Smile Politely

A year of tacos and tequila

I first ate at Wedge Tequila Bar & Grill right after they first opened (about a year ago, in fact) and had some tacos and a drink, I think. Quite honestly, I wasn’t overly impressed so I hadn’t returned. Recently, though, Wedge has come up in conversations like this:

Person 1: Where shall we go for dinner?
Person 2: I don’t know, where haven’t we been lately?
Person 1: Um… [long pause]
Person 2: Ugh, why is this so hard?
Person 1: What about Wedge?
Person 2: Oh yeah. I always forget about that place.

Why is that so? Why have I forgotten about Wedge? I decided it was time to figure that out, so I paid Wedge a visit—well, two, in fact.

Perhaps not-so-recently, Wedge launched a new advertising campaign that was not only visually stunning, but also included the weekly rundown of their specials. Standing, weekly, specials, that is—one for almost every day of the week. That’s pretty awesome.

I think one reason some people haven’t embraced Wedge (or continue to forget about it) is because they’re still a little bitter and grief-stricken about the loss of Carmon’s. Carmon’s was really, really good, and too short-lived. That being said, we need to move on, people! Carmon’s is gone, and Wedge is here.

I also think that some people have unfair expectations for Mexican food, in that they want it fast and cheap. (Incidentally, I think the same can be said about Chinese food.) In any town you visit, you’re apt to find some sort of cheap and fast Mexican joint serving up shitty tacos and pump cheese nachos. Wedge is not this place. Wedge is trying to provide sophisticated Mexican food while still remaining accessible and affordable to the people, and it’s a tequila bar, which all of the other Mexican places in town are not.

Speaking of sophistication, the tequila selection is impressive and the most robust in town. They have a tequila-tasting score card, too, so you can keep track of what you like and don’t. With a variety of specialty margaritas permanently on the menu and seasonal ones available, there’s something for everyone. They also offer tequila flights for those of you looking to try a few at a time.

The space that Wedge occupies is quite small. There are several tables inside, a couple of tucked-away booths, and a bar. This is not the vast airport hangar Mexican restaurant you’re expecting. It’s warm—the color palette is a series of oranges and browns—and intimate. The copper details in the lights and ceiling fans provide a little shine to the otherwise matte finish of the interior. The lighting is very dim, creating a setting that invites you to linger over your drinks and desserts.

On my first recent visit, we opted to sit outside. The covered patio is quite large and is heated. It’s an awesome space, actually, and because it’s situated on the side of the building, you don’t feel like pedestrians are walking through your dinner, or that vehicle traffic will stop and watch you slosh salsa down your shirt. On my second visit, we sat indoors at a two-person high top table against the wall. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel like we were on display or that everyone in the restaurant could overhear our conversation.

Taking advantage of their taco and margarita deals, between the two visits I tried the pollo, calabacitas, carnitas de puerco, and chorizo tacos, which are four of the nine tacos they offer. All of their tacos are served on soft corn tortillas—there aren’t any hard taco options in this place.

The pollo is marinated chicken, corn salsa, crispy bacon, and queso fresco. This may have been my favorite of all of the tacos I tried. The chicken was warm and had a bit of a spicy kick without overpowering the bite. The corn salsa was cold, and the small cold pieces of corn and tomato provided a bit of sweetness to the marinated meat. My only real complaint is that there was only one very sad piece of floppy, limp bacon on my taco (actually, I think it fell onto the plate which is how I noticed it), and therefore there was no salty, bacon-y, smoke in my taco.

My second favorite taco was the calabacitas, which is zucchini blossoms, black beanpuree, onions, cilantro, and Chihuahua cheese. This was well flavored, and the textures were appropriately matched. The tortilla was just chewy enough, and the onions provided a sharp crisp to balance the mushy softness of the beans and the zucchini. Although the flavors were on point, the zucchini in the taco was indeed zucchini and not zucchini blossoms. Zucchini blossoms, flowers, or squash blossoms are great, but they’re flowers, so I’d have noticed if they were in my taco, which they were not.

The chorizo taco is served with Chihuahua cheese, onion, and cilantro; it’s a pretty straightforward and traditional taco. The chorizo was well flavored and thankfully, not too greasy. The mild and mellow flavor of the cheese soothed the tongue of the spice of the sausage.

