Loteria Taco Bar takes its name from the brightly colored cards used in a Mexican game of chance that’s a bit like bingo. The game, perhaps, could have provided some inspiration for Loteria’s food, but only in the sense that the dishes take some chances, with creative combinations of ingredients that include some surprises. They’re also colorfully presented. And like luck itself, some of the dishes have a bit of a sneaky kick.
The taco bar makes the most of its location in the San Pedro Square Market, with a menu well-suited to that sort of casual, take-out situation: mostly small, easily portable dishes. Appetizers include housemade guacamole and chips ($6), yucca fries ($6) and the generously sized Market Quesadillla ($8.50), which could be split among several people or could make a filling meal on its own. But of course the menu’s focus is on tacos, with about a dozen choices of fillings that range from duck to steak to portobello mushrooms. All tacos, regardless of filling, have the same pricing: one taco costs $4; two are $7.50; three are $11 and 10 tacos sell for $31. Tacos are stuffed with enough filling that two will make for a good meal, especially because chips and salsa are served on the side. (For anyone looking to skip carbs, Loteria also offers the “La Dama” option of serving any of its taco fillings in iceberg lettuce cups.)
My companion chose the Mango Habanero Braised Chicken taco, which balanced a nice amount of heat from the habaneros with the slight sourness of pickled red onions and the sweetness of cilantro mango relish. The filling actually proved a bit too generous with the portion of meat, but the flavors meshed well.
Pickled cabbage lent nice acidity to my companion’s Fried Cod taco, which rounded out the light crispiness of the fish with spicy chipotle crema and cilantro.
My Portobello taco had the right blend of spice and texture. Chopped mushrooms, cooked to perfect juiciness, served as the substantial base of a filling that had the mild heat of pasilla peppers and the sharpness of red onions, all complemented by the creaminess of Oaxacan cheese. Zucchini added texture and subtly rounded out the flavors.
The titular ingredients of the Quinoa and Black Bean taco provided a complex earthiness that was the perfect foil for fresh, garlicky pico de gallo. The smoky housemade salsa seemed almost redundant with the pico de gallo, although its smokiness did work well with the quinoa.