One of the best things about visiting my daughters in Arlington, VA is that there are so many trendy restaurants to choose from. One of my favorites is Taco Bamba, a fast-paced, casual taqueria chain that offers some of the best tacos in the Washington, DC area, at surprisingly non-DC prices.
Each of its six locations offers two lists of tacos. Tradicionales are classics like carnitas, barbacoa, al pastor, and birria (here, goat), while the Nuestros menu showcases original creations with fun names inspired by the neighborhood.
At Taqueria Ballston just around the corner from my daughters apartment, Taco El Pollo Rico pays homage to the local Peruvian restaurant of the same name (and the Latin American heritage of chef / owner of Taco Bamba Victor Albisu ) with a filling of Peruvian-ish chicken, mashed green pepper, aioli aji amarillo, salsa criolla, serrano pepper and crispy potato.
It’s good, but my absolute favorite – and the taco I can’t help but think of – is One Night in Bangkok. The seared shrimps are served with a spicy chorizo larb in a flour tortilla and garnished with mint, basil, chili peppers and crispy onions.
Lucky for me – and for you – Chef Albisu agreed to share the recipe, so I don’t have to drive four hours to eat one.
The ingredient list is long, but with the exception of the lemongrass stalk, everything can be found at your local grocery store. To quickly marinate sliced Fresno peppers, simply bring 1 cup of white wine vinegar, ½ cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt, then pour the brine over the peppers and let cool.
The recipe makes more larb sauce than you’ll need for six tacos, but don’t worry – you’ll want to lay it over grilled, shredded chicken, beef, or whatever lends itself to Thai flavors.
ONE NIGHT IN BANGKOK TACO
1 piece of lemongrass, minced
1 tablespoon of fresh lime juice
¼ bunch of mint, chopped (about ¼ cup)
4 Thai or Italian basil leaves, chopped
¼ bunch of cilantro, chopped (about ¼ cup)
1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
½ tablespoon of orange juice
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
12 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 to 8 Thai or Italian basil leaves
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons pickled red Fresno pepper or other spicy pickled pepper
1 serrano pepper, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons of shallots or crispy onions
Prepare the larb sauce: place the minced serrano pepper, green onion and lemongrass in a medium bowl. Add the soy sauce, lime juice, fish sauce and sugar. Mix well to incorporate the sugar.
Add the chopped herbs, grated ginger, grated garlic and orange juice to a bowl and stir to combine. Set aside while you prepare the tacos.
Prepare the tacos: In a sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of cooking oil over medium-high heat. Season the shrimp with a little salt and pepper, or whatever spices you like and, once the oil is hot, add them to the pan. Cook, 1 to 2 minutes per side, until the shrimp are completely opaque. Remove from the pan and set aside.
In the same pan, add the chorizo and cook for about 5 minutes, breaking it into crumbs until cooked through.
Pour the cooked chorizo into a bowl. Add the cooked shrimp. Add ¼ cup of the sauce to the larb and mix until the meat and shrimp are well coated.
Add the mint, basil and cilantro leaves to the bowl, gently tear them with your fingers and mix into the mixture. Give it a taste. Add more sauce to the larb if desired.
With a small amount of oil, toast your tortillas in a skillet over medium-high heat on both sides until the tortilla is warm and pliable.
Divide the chorizo-shrimp-larb mixture evenly between your tortillas. Top the tacos with sliced green onions, pickled pepper, sliced serranos and crispy shallots.
– Recipe by Victor Albisu, chef / owner of Taco Bamba.
McKay is on staff at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where she writes and takes photos of food. She can be found on Twitter @gtmckay.