There’s something to taco ’bout at Brookhaven’s Pure Taqueria
STORY: Rebecca Cha
PHOTOS: Sara Hanna
As the hot summer sun bled through the blinds yet another day, I longed for a proper vacation from the unrelenting heat, hustle and traffic of my neighborhood. Who would’ve guessed I’d find a spot of relief by simply crossing over Peachtree Dunwoody from Buckhead into Brookhaven? Driving along the arboreous stretch of Johnson Ferry Road, one catches sight of a white rooftop bar in the distance, like an oasis. Welcome to Pure Taqueria. The centerpiece of the Brookleigh Marketplace, Brookhaven’s outpost conjures a most welcoming vibe. With its industrial brick and lighting, clean lines and floor-to-ceiling windows, it feels like an old, undiscovered Tribeca loft. No wonder it’s a multigenerational mecca, where grandfolks, singles, parents and tweens mingle as one big, happy community.
Let’s go back to that breezy, beachy rooftop bar. Arrive at twilight, grab one of the canvas cushioned seats (they fill up fast) and cozy up to the well-curated drink menu. While there are plenty of local and Mexican beers and specialty drinks, I recommend the Skinny Margarita, an absolute misnomer if based solely on flavor. (I imagined a tasteless diet soda version of a real margarita, but how wrong I was.) If the pure taste of the Skinny doesn’t take you back to that one special night in Tijuana, the pepino diablo margarita will. Along with freshly pressed cucumber juice, muddled cilantro, lime and a pinch of fresh chile, it has just enough Tanteo jalapeño-infused tequila to keep things interesting.
I was strong-armed into ordering the queso con todo, but I’m glad I did. Deconstructed nachos? Sort of. Inverted fondue, more like. Shredded chicken, black beans, guacamole and chunky tomato salsa are buried treasure waiting to be unearthed from a bowl of queso gringo (white American cheese) with sturdy totopos (thick, gluten-free tortilla chips). If you prefer noshing on the lighter variety of chips (always free), there are dozens of $1.19 dailymade salsas to choose from, each highlighting a different chile or classic blend.
The queso blanco quesadillas with juicy, shredded white-meat chicken and gooey cheese wrapped in warm tortillas thrilled the kiddos at the table, while we adults shared the camarones a la parrilla, a menu “specialty” made with butterflied grilled shrimp atop salsa, guacamole and corn cakes. Though a bit of an inelegant mess, each individual component was fresh and well-prepared, but something about warm masa intermingling with increasingly warm salsas and guacamole proved better on paper than plate.
One of the best server recommendations was the cazuela bowl. I’m not a big fan of this particular millennial-era trend, but this was a bowl without pretense. Available in vegetarian style or with a choice of protein, the sizzling trio of peppers, onions and zucchini over black beans and piquant rice was flavor combining at its finest. We couldn’t resist also trying the coliflor taco, a meaty, smoky cumin- and turmeric-roasted cauliflower taco loaded with pumpkin-seed pesto and smoked cashew salsa (the latter made with dried chile de arbol, chipotle, morita and pequin). For all it promises, you’d think it would be a vegetarian masterpiece, but the sauces exhibited far more complexity and unctuous layered flavors than the main event.
We finished off another visit to Pure Taqueria with the torta de carne y chorizo, a meat lover’s pressed sandwich. Chunks of steak and chorizo, sliced ham and avocado, peppers and Chihuahua cheese all piled atop ciabatta; it’s a very ambitious sandwich. Whatever your feelings about messy Mexican, don’t pass up the accompanying hand-cut papas fritas. Tossed with sugar, lime zest, chile de arbol and cotija cheese, they are so crisp, hot and satisfying, you’ll be inspired to burn your bedside copy of Eat This, Not That! Dunk a few in the outstanding chile de arbol aioli and pronounce yourself an on-trend retro sensualist.
Café con postre, anyone? I’m not one to bicker about the use of Nespresso pods in restaurants, and after some exceptional tequilas and tacos, you may be motivated to order a double since Nespresso doesn’t disappoint. Thankfully, the same can be said for the desserts. The pastel de tres leches was so authentic, so porous, milk-heavy and rich with coconut, I almost forgot I was in Georgia. The desserts are billed as “scratch-made at the founder’s local artisan bakery” (Theo’s Brother’s Bakery up in Alpharetta), and next time we will definitely be trying the sweet plantanos fritos or sopapillas y chocolate.
But I’ve saved the best for last: The service team is pure cream of the crop. Everyone on the floor had a firm grasp on his or her responsibilities and performed them with Zen-like composure. All told, Pure Taqueria Brookhaven offers more than enough in the way of eats, treats and setting to satisfy even the most discerning diners.
3589 Durden Dr.,
Prices: Appetizers and taco platters: $4.79-$15.99. Classics, sandwiches and specialties: $8.49-$22.99. Desserts: $5.09-$8.49.
Recommended dishes: Skinny margarita, pepino diablo margarita, queso con todo, cazuela bowl, camarones a la parrilla, torta de carne y chorizo, pastel de tres leches.
Bottom line: A tight operation with a vacation vibe and on-point kitchen gives this Brookhaven Mexican eatery “destination” status. Bonus: There’s an egg-focused brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.