My uncle has a dog named Madison who can do many things. She can bark on command, roll over, play dead and even put her toys in a basket. She also chews on furniture and rips apart pillows. She is unruly, as every house guest whom she has pounced on would attest. Bad Dog Taqueria in the Emory Village reminds me of Madison.
Co-owners Tracy Mitchell and Bardo Arroyave’s first foray into the restaurant business takes aim at Emory students with ambitiously pan-ethnic tacos and a $2.99 price tag. A liquor license is on its way, and Bad Dog accepts Eagle Dollars. The restaurant has “student-friendly” written all over it, and on paper and in theory, the concept is a knockout. On the plate, though, the food is not.
Bad Dog, where the now-closed Sprouts once was, opened at the end of May with intentions to remind students of home — wherever home might be — through food, according to Mitchell. This explains Bad Dog’s use of Korean BBQ pork belly, slow roasted brisket and samosas: like Emory, Bad Dog connects with Korea, India, the South and everywhere else between a flour tortilla. Recreating flavors from home, though, goes far beyond duplicating ingredients or copying recipes. It’s about execution and, as Bad Dog might call it, seoul, neither of which Bad Dog’s tacos possess.
Tacos such as the Evita (flank steak with fried yucca and a chimichurri sauce), Snooki (spicy tomato ground beef ragu with queso fresco) and Miss Saigon (filet mignon, jasmine rice) are far less interesting than their names. Evita’s chimichurri sauce is primarily bland olive oil. The Snooki is a pantry of ingredients away from savory, and Miss Saigon could use a hit of napalm, or anything with heat or character.
Character is also what the décor is short on. The inside is as plain as it is cramped, white tables, which are often as empty as the giant, red brick wall behind the counter. It feels as if little has been done to rid the space of Sprouts and create a vibe solely for Bad Dog. There is no vibe, rather, and like Sprouts, the restaurant has a tendency to feel hollow.
The best taco is “Tastes Like Chicken,” a plantain-encrusted chicken breast with cilantro sauce and jalapenos. It’s straightforward and delicious. After that, it’s back down the hill. I assume “Uncle Morty” (slow-roasted brisket with grilled onions and a “special sauce”) is southern-inspired, but I must wonder from which part. The brisket is a confused misfire of seasonings, while the “special sauce” drowns the taco in a pool of watery misery.
Tacos and vegetarians hardly get along, but Bad Dog offers two meatless choices. Both are disasters. “Chickpeas in a Pod” sounds cute but isn’t, as the desert-dry chickpea croquettes are more like mangled bits with flavors that would confuse even the Korean owners of Falafal King across the street. Meanwhile, the Indian-inspired “Bollywood” taco is baby food. Period.
Bad Dog Taqueria suffers from what so many lesser Asian restaurants often rely on in America: an unfiltered desire to please everyone. The restaurant that serves sushi, kung pao chicken and cheese pizza rarely pans out well because in its effort to offer everything, they are good at nothing. Like Madison, they can do many tricks, but are bottom-line bad.
Bad Dog’s tricks are, at best, childish, as so many of its tacos make more sense without the taco. A recent special of short ribs, rosemary mashed potatoes and a lavender-infused demi-glace — all in a taco, mind you — is a testament to a lack of imagination and poor culinary judgment. Just because it fits in a taco doesn’t mean it should be there. And then there was the mac and cheese taco, too. Execution aside, these are all textural nightmares.
For the Emory Village and for the Emory student body, Bad Dog Taqueria is a disappointing groan. Three months into opening, the place needs a leash to reel in its ethnic ambitions and redirect its attention away from culinary brain farts to more fundamentally delicious tacos.
As published in the Emory Wheel: http://bit.ly/oodRoP
Bad Dog Taqueria
1579 North Decatur Rd NE