Restaurant review: The truck stops here; Mojo Tago serves fun and fusion-y taco truck-style food and good drinks

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Stepping into Mojo Tago in Powell, I thought “I’ve seen this all before.”

There was the menu promising craft beers plus inexpensive and fun, taco truck-style food spun into “fusion cuisine.” There was the splashy atmosphere, the rock-and-roll soundtrack and the branding puns. The overall implicit promise is: Nothing will be taken too seriously here, except a commitment that patrons will be entertained and fed well, and on the cheap.

Walking past Mojo’s to-go counter — which mimics the facade of a taco truck (and so echoes Mojo’s meals-on-wheels genesis) — I settled into a repurposed church pew seat. I smiled at the reclaimed wood, tangerine walls, naked light bulbs, drink specials written on a butcher paper roll, and cabana-style bar with TVs beaming ESPN. Then I steeled myself for what I’ve practically come to expect from kitschy, Mexican-esque restaurants — wonky and sugary cocktails plus not-served-hot tacos.

I didn’t get that. In a happy turn of events, Mojo kept most of its promises.

A mango habanero margarita special ($9) was focused and refreshing. The fresh lime and Cointreau-driven house margarita (Mojorita, $7) was even better. For a kick, try it with jalapeno-infused tequila ($1 upcharge).

From the chips and salsa selection ($2-$3 each; chips come in brown paper bags), the punny “Macheesmo” is decent queso dip. Mojo’s lime-brightened, garlicky, creamy and pleasant “avocado salsa” doesn’t call itself guacamole, so it has a semantic alibi for not being chunky or including cilantro. Other members of the worthy dip bunch are the tangy, thick and punchy tomatillo salsa and the fruity, garlicky and tingly house tomato.

All tacos are $3 and arrive double-wrapped in warm and good, locally made Koki’s soft corn tortillas. Expect plenty of filings and flavor, if not much nuance.

Mojo’s obvious influences from the prominent L.A. mobile food movement (itself a result of Southern California’s melting pot culture) pop up often. For instance, Mojo’s Korean BBQ tacos riff on similar snacks made famous by Roy Choi and his Kogi BBQ taco trucks.

Mojo’s version pits potent pickled onions against chunks of seared, tender beef drenched in a (bulgogi-like) sweet, slightly spicy and salty, soy sauce-based marinade. Cabbage adds ballast plus funky, raw contrast.

The amusingly named Kung Powell Shrimp likewise hybridizes Asian and Mexican flavors. A trio of small shrimp bathed in a spicy and tangy sauce arrives covered in crushed peanuts. They’re OK.

But the Classic Ensenada Fish taco is one of the better local renditions of the Baja mainstay. Its crunchy beer batter makes it a winner. Freshness, cabbage and a rich-yet-spicy “tomatillo arbol crema” make it a champion.

Mojo’s warm, juicy and tender carnitas are filled with pulled pork sporting a little griddled crispness. Cinnamon, grilled pineapple chunks and a barbecue-type sauce lend it enjoyable Caribbean accents.

My veggie taco was the only outright disappointment. It wasn’t awful — I appreciated its sautéed onions and peppers and queso fresco. But with unseasoned black beans as a main component, it was terminally bland.

Since opening on April 19, Mojo’s offerings have been pared down to just tacos (its online menu still lists soups and small plates). But if you ask, Mojo will gladly make you a quesadilla ($8) or bowl ($7) with any taco protein.

Based on the on-target chicken quesadilla (seared meat chunks, garlic, fresh lime, avocado, melted cheese and spicy pico) and the aggressive Korean BBQ bowl (sliced fresh romaine, fluffy cilantro rice, flavorful meat, pickled onions and black beans), I’d say they’re solid options.

The same could be said about Mojo. Though hardly a “destination restaurant,” if you’re near Powell and are seeking a place that won’t break its promises of fun food and good drinks, Mojo is a solid choice.

Photos by Meghan Ralston

Mojo Tago

24 Grace Dr., Powell