Korean fusion tacos sprang from LA’s food truck culture a decade ago and quickly spread across the country, including local spots like TaKorean in D.C. and MOMO in Bethesda.
Fuse Taco (4903 Cordell Ave., Bethesda) wants to up the ante. If fusion tacos work for a single country like Korea, why not 11? Why shouldn’t Sweden, India, Jamaica and England get tacos too? (OK, one of the countries represented is Mexico, so technically only 10 are fusion, but you get the point.) Fuse Taco’s ambitious goal is to take a uniform delivery mechanism — the humble taco — and use it to convey a world of flavors.
The fast-casual layout is largely unchanged from the space’s prior incarnations as Smashburger and Bold Bites. The service counter is still there, as are the long communal tables and the high-tops along the picture windows overlooking Norfolk Avenue. Travel posters and oversized maps of the world reinforce the global motif and provide a pop of color.
Food and Drink
All of the tacos are served on lightly-griddled flour tortillas that aren’t too thick or doughy but still hold together well. While corn tortilla fans like me may initially be disappointed, the functionality of the flour tortillas and their blank-canvas quality work well here.
The best of the fillings include the Taj Mahal from India (reminiscent of butter chicken), the Carnitas from Mexico (slow-cooked pork), the Bob Marley from Jamaica (lamb curry), and the sleeper, the Valhalla from Sweden (chopped steak with cabbage). The Tel Aviv (Israel) is the best vegetarian option, with moist falafel balls and perhaps the most kick of any of the tacos.
While none of the fillings are bad, several could use sharper, more distinct flavors. The Mt. Fuji (Japan) promises teriyaki chicken but fails to deliver much teriyaki flavor. Then there are three fried offerings — the Five-0 from the US/Hawaii (fried shrimp), the Thames from England (mahi mahi), and the JFC from South Korea (chicken) — that combine fried proteins with the same house cole slaw. The combinations end up tasting more alike than different, so try not to order two of them at the same meal.
It’s also puzzling that none of the tacos are served with classic ingredients like avocado or lime, both of which span multiple cultures and have always improved any taco they touch.
The side dishes lean more straight Mexican, including chips and salsa, queso, nachos, and elote off the cob. They are all perfectly fine. The little dish of elote, in particular, is emptied quickly at the table in a flurry of forks.
The tacos range from $3.55 for the Tel Aviv (falafel) to $5.25 for the Thames (fried mahi mahi). Most people will order two or three tacos per meal, depending on their appetite and sides.
Fuse Taco does have a liquor license. So in addition to soft drinks, it offers beer, frozen sangria, and frozen and regular margaritas.
You know the drill. Place your order at the counter and wait for your name to be called. The staff is friendly and helpful, even those still learning the ropes.
Go or skip?
Go if you’re looking to try something new for lunch in Woodmont Triangle and like the concept. Go if you keep your expectations in check: this is cooking inspired by global flavors, not indigenous cooking.
Skip if you think $4-$5 is too much to spend on a taco. Skip if the whole idea of fusion tacos gives you the same sinking feeling as pineapple pizza or jalapeno-asiago bagels.