I first went to EMPIREHOUSE Urban Plate last year with Nicole. We sat outside, starting with the tator tots while we looked over the menu. I ordered the roasted veggie tacos. She had the Cuban chicken, based on the waiter’s recommendation. The tator tots were delicious, especially with the garlic aioli, mixed with Sriracha (Nicole, a spicy woman, requested the fullness of their hot sauce varieties be brought to our table). The veggie tacos won me over, and even though Nicole did not fall in quite as much love with her Cuban as our waiter had, the fact that he actually removed it from the bill because it did not meet her preferences was impressive enough that I was happy to come back again, and I have, several times – for my birthday and for nights out with my friends.
A bit ago Marky and I headed out for an extreme Saturday night on the town – yes, dinner and the used book store. We know how to live. I decided to take him to EMPIREHOUSE because with its New American/comfort food cuisine, I knew he’d find something he would like. Plus, the kid loves tator tots (who doesn’t?), and this heaping plate was sure to make his night. We walked over and decided to sit inside since it was so cold out. Our waitress was an adorably spunky hispter (I know all three of the words can equal annoying, but somehow combined, she wasn’t). The restaurant usually is not crowded, which I think is weird because it has a pretty cool vibe, with its trendy yet vintage, almost farmhouse decor and the food is good, but I find after 9:30pm, lots of the restaurants in Hillcrest, especially west of 5th, are not full (and I always think it’s strange). I digress. We were obviously seated right away and told the day’s specials. I ordered the tots to start and asked for a bottle of Sriracha.
I looked over the menu for a minute, thinking I might stray from the norm. There are actually a lot of options at Empire House for a vegetarian. All the burgers can be ordered veggie and there is hummus, mac and cheese, grilled cheese, salads, a roasted veggie sandwich, and the tacos. Ultimately, I fell back on what I was craving – roasted veggie tacos.
Our tots came out, and my favorite thing about them is their perfect texture. They are well-seasoned and have a true crunch without ever being greasy. The plate looks heaping when it comes out, but it doesn’t take long to get through it since they’re rather addictive. The ketchup is house-made, but it’s not vegetarian – it has Worcestershire in it, but the garlic aioli is delicious. I love garlic, but some aiolis just don’t get it right. This one has the spot-on ratio of kick to tang to sweetness, which, of course, can be pumped up with a hot sauce of your choice. And as this photo proves, Mark was in heaven.
Our food took a little longer than expected to come out, but nothing extreme. Never ones to disappoint, my tacos looked as good as ever. The street tacos are small, as street tacos are, with double flour tortillas for each of the three, filled with roasted veggies (peppers, yellow squash, zucchini), cilantro slaw, diced tomato, pickled red onion, cotija cheese, and a white sauce. There is so much flavor wrapped up in these babies. The pickling is what really sets them apart to me. There’s are notes of citrus that brighten up the whole plate, and there’s a textural combination of soft and crunchy to meet all your needs. The sauce is silky and melds together the flavors of all the other ingredients with a hint of sour, again, met with some sweetness. Really, the chef here hit it with these tacos, at least for my taste. The tacos are served with black beans and yummy garlic rice, so there is plenty of food. In fact, if you get an appetizer, you’ll probably be full and want to stop halfway through, or as we say in my house, “Eat through the pain.”
We skipped dessert, and our bill came out to under $25, which included, tots, one soda, a burger, and the taco plate. Not bad. This is a great place for a big group of people to come or if you are a vegetarian eating with meat-eaters because there really is something for most, and with some adjustments here and there, vegans could be satisfied here as well. EMPIREHOUSE is located at 127 University Avenue, between First and Third. It is open Monday through Friday from 11 am to 11 pm and on weekends from 7am to 11 pm.