Do you hate pizza and tacos? No? Then think of someone who does. Do they also loathe cuddling, dislike the smell of hot chocolate, and, tellingly, spend a lot of time alone? Tazza Kitchen — with multiple locations in both Virginia and the Carolinas — banks on a dearth of pizza-and-taco haters who would shun the restaurant for its name, a portmanteau of “taco” and “pizza.”
Tazza Kitchen's Margherita Pizza
Wood-fired margherita pizza with fresh mozzarella and basil. (Photo by Beth Furgurson)
“Ta-” stands for tacos and “-zza” for pizza — not, as one might guess, the Italian or Spanish words for cup, “tazza” and “taza,” respectively, though suiting the restaurant with an Italian name wouldn’t have been inappropriate. Southern Italy clearly influences the Short Pump location. Notice the tiled dome of the pizza oven connecting the broad, rainbow-shaped bar to an open kitchen. One sultry evening, with a glass in hand of chilled Greco — an Italian white wine — we gave the quasi-Neapolitan margherita pizza a go. We pecked away at the puffy crust and thin center, which was delicious, though over-cheesed with calcified mozzarella instead of buffalo mozzarella, the fresh variety that slides lava-like with its own protected designation of origin.
In addition to pizza, vegetables jumped into the wood-burning oven that night; broccoli crumbled with Asiago and roasted garlic; asparagus draped with prosciutto; and nutty cauliflower; all benefited from a quick char (though my broccoli became mushy at the bottom of the dish). I drank Aglianico, a grippy Italian grape that quenched the cruciferous sides, and also contended with a sausage and honey pizza’s sweet and spicy tenor. Toes curled.
A Spanish name — Taza — could work here, too. The “taco” section of the dinner menu trots out farm veggies and roasted meats barely touched with slaw and sauce. Tacos come with proteins sourced from Virginia, and soft corn wrappers culled from Tortilleria San Luis on Quioccasin Road. Local suppliers head the menu. We wolfed down our dry-rubbed flat iron steak and chicken tacos with pico de gallo and chimichurri, though my husband picked the radish slices off of his. Lime-laced guacamole and flautas — saucy, cheesy stacks of chili and tortillas — flesh out the Baja peninsula-based starters.
Tazza Kitchen's Cheese Flautas
Cheese flautas with roasted poblano. (Photo by Beth Furgurson)
Tazza’s décor, a blend of Med-centric meets Mexi-casual, could host a Sunset magazine shoot. Herbs and wildflowers pop up from trim patio beds outside, and succulents in white rock rim the central banquette of the main dining room. Wine bottles line walls in both spaces. But, to be clear, the focus here is on food and drink, as well as dining companionship. It’s a large space, with Elliott Smith played at just the right volume. Leeway between tables allows for easy conversation, made all the more interesting over Sugar Skull tequila cocktails, a riff on a white margarita. (Downing 100 Sugar Skulls easily will be crossed off my bucket list.)
Sounds like a good time, yes? It is. Executive Chef Jared Dalby keeps the ingredients fresh and the plates unfussy. Taps and cans roll with the juggernaut that is Virginia craft beer. Service refreshes. The staff seems to want you to visit Tazza, no matter how busy they are. Reservations aren’t accepted, but the call-ahead policy of putting your name on the wait list via phone works well, and without the “I don’t have a crystal ball” comments callers usually hear in the background at restaurants that don’t take reservations.
At brunch, the bartender steps away from chipping ice to immediately check in on our just-served sausage and eggs, noting that the sausage was made with (phenomenal-tasting but overcooked) Rock Barn pork and liver. Another round of Bloody Marys reaches our table before the steam stops rising from the hash browns.
More shout-outs for Tazza: The brick-oven crab cakes with lumps of meat the size of quarters; the viridescent house salad that arrives vibrantly dressed; Linden winery and other vinous Virginia standouts; a stellar chocolate budino, described as “the best chocolate pudding ever,” topped with grassy olive oil and crunchy salt that hugs your mouth while you eat it.
Tazza Kitchen's Crab Cakes
Brick-oven crab cakes topped with pequin chili slaw. (Photo by: Beth Furgurson)
Tazza Kitchen's Chocolate Budino
Rich, creamy chocolate budino. (Photo by: Beth Furgurson)
Maybe we should forget that the restaurant is named Tazza and just call it Butter, because with its fifth location (Midlothian's Alverser Plaza) opening mid-July, this restaurant is on a roll.