Inspired by beach culture, bartaco rides taco wave into Madison
A playful, coastal-themed taco and small plate restaurant from a small chain founded in 2010 in Westchester County, New York, is expected to open Monday at Hilldale Shopping Center.
The small “b” bartaco has 19 locations in 11 states including Connecticut, Florida and Tennessee. The Madison location is its first in Wisconsin.
The restaurant is in a new space next to University Bookstore, not far from Macy’s.
Sabato Sagaria, bartaco’s president, said the company figured it’s been so cold in Madison, people wanted “a warm up” with bartaco’s beachy feel. Bartaco has found success in other college towns such as Boulder, Colorado, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, he said.
The restaurant offers “coastal cuisine that’s inspired by those great beach cultures that are in South America, California, Mexico,” Sagaria said. “It’s really a mindset that’s carried through to the food. It’s not bound by one cuisine or border, which gives us a lot of leeway to experiment and explore.”
The menu is separated into tacos, “not tacos” and rice bowls.
Taco fillings go in 4-inch corn tortillas or Bibb lettuce shells. (Commonly, small tortillas are 6- or 8-inches.) Tacos are priced at $2.50 and $3.50 with choices like mojo pork carnitas, portobello with queso fresco, chicken chorizo, ancho-crusted tuna, seared swordfish, glazed pork belly and roasted duck.
The tacos are eaten in three or four bites, Sagaria said. “What that does, it allows you to try a lot of different flavors almost in a tapas style, which is fun for sharing. There’s a really low bar to entry, for trying a new dish or a new ingredient or new flavor.”
“Not taco” choices include chopped salad; beet, kale and goat cheese salad; chicken soup; pork posole; fried plantains; tuna poke and duck quesadillas.
“It’s fresh, bright flavors,” Sagaria said about the menu. “Some are familiar and then there are also some that are unique, which is a lot of fun for us and our guests.”
The Madison location has seating for 136 inside, and when weather permits, 56 on its patio. It won’t all be traditional seating, Sagaria said, noting that the restaurant will have a lounge area with a fireplace.
Bartaco was born out of Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant, and is its less expensive, more street food counterpart. The two are operated by the same restaurant group and sometimes paired side by side.
The restaurant chain was founded by Sasa Mahr-Batuz and Andrew Pforzheimer. “We try and have very common names for all of our folks,” Sagaria said. “That’s why I got the job.”
In 2007, local favorite Pasqual’s opened at Hilldale, serving tacos and other southwest fare. Sagaria calls it “exciting” to be in the same shopping area. “One thing about our food is that it’s not authentic Mexican, it’s not Tex-Mex. What we’ve seen is that it allows for multiple concepts in ... the taco segment to flourish.”
Bartaco won’t be going “head to head” with Pasqual’s, Sagaria said, adding that his restaurant is known for blending Asian and South American flavors in a complementary way. “So it allows guests to try the stuff that Pasqual’s does great. But also, try something that’s new. So we’re excited about that.”