The first thing one sees at Yo Rita is a large cartoon picture of a scantily clad female that adorns the window. At first glance it looks more like a tattoo parlor than a gourmet taco shop. And one look at the menu, and it’s clear this isn’t your mama’s Mexican restaurant: “Vietnamese styled” tacos, grits, and a “fried chicken waffle thing,” are all served, (with some more traditional options). Yo Rita takes the format of a taco and runs with it, with results that are often strange, occasionally delicious, and always interesting.
Besides the sexy mascot, Yo Rita looks unassuming from the street. Tables are squished close together, and when the restaurant is busy, space is tight and noisiness ensues. Waiters constantly run back and forth from the kitchen to accommodate the always-full dining room. Even the bartender occasionally makes rounds to refill water glasses.
The menu is startlingly assorted, focusing on the south: both South America and the Southern United States. Despite the varied menu, Yo Rita abides by a classic Mexican restaurant tradition; each table is served complimentary chips and salsa. Despite the interesting Southern twang, a starter of grits was so overwhelmingly salty that the avant-garde toppings (including “corn fungus”) were squelched. An order of ceviche, however, was nearly perfect. It was first a feast for the eyes, with the white Tilefish, red pickled onions and streaks of yellow lemon zest. While the fish was marinated in lemon juice, the sweet onions balanced the sour.
For entrees, Yo Rita only offers tacos, and two tacos per person is the recommended order. The tacos are often so full, however, that finishing two is difficult (even for a ravenous adolescent such as myself). The soft, hearty tortillas are from Reyna’s in the Strip, and they are up to the challenge of supporting the many toppings piled into a Yo Rita taco. Unfortunately, the tacos themselves are an inconsistent affair. A recurring theme is excess: a spicy-sweet BBQ chicken taco is overwhelmed by cubes of cheese and tortilla chips. A slightly sour pulled lamb taco could be delicious just by itself, but the barbeque potato chips thrown on top are overkill. The Rainbow Trout taco, despite its long list of toppings, tastes only of its thick, bland mustard aioli. The “crispy pork belly” that tops the Trout taco is merely fried, taking away the melt-in-mouth magic of the fatty meat. Pork belly fares much better on the Bahn Mi Vietnamese-styled taco. Surprisingly subtle, pork belly is the star, and the peanut and cilantro topping only compliments its natural richness. The steak taco is also a success, finding a sometimes-scorching balance between pineapple and jalapenos.
Vegetarian tacos are similarly spotty. A Black eyed pea taco had an astounding curry cucumber raita, only enhanced by a topping of almonds. A potato taco, on the other hand, tasted similar to hash browns. While there is only one dessert option which changes daily, berry shortcake was surprisingly complex. Topped with Grand Marnier whipped cream, the biscuit-like cake relies on the raspberry and blueberry toppings for sweetness.
Service is casual, occasionally do-it-yourself. However, in a restaurant where the staff is constantly moving, service was solid. The best food at Yo Rita is almost always the simplest. If Yo Rita tightens up and calms down, it could be a truly unique taco shop. If not, then there will still be the ceviche.
(Yo Rita is located at 1120 Carson Street in Pittsburgh’s Southside neighborhood. Tacos range from $4 to $8)