Finally, the carnitas de puerco taco is braised pork, chile de arbol, cabbage, onion, cilantro, and toasted peanuts. This was the least-balanced taco I tried. All of these items stacked on the fairly small corn tortilla made for quite the mouthful. The meat was crispy, which doesn’t make sense to me, as although braised meat is first seared, it’s then cooked in liquid for a long time, softening the texture. Perhaps this batch of meat was reheated on a flattop, thus creating more of a crusty, crisp texture; I really don’t know. With the addition of the chile de arbol, I thought the taco would be spicier, but was not. In fact, the only thing I did taste was salt. The cabbage didn’t taste like anything, and there weren’t any peanuts on my taco. There were plenty of red onions, though, and I ended up picking some of them off because there were too many.

On one of the occasions, I ordered the taco meal, which came with two tacos, a side of rice, pickled veggies, and pureéd (or refried?) black beans. The beans were smooth and lime-y. The acidity of the lime juice was a nice match for the fattier meat-tacos—chorizo and carnitas—but not necessary for the calabacitas taco. The rice was beautifully sculpted and golden-red in color, but was overcooked and mushy. The pickled veggies were nicely done and ripe with vinegar, but could have been cut smaller so that I didn’t have to fight to cut them.

On each of my two visits, I had the chips and salsa and the chips and traditional guacamole. The chips and salsa are served with Chihuahua cheese sprinkled on the house-made tortilla chips, and two small containers of salsa on the side. The salsa is served warm, that is, heated up in temperature, which is atypical. The salsa is spicy without being inedible. The chips are pretty good, too. The cheese on the chips, though, was unnecessary, as it doesn’t melt or stay on top. Most of the cheese ended up in the bottom of the chip basket. The guacamole—ordered separately—was really good. It was smooth and really acidic, making it a great topping for the fried chips. The flavor of lime was strong, and because it was also found in the black beans, it tied the meal flavors together.

I did also ask for some hot salsa, because I really enjoy spicy things. The waitress brought out a habanero salsa and one made with chile de arbol, and both were damn spicy. I found them OK to eat, but others at my table found them to be too spicy as they masked (or scorched) the flavors of their food (and other salsa ingredients).

No dinner is complete without a sweet finish at the end (in my humble opinion) and I ordered a slice of the flourless chocolate cake. The cake was a very thin layer on the bottom, upon which was a large amount of chocolate mousse. This was all topped with a very thin layer of chocolate ganche. The entire thing was chocolately, no doubt, but the cake was overpowered by the mousse. The mousse was thick and creamy—it was really dense, but maintained a light mouthfeel. The best part of this cake was the chocolate ganache on top: it was buttery, smooth, and deliciously rich.

A friend and I also decided to treat ourselves to their dessert beverage (see photo above), the Ladies Best Friend. Aside from the ridiculous (and grammatically incorrect; should be Lady’s Best Friend, no?) title, the drink was indulgent. Basically, it’s champagne topped with Godiva dark chocolate liquor and Chambord (raspberry liquor). We asked them to split it into two glasses and were delighted when the champagne flutes arrived with the dark, luscious liquid inside. At first whiff, it’s all Chambord, but as you drink it, the chocolate is revealed. The effervescence of the champagne helps to move things around a little, and it’s definitely a drink that can be subbed for a dessert. The bottom of the drink was all chocolately goodness; whether it’s the nature and weight of the liquors, or just poor mixing, I’m not sure. I didn’t care too much, because it was like slowly eating a raspberry truffle: chocolate, raspberry filling, chocolate finish.

What about the margaritas, you ask? Well, the lime margaritas are good, without being too sweet. They’re on the rocks, and their well tequila is a step up from other places. I sampled the pumpkin margarita—now on seasonal special—and that was tequila with pumpkin pureé and some spice mixed in. It was actually really good, but it was quite sweet and I’m certain if I had put a few of them away, I’d deeply regret it the next morning. Lime margaritas are only $4 on Sundays, which is a damn good deal and a damn good way to start or end your week.

Wedge has the ambiance to keep me in my seat for a few hours. It’s a great place to linger over a few drinks and some shared tacos. With their weekly deals, you’re bound to find a time and menu that suits your tastes and your budget.

Editor’s Note: Wedge will celebrate one year of business this Thursday—that’s tomorrow—with $6 apple cider margaritas and $6 taco dinners. There will also be Patron girls serving up free shots of XO Patron and Rumchata. 

Wedge Tequila Bar & Grill is open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Find them on Facebook, or stop by at 415 N. Neil Street, Champaign. 

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