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Nicole Letts

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The secrets to Taqueria del Sol’s secret menu

Taqueria Del Sol 20th anniversary
You might recognize these dishes from Taqueria del Sol, but do you know what a “George” is?

Photograph by Hannah Feiten Photography

Over the past few years, my husband and I have become regulars at Taqueria del Sol’s Cheshire Bridge location. You can find us there, almost weekly, sitting at the bar chatting with manager George Trusler. He’s a character. You might know him as the stern yet sociable bartender reminding you about the rules of ordering at the bar: it is first-come, first-serve, and yes, there is a wait list. IDs are a must, no matter how old you might look. Sure, you can order to go, but only four items or less per ticket. What Trusler might not remind you about while mixing your house margarita is Taqueria del Sol’s secret menu.

Trusler, who started as a waiter, has been a fixture at Taqueria del Sol for 25 years, and for those who know and love him, it comes as no surprise that he has a secret menu dish he named after himself. “I would just go back to the kitchen and put some rice, charros beans, and turnip greens in a cup and eat it, usually standing behind the counter.” People started noticing Trusler’s dish, and it wasn’t long before they were requesting it themselves. “I would have to write out TG (turnip greens) slash CB (charros beans) slash rice. So one day I just wrote my name on a ticket and showed the kitchen. I said, “When you see this, that’s what it is.”

Soon, the other Taqueria del Sol locations around the city began taking similar requests. The George paved the way for additional secret items over the years, and each item is available at every location.

Taqueria del Sol Secret Menu
A fried chicken taco salad with fried shell can be ordered at any Taqueria del Sol by request.

Photograph courtesy of Nicole Letts

One favorite is a chicken taco salad served in a fried flour bowl with a base of lettuce, carrots, and red cabbage, then topped with fried chicken strips, ranch dressing, cotija cheese, guacamole, and salsa fresca. Patrons can also order the salad with roasted chicken, brisket, or pork, and can sub the ranch dressing for the house Italian instead. “We won’t do fish, and we won’t do refried beans,” Trusler says. “That just doesn’t sound good.” You can also order the salad in a bowl sans fried tortilla.

 

For the Tex-Mex low-carbers among us, you can order any taco or enchilada without a tortilla or served in a cup. There are also a few secrets to modified ordering as well. Let’s say you don’t eat pork but are salivating over the Memphis taco, “You order a Memphis taco “sub” brisket,” says Trusler.

If you’re like me, no Taqueria del Sol fish taco is complete without coleslaw. If, also like me, you’ve been ordering a fish taco with an entire side of coleslaw just to dab some on top, Trusler says you’re doing that wrong, too. “If you want to put a little spoonful of slaw on your fish tacos, it’s “fish add slaw,” not fish and some slaw, because then you’re going to get a bowl of slaw.”

Taqueria del Sol Secret Menu
Order “bean dip” to mix these two popular sides.

Photograph courtesy of Nicole Letts

There are tricks for chips, salsa, and cheese dip too. If you order guacamole or cheese dip and would like to add one salsa instead of buying the trio, you can add your salsa of choice for a dollar. You can also get the cheese dip with or without jalapenos, or with jalapenos on the side, or you can order “bean dip” which is refried beans smothered in cheese dip.

And note, at Taqueria del Sol, it’s cheese dip not queso, Trusler stresses. “Queso just means cheese, and I know that Americanized restaurants have started just calling it queso, but queso means cheese. It could be any kind of cheese, block, shredded, or melted.”

Taqueria del Sol Secret Menu
The “Natilla,” a secret dessert at Taqueria del Sol

Photograph courtesy of Nicole Letts

But perhaps the true gem of Taqueria del Sol’s secret menu is the Natilla, a light and creamy vanilla custard dessert thickened with cornstarch, and topped with cinnamon and a chocolate syrup “S” to symbolize Sundown Cafe, the shuttered parent restaurant from which Taqueria del Sol was born. “We have dessert all the time. We may run out if we get a rush on them, but we keep twelve or fifteen total made per day for lunch and dinner.”

So why all the secrets and systems? “It’s kind of become something special for those “in the know,” Tusler says. “We just haven’t changed it, and we’re not going to. We actually did put a sign, a little picture of the chicken taco salad at the registers when we first started doing it. I think we let him stay up there four weeks and then got rid of it. And now they just know.”

Bright pink ruby chocolate is hitting Atlanta’s dessert menus

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Aziza Ruby Chocolate
Ruby chocolate krembo at Azia

Photograph by Angie Webb

You may have noticed an curious addition to Atlanta’s dessert menus recently: ruby chocolate. Heralded by Belgian chocolate manufacturer Callebaut as the world’s fourth chocolate (and currently available in the U.S. under an FDA temporary marketing permit), this rose-colored confection has a strong chance of becoming the next viral ingredient to fill Instagram feeds. It is millennial pink, after all.

Ruby chocolate is made from pink cocoa beans and has a subtle, berry-forward flavor that ends on a slightly tangy note. But it’s not flavored like strawberry, raspberry, pomegranate or any other fruit. No coloring or flavorings are added; it’s just pink.

Since it was introduced in the U.S. last year, it’s caught on among pastry professionals including several prolific chefs here in Atlanta. Frances Coffey, pastry chef and owner of The Pastry Depot, a pastry product retail store on Atlanta’s west side, says the shop sold out of its first order immediately. “Chefs are curious about it because of the flavor profile, or they think the color is fake.”

Ruby Chocolate Tiny Lou's
Ruby Forest at Tiny Lou’s

Photograph courtesy of Tiny Lou's

Tiny Lou’s pastry chef, Claudia Martinez, debuted her ruby dessert mid-July, and a version of the dessert has been on the menu ever since. Currently, guests will find the “Ruby Forest,” a play on a black forest cake with ruby ganache, cherry sorbet, and toasted pistachios. “Ruby chocolate is so good on its own. I didn’t want to manipulate it that much,” she says.

Like Martinez, Christian Castillo, pastry chef at Atlas in Buckhead, has also spent the past few months experimenting with ruby chocolate. “It’s even more intriguing because it’s a new thing. It has a different aroma, a different taste. It’s very earthy,” he explains. Both chefs were quick to point out that innovation in the pastry world, even beyond Atlanta, feels lacking. A new product like this one allows chefs like Castillo and Martinez to develop their own recipes instead of trying to reinvent the pastry wheel.

Castillo’s ruby concept, dubbed simply, “Ruby,” is on the menu at the Garden Room, Atlas’ popular sister restaurant. Guests will delight in his playful techniques like a bubbly pink aerated ruby chocolate foam with preserved cherries and ruby ganache.

As early adopters, Martinez and Castillo are in a unique position to be able to introduce the ingredient to patrons, as well as other chefs. “I always say that, we have responsibilities as professionals. For me, I think it’s a great opportunity to actually open up and try new things,” says Castillo. “I think the chocolate culture is still growing. There’s a lot more going on besides milk, dark, and white. Where does it come from? Is it nutty? Is it fruity? Chocolate is like wine and coffee.”

Other Atlanta restaurants are experimenting, too. Aziza pastry chef Zibaa Sammander recently added a ruby chocolate krembo to her dessert menu. A labneh mousse filled with cranberry compote sits on a disc of dense, dark chocolate cake and is glazed with crisp, ruby chocolate. It’s served alongside passionfruit curd and pearls and Decimal Place Farm chevre ice cream.

This year’s Anne Irwin Emerging Artist Show will be the biggest one yet

Anne Irwin Fine Art Emerging Artists Show
A piece from artist Allison James

Photograph courtesy of Anne Irwin Fine Art

Buckhead’s Anne Irwin Fine Art has been a distinguished art destination for more than 30 years. While collectors turn to Irwin’s expertise and artful eyes regularly, perhaps the largest draw of the year is the annual Emerging Artist Show. Beginning August 2, the event will showcase works by more than 40 artists, its largest such show to date.

Irwin says the exhibition began as an opportunity for mentorship. “I really started it because I wanted to help young artists understand what it was like to be in a gallery,” she says. “Most artists want to be in a gallery, but they’re not sure what the steps are, or what it means to be in one.”

Anne Irwin Fine Art Emerging Artists Show
A piece from artist Lindsey Luna Tucker

Photograph courtesy of Anne Irwin Fine Art

“[It’s important] for all of these emerging artists to get in front of a better client base, and a more serious client base, than they might be able to on their own,” says gallery director Emily West. More than 300 applicants were combed down to just 43 for this year’s event.

While gallerists can sometimes seem intimidating, Irwin is anything but, particularly during the Emerging Artist Show. All work on display is 24”x24” or smaller, and a majority of pieces are priced well under $1,000. “I just talked to somebody this morning who’s bringing in four 24”x24”s. Those that are going to be $625,” West says. “I think a lot of things are even going to be under $500.”

Anne Irwin Fine Art Emerging Artists Show
A piece from artist Carla Gignilliat

Photograph courtesy of Anne Irwin Fine Art

With landscapes, figure studies, still lifes, abstracts, and more, the exhibition is also an ideal opportunity for new collectors. “It’s important for us to get people in on the ground level, and provide some opportunity for them to start collecting at a younger age,” West says. “If we have someone coming in who’s in their late twenties, and they start collecting at that age, then it’s our intention, and hope, that they can grow with us.”

Longtime collectors are taking notice, too. “We’ve already had people come in saying, ‘Oh I’ve got this little space. When’s the Emerging Artist Show?’” Irwin says.

Anne Irwin Fine Art Emerging Artists Show
A piece from artist Cubby West Spain

Photograph courtesy of Anne Irwin Fine Art

Attendees can expect to see Atlanta artists such as Allison James (back for her second year), Joan Friedman, Carla Gignilliat, Annie Griffin, Lindsey Luna Tucker, Cubby West Spain, Erin Tapp, and Lindsay Von; but there will also be artists from around the country represented.

If you go: The Anne Irwin Fine Art Emerging Artist Show opens Friday, August 2 from 6-8 p.m. and will run through the entire month of August.

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