a chipotle sour cream, fresh guacamole and pickled red onions blended together beautifully.  Each bite bordered on flavor overload, but it was worth it.  

Not surprisingly, the side dishes were top notch as well.  They were definitely not afterthoughts just to fill a plate.  In fact, I’d put Tex Tubb’s Spanish rice up against any other outside of Austin.  Yes, it was that good.  

Tex Tubb’s Taco Place proved to be one of my most memorable dining and drinking experiences in Madison.  It’s definitely worth seeking out if you’re in the area.  Come for the food; stay a while for the margaritas.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

That looks like a great spot for tacos. Even a taco palace I visualize more as a dive and still would look forward to dropping in. And while I can't touch shell fish, the tacos look and sound delish. Great blog, once again, John. always enjoy the read.

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