Swanky's long-anticipated opening of a second Memphis location was finally realized on April 14th, and they wasted no time filling tables and tortillas. When I stopped by to check out their full-service dinner menu, the patio was packed and the scene inside was bustling.
Swanky's has used the full-service model in their Nashville location for a little over a year, and the new location in East Memphis is a hybrid of the fast-paced Carrefour location and the casual dining prototype in Nashville. The lunch crowd can still pop in for a quick trip through the burrito/taco/salad-bar line, but there is no wait staff until 4 p.m. At that point, the dinner crowd can choose between the famous Swanky's burrito bar and the new plate specials.
Salad bowls are the most popular item by far, according to owner Matt Wilson, but I encourage you to try the dinner entrées. Of particular note: the red snapper with a light mango salsa, tequila-lemon butter, roasted new potatoes, and grilled vegetables; the steak ranchero with chipotle mashed potatoes; tortas made with bread baked fresh each morning; and the ceviche shrimp served with paprika-dusted chips and habanero sauce.
As for why it took so long to get the second Memphis Swanky's up and running, Wilson says he lost a lot of time trying to retrofit the taco shop into the old Atlanta Bread Company digs.
"Once we pulled everything out, we realized how much work there was to be done," he explains.
That work included a complete remodeling of the interior, with new windows to lighten up the deep-set space and a kitchen twice the size of the Carrefour location to absorb some of Swanky's catering business.
A grand-opening party is set for Cinco de Mayo, when Wilson hopes to have tents and live music. But you don't have to wait until then. Swanky's is open Monday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and the bar stays open until midnight Monday through Saturday.
Swanky's Taco Shop, 4770 Poplar (730-0763)
When Los Compadres left their former location at 2617 Poplar, the future of the space seemed uncertain. At one point, a sign went up advertising "My Rancho" (which I imagine is Spanglish for "my ranch") only to be taken down a few weeks later with no replacement. Finally, a sign for El Toro Loco appeared, marking a second location for the Mexican bar and grill in addition to the one on Kirby Road.
After extensive renovation and additions, the space is much lighter and more open. Where the Los Compadres deck once sat is now an enclosed sunroom with big windows and walls decked in softer hues (no more yellow). They've also added a bar in the back of the room to keep your next frosty margarita no more than 20 feet away.
El Toro Loco's menu is your traditional ensemble of Mexican and Tex-Mex offerings. Mexican fish entrées typically involve tilapia or some other white fish, but El Toro Loco's additional choice of salmon is unique. The crisp, grilled salmon worked well with its accompanying vegetables and light salsa. El Toro Loco also serves molcajetes with Mexican cactus (served grilled, spines removed).
El Toro Loco is open Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
El Toro Loco, 2617 Poplar (458-4414)
By now you may have noticed that a certain Tex-Mex standard in Memphis is no more. Cozymel's in East Memphis has shut its doors for good. Food, Friends and Co., the owners of Cozymel's, could not be reached for comment, so I'll go ahead and say a few words: Cozymel's wasn't always the most authentic Mexican experience, but the patio was nice and the margaritas were on point, and for that it will be missed.