It is an odd culinary landscape we have in regards to Mexican food, or Hispanic/Latino/general south-of-the-border food. We have such a large population of Hispanic/Latino people in Nevada (making up 27.3 percent of the population in 2012), but such a scant amount of the food makes it into the public consciousness compared to other styles.
There are a couple places on the Strip that do well enough (T&T is always a surprisingly good experience), and everyone has their “taco spot.” Tacos El Gordo generally ranks as the best of the super-authentic places, and everyone has the old neighborhood standby of Roberto’s (or whatever his ex-wife decided to name her half of the franchises).
And please people, we don’t count Taco Hell in this equation.
But where is there a “cool” Mexican place? Where’s one that’s all hip and fun and interesting? Until very recently, nothing significant was on the roster, until Desnudo Tacos popped up next to Moon Doggies at Desert Inn Road and Arville Street. Moon Doggies had actually been playing host to a “Taco Tuesday” night, put on by the two masterminds behind Desnudos, chefs Christian Dolias and Christian Palmeri.
Taco nights and various pop-up dinners have been the experimental phases, and now they have a brick-and-mortar spot to sling these amazing tacos.
They have some very interesting additions to the classic tacos, like their pollo ($6) in a green pumpkin-seed sauce, with house-made lime queso fresco, or their carnita ($6) braised in fresh lime juice. They even have a goat taco, chivo ($6.50), slow braised with guajillo chile, avocado and banana leaf, with radish and onion topping this very unique taco.
All their tacos are no dinky little silver-dollar-sized tortilla thing either. A single order is two tacos, making that and maybe a side of their loaded guacamole ($8 with everything: red chile corn, toasted pumpkin seed, bacon, blue cheese) a nice big lunch.
Everything they do is very technically precise, but their spirit shows in all the little touches. Things like their house-made giardiniera at each table, the dia de los muertos decorations around, the Santeria candles and cards, and all the unique touches in the classic dishes set Desnudos apart from any other Mexican food restaurant.
They have a bit of Californian Mexican style in the Cali burrito ($6.50), a really big sucker loaded with red-chile-marinated skirt steak, fried potato, pico de gallo, crema, and cheese. It’s that kind of satisfying heavy meal you put at the end of a long night, something those southern Californians perfected.
Desnudos does a weekend brunch, something rare amongst even the family-style places. Of course they do a pozole ($7), with pork simmered all day long with hominy. They also do a huevos rancheros ($7), with a tomato-serrano sauce to perk up the two eggs, pinto beans, and queso fresco.
There are a few traditional desserts, but the most interesting is the helado de horchata ($4). It’s a kind of slushy ice cream of horchata, topped with a piloncillo caramel. Piloncillo, to jog your memory, are the Mexican brown sugar cones that you grate into desserts. This is all topped with canella, or Mexican cinnamon, making it a spicy, creamy, and light dessert.
Desnudos can seem like it may not be that big of a step above most local Mexican places on paper, but the experience there is something entirely different. It’s not just the love and care for the food, but the passion and excitement. Everything Desnudos does is that much above the board because of their passion, and you can taste it in every bite.
DESNUDO TACOS, 3240 Arville St. 702-982-6435. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. Mitchell Wilburn is a food and drink writer in Las Vegas. You can read his other food news and reviews at EatingLV.com.