As previously stated, the Greenville area is experiencing something of a Taco Boom. It’s becoming harder to find a niche within this food type. As the recent closing of both Local Taco locations in Greenville shows us, if you don’t innovate or have good quality food and service that’s consistent over the long term, you’ll become another taco casualty.
Willy Taco, started in Spartanburg, SC in 2014, became enough of a local favorite that the owners decided to open their second location in Greenville. Housed in what had been a feed and seed store since 1934 at the intersection of East Washington Street and Laurens Road, Willy Taco invested somewhere in the seven figures to restore, modernize, and “Willy-fy” the mainstay building to turn it into a taco, tortas, and tequila palace. Is this another taco flash in the pan or does Willy Taco – Feed & Seed have a chance to outstay the old tenants of its venerable building?
The interior of Willy Taco – Feed & Seed pays tribute to its history. There’s a farmhouse chic appeal to the decor, while still having that Mexican flair that goes along with the concept. Bare Edison bulbs help to illuminate some tables, while worn reclaimed doors hang above to hide the HVAC pipes, while still allowing for a glimpse of the original slats and beams that make up the frame of the building.
In its first few weeks, Willy Taco has been extremely popular with waits of up to two hours for a table at peak times. When walking into the restaurant, there’s a buzz about the place. From the servers taking care of customers to patrons trying to see the t-shirts worn by staff that meld the Willy Taco brand with pop culture logos from the likes of The Wu-Tang Clan and Run D.M.C.
To start the meal, we ordered a Mexican Ashtray, a Super Fresh, and a Coconut Lime. Ever since I first saw a picture of the Mexican Ashtray, I was intrigued. A Tecate can with a salted rim, lime juice, habanero hot sauce, and a black pepper floater all in the top of the can before you open it sounds weird, but somehow it works. Even after the hot sauce has made its way down into the beer, the residue still remains in the top to work on your olfactory senses as you drink. It’s a different experience than the normal Mexican lager with lime but one worth trying to see if your palate is up to the challenge. The Super Fresh was just that, super fresh. Billed as a stripped down margarita, it certainly was that, but I felt it needed an herb or something muddled into the drink. This might be because it reminded me a lot of a mojito due to the simpleness of the ingredients. The Coconut Lime was a sweet, pina colada type drink that went down super easy. It wouldn’t be hard to have a few of those too quickly.
You can’t eat Mexican style food without chips. I do have issues with Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurants not giving you chips for free, but that’s another issue for another day. The Tres Amigos is chips with three different dips: queso blanco, gringo guacamole, and a choice of the seasonal salsa or their regular mild salsa. The seasonal salsa was a granny smith and cilantro salsa, which we opted for.I applaud the choice of the blue corn chips over the normal white or yellow ones. The granny smith was by far our favorite. It was simple with tons of flavor and a great balance of sweetness and acidity. The guacamole was good and fresh, but nothing that would knock your socks off. The queso, while having a good flavor, was grainy and didn’t have that smooth, silky mouthfeel that you expect from a Mexican queso. It seemed as if the cheese might have seized up at one point and was revived, leaving the grains of the seized cheese in the batch. I’m hoping this is a one time thing and not how the queso normally is.
There were multiple tacos ordered and I can tell you that all tacos at Willy Taco are not created equal. Between the Carolina Q, Mother Clucker, Patagonia Steak, Chili Willy Shrimp, and Southern Tide, the two best are definitely the Chili Willy Shrimp and Patagonia Steak. All of the tacos were bursting with their fillings, the tortillas about to split at the seams. The Patagonia Steak is a perfect balance of flavors. The steak, frizzled onions, and chipotle ranch give depth and richness while letting the chimichurri and charred tomatillos cut through it for that welcome burst of brightness and acidity. The Chili Willy Shrimp is much the same way, letting each ingredient speak for itself. The Carolina Q is a good barbecue pork taco and might be served better being turned into a torta. The Mother Clucker was a disappointment. Aiming to be a mix between a chicken philly and chicken BLT, the flavors muddle and miss the mark. The chicken was bland and had somewhat of a mealy quality. This may have been due to a lack of moisture within the taco as there’s no cream or sauce, but only queso and guacamole. If it was the same grainy queso that was used in the chips, that could have compounded the problem. The only memorable flavor was bacon, as it overpowered any subtlety that the taco was meant to have.
One of the other stars of the show was the chimichanga. This was wonderful, fried goodness. The queso that was on the chimichanga wasn’t grainy, or at least I couldn’t tell that it was. The ingredients were perfectly situated inside the fried tortilla purse to evenly distribute the flavors, leading to perfect bite after perfect bite. Just look at this cross section:
It’s interesting to note that the same type of chicken used in the chimichanga is used in the Mother Clucker. In this dish, it had none of the issues that it has within the taco. That could be due to different batches of meat or that it just lends itself to this type of application better than a taco.
And yes, Willy Taco has sides. While the Mexican Street Corn was a fine standard rendition, the rice and rancheros needed some work. They’re a tad bland and the rice was undercooked. Some grains were chewy while others perfectly cooked. This made for an uneven bite. The jalapeno cheddar grits were the standout. Smooth and creamy with enough spice for you to take notice, but not enough to blow you back. The frizzled onions added a crispy texture and a sweetness needed to balance out the heat and creamy grits. I could probably eat a bowl of them and they do offer that option in their Nitty Gritty Bowl which I’ll have to try when I revisit.
Willy Taco – Feed & Seed has only been open around a month and yet, it’s already made its mark on the Greenville restaurant scene. The atmosphere is fun, the food is good and reasonably priced. They offer more than just tacos, but don’t offer so much food where you get ordering anxiousness. There’s still a few kinks to work out, but nothing that’s not easily fixed or just happened to be a one-off. While I wouldn’t wait two hours to eat at Willy Taco with so many other taco and Mexican options available, I’ll be returning. I have no doubt that it will be at the Feed & Seed for a long time to come.
Willy Taco – Feed & Seed
217 Laurens Road
Greenville, SC 29607
Tacos: $3.50 – $6.00
Other Entrees: $8.50 – $11 plus add ons