Note: Sorry for the poor quality of the photos, folks. These were all taken with an iPhone (strike one) after a 9% IPA (strike two).
So a few summers back, while visiting a friend in Denver, we stopped by a taco bar called Tocabe. It was in the style of a Moe’s or Chipotle where you move down a line selecting beans, meats, and add-ons. The difference was that these tacos were of the Navajo-variety. Navajo tacos, for those who haven’t had the pleasure, have a fry bread base. Soft, chewy, bubbly and delicious, the Navajo taco has to be eaten with a fork and knife. You can’t get them in Philly, but once a year Marco Espinoza aka Fidel Gastro, Lucio Palazza of Taqueria Feliz, and illustrator Hawk Krall team up for a one-night frybread taco pop-up called Shiprock, named after a town in the Navajo Reservation. This year the Shiprock crew set their sights for the food truck parked in The Garage on Passyunk Ave.
The Garage, an unassuming bar with a stand up bottle list, is deep in the heart of “Cheesesteak Vegas” situated across Passyunk from Geno’s neon glory. As the pop-up was scheduled for the drunkest of holidays outside of Mummer’s Day, my friends and I feared an invasion of “Green People.” Garage proved to be an oasis far from the drunken “brew”ha raging around Center City, Northern Liberties, and along Spring Garden, probably with its epicenter at hell’s asshole itself, McFadden’s.
But what of the tacos? The savories were well-seasoned but I would have appreciated a little more meat and beans to even out the filling-to-frybread ratio. To be fair, when I ordered my taco from Tocabe and asked which toppings I preferred, my response was all of them. I once went into a Chipotle and ordered “the weightiest burrito” its builder had ever made. My response, “I have a large appetite for life.” In the parking lot, my boyfriend at the time told me that is the language of a fat person. I told him to wait three years.
While the savories were great, the sweet frybread was where it’s at. In the short time I lived in Oklahoma from ages 4-6, we frequented a (CLOSED according to my Yelp query) Mexican restaurant called El Zarape. The meals came with the complimentary chips and salsa, standard fare for a restaurant of that nature. But what knocked it out of the park and made El Zarape one of my fondest memories from that short period were the complimentary sopapillas at the end of the meal. Bubbly fried dough drizzled in honey, I’ve never had anything that came close to that particular dessert, even those that go by the same name, until the Shiprock pop-up. While Tocabe’s sweet frybread came with a killer berry runny jam, the Shiprock offering was drizzled in a honey butter imported from Utah where Espinoza’s parent’s run a fry-bread restaurant. My only regret from the night was that I could not convince my table mates that they were hungry enough to split an extra sweet frybread, though everyone had no problem fitting a spare Girl Scout cookie or two some thirty minutes later. I’m told that there is a separate additional stomach for processed foods (sigh). Next year.