March 5, 2019

The margaritas at Taco Daddy are strong. So strong, in fact, that 15 minutes after being seated, my boyfriend and I watched as a middle-aged woman with frosted blond highlights — three empty margarita glasses in front of her — threw up repeatedly at a table adjacent to us.

Taco Daddy is that kind of place. A “Saturday is for the boys” kind of a place. A bachelorette party kind of place.

A little more than a week after the restaurant’s “soft opening” on Feb. 20, there’s already a regular 30- to 45-minute wait for a table during peak weekend hours. Owner Neel Kamal, God bless him, is doing the absolute best he can to manage the unprecedented demand for downtown’s newest cantina and tequila bar.

Located in the space formerly occupied by Adam and Eve Gastropub, Taco Daddy is the second spot with a vaguely sexual name to attract plenty of online attention before its official debut. Prior to my visit on a cold Saturday night, I read multiple reviews that slammed the restaurant for slow service — in fairness, an expected hiccup for a place that became so incredibly popular so incredibly fast, right out of the gate.

In my experience, though, service wasn’t the issue at Taco Daddy. Every piece of our meal — from the drinks we ordered at the bar to our starter and entrees — was delivered promptly and efficiently by our attentive server, who, perhaps understandably, encouraged us to leave a Yelp review after we left. It certainly wasn’t a problem after the vomit debacle, which the staff managed to clear quickly and surreptitiously.

My qualms with Taco Daddy are really an issue of cost over quality. My boyfriend and I were startled to see two chicken tacos — served with the standard beans and rice — on the menu for $14. The steak burrito — a humble staple of Tex-Mex cuisine — cost $18. With more than a dozen places to order tacos in downtown Frederick and the immediate vicinity, why, oh why, would anyone pay such inflated prices for such simple menu items?

I suppose some of it can be chalked up to the scene at Taco Daddy, which veers more toward nightclub territory than casual taqueria. On the night we went for dinner, there was a DJ manning a spot near the front of the restaurant. Scenes of Mixed Martial Arts were playing out on the screens behind the bar. With 30 to 40 tequilas on the menu, it’s natural that the space would draw a crowd for drinks.

Still, I wish the kitchen would focus a little more on honing the food. Some items — including the shrimp tacos — were very, very good. Juicy chunks of shrimp sauteed in a garlic cilantro butter, topped off with mango salsa and a creamy white sauce, made for a satisfying contrast against crisp corn tortillas. My boyfriend inhaled the dish, and I had to stop myself from stealing the second taco.

Others could have used more finesse. Between the salted rim of my margarita glass and a mouth-puckeringly salty ceviche, I was gulping water midway through the meal. My steak enchilada, the ultimate comfort food, was also a touch too salty for my taste. But with a little less salinity, the dish would have been a winner. Tender steak and grilled green peppers, enrobed in melted cheese, made for a hedonistic combination. I happily finished the meal by dunking my quesadilla wedges in the accompanying guacamole.

With its overwhelming popularity, a review from me won’t make or break Taco Daddy. I’m sure of that. With its prime downtown location, it’s also unlikely that the crowds will subside anytime soon. I had to laugh as the DJ played “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey and the entire restaurant, almost simultaneously, broke into song. Like I said, Taco Daddy is that kind of place.

Kate Masters is the food critic for The Frederick News-Post. Follow her on Twitter @kamamasters